Compliments! It is once more fulfilling to engage in a conversation. The last person who would want to take the last Thebe from Batswana is President Ian Khama. This is because he has over his presidency appeared to appreciate, let alone acknowledge that Batswana are deeply overwhelmed by abject poverty. He is highly credited and justifiably so, with his philanthropic philosophy like the Presidential Housing Appeal through which the downtrodden compatriots have received better shelter. Much as I have criticised the President on how he has governed this country, I have come to appreciate the difference his housing scheme has had on the less privileged Batswana. On his departure from the presidency and sadly so though, the President is in my view, taking away in big and spectacular fashion from the very downtrodden. This, I argue, will further impoverish them. It will be argued and justifiably so, that the current farewell rendezvous was started by Rre Mogae when he left office back then. He cashed big as well. I am not averse to a modest token of appreciation extended to anyone retiring like in this case, the President. I have a problem when such becomes an expensive fund raising exercise on communities masqueraded as a token of appreciation. The President is reported to have received P45, 000.00 and 50 dikgomo from Bobonong. In collective monetary terms and at a highly conservative price tag of P1000.00 per beast, he has collected just under P100, 000 in a day. Bobonong and its environs have been catchment areas of BCL mine where expectedly a good number of the dismissed employees would come from. Given the numbers that these dismissed employees have added to the national unemployment category and the consequent reality that they have also increased the poverty levels to those that already existed, is the President not insensitive to these precarious realities by ‘taking away’ from the people of Bobonong given his compassionate tag? This is tantamount to giving with one hand and immediately taking away with the other. Bobonong, like other areas in Botswana, have pressing societal issues that require money to be resolved. These issues are always raised at every given opportunity whether with the President or other public officials. One imagines the impact the close to P100, 000 donations would have in addressing them. In the case of the dismissed BCL employees, that money could help in addressing their health and financial programmes that were catered for by BCL; some disabled person could be helped with a wheel chair; a young entrepreneur could be assisted with IT requirements for her/his business to take-off the ground. These are societal issues which face all constituencies that the President has visited or is still to do so.
Donations are by their nature expended to the needy and the less privileged members of society because they cannot fend for themselves – a noble argument that Khama has himself advanced and to which he justifiably and reasonably expected our buy-in. Batswana and others have in one form or the other, demonstrated this by donating to causes directly beneficial to the needy and the downtrodden. The President is not retiring from public office into poverty. We will be aware that a ‘tailor-made’ retirement package to suit his ‘peculiar and particular’ needs was rushed through Parliament not so long ago under controversial circumstances. At one point, it was reported that MPs threatened to stall the Bill on the Presidential retirement benefits because theirs was delayed or something to that effect. A point must be made that the President was not in office doing us any favours whereupon we are under obligation to reward him when he leaves. He voluntarily raised his hand to lead this country and we duly obliged by electing him to the highest office in the land. Ever since his election, we have taken good care of him without fail and we will continue to do so in his retirement. While it will be conveniently argued by the proponents of the fund-raising exercise that it is voluntary, it puts immeasurable pressure on constituencies yet to be visited to donate even more albeit to their detriment. It is akin to the peer pressure syndrome. One interesting place to be visited, if ever it will be, is Selebi-Phikwe and for obvious reasons. As the metropolis of the Bobonong area, one would have expected the President to have started the area meetings from there for again, obvious reasons. But one is reminded that ever since BCL was closed, the President has never visited the town (I stand corrected). During his recent Christmas visits to the area, he chose Bobonong and other small areas over Selebi-Phikwe.
Like I have alluded to above, I am not against a token of appreciation extended to the President but that it should be modest and perhaps standardised. The very communities that extravagantly donate to him will be complaining about this or the other when a government official visits them next. It would be cheaper for say government presenting him with a gift of some sort and him bidding the nation farewell on Botswana Television. This ‘fund-raising rendezvous’ is neither cost-effective on the part of the State in terms of travelling and subsistence expenditure on the President himself and those accompanying him nor is it addressing any other new societal/national issues we are not aware of. The President has covered almost all areas of this country where similar societal issues have been raised with him. We are waiting for their resolutions. It would do a lot of good to the President if he re-donated whatever he receives from the communities to buttress his philanthropic philosophy in the name of a caring and compassionate person given the astronomical levels of abject poverty these communities are entrenched in. The President’s retirement needs are reasonably and sufficiently catered for and consequently, he does not require any further welfare programme from the already impoverished Batswana. A simplistic and opportunistic argument that Batswana freely and generously donate may be proffered to justify the President’s current windfall. But the prevailing socio-economic circumstances of Batswana would brutally negate this argument. We no longer live in the medieval era. History will judge the President harshly for enormously benefitting from the downtrodden – the very category of society he has asked Batswana to generously assist. Judge for Yourself!