The above is a headline to a story carried by the Sunday Standard newspaper in its edition dated April 1-7, 2018 and attributed to the then Vice President and now President of the Republic of Botswana Rre Mokgweetsi Masisi. The story tells us that this observation was made at Tsholetsa House, the head office of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) by Rre Masisi when addressing the media for the last time as the party’s outgoing Chairman. With the greatest of respect to the President and assuming he has been correctly quoted by the Sunday Standard, his observation that depicts us as ‘a happy untroubled lot’ is in bad taste and disrespectful to Batswana. This considering the daily hardships we experience and encounter as a matter of constructive routine largely created by his party’s inability to effectively deal with our political and socio-economic challenges. The fact that the World Happiness Report concludes that Batswana are the least happy people in the SADC region says it all.
Expected to be alive to these glaring daily hardships by virtue of his highest political office and the privileged opportunities to see these harrowing challenges first hand, it is unpardonable that Rre Masisi could ever think of, let alone making such a disparaging observation about some of his compatriots. But this is the painful reality of Botswana we live in where political expediency runs roughshod over the compelling national imperatives.
The Sunday Standard quotes Rre Masisi to have said “Some years ago there was some hullabaloo by some political party which has since weaselled away and the leader fortunately lost elections, saying we are an unhappy nation. Do you know how ridiculous it sounds telling people they are unhappy when they are not? You do not get votes.” Batswana may be ‘subservient’ to politicians owing to their ‘quiet diplomacy’ to issues afflicting them on a daily basis and it would appear that ruling politicians are taking full advantage whereupon votes become uppermost to anything else.
I must be brutal and unapologetic to state that there are three fundamental categories of Batswana – those who are genuinely privileged and resourced through sheer hard work, honesty and integrity; those live on patronage, greed and ill-gotten resources facilitated from political connections which translate into sheer arrogant and unparalleled opulence to resonate with Rre Masisi’s observation and those who, for circumstances not of their own making which require responsive and responsible leadership which unfortunately is absent, would feel so aggrieved by his observation because they barely survive on a Dollar per day. This Dollar has been ‘stolen’ for time immemorial and continues to do so but remains unaccounted for by the second minority category! That is why those who belong to the second category are so arrogant to the point of unashamedly saying it is their time to eat.
It does not require some scientific research or a Gallup poll to ascertain or measure whether Botswana is a happy nation or not. A lot of Batswana are unhappy about: the high levels of corruption whose solutions are more theoretical than practical; high levels of poor performance at primary and secondary schools; no sustainable programmes to holistically address youth challenges; flip flopping on whether government is responsible for job creation; parliament reduced to rubberstamping executive decisions where the former fails to hold the latter to account; deliberately passing laws that are anti-International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions and therefore anti-labour as shown by the poor and toxic relationship between government and labour; poor service delivery occasioned by poor implementation of poor government programmes – almost every village bitterly complains about water; painfully slow interventions in land allocations; private media complaining about government high handedness in dealing with it – Rre Masisi’s inauguration coverage and the recent coverage of Team Botswana from the Commonwealth Games at the airport. These are but a few indicators of an unhappy Botswana. Somebody must prove me wrong that a lot of Batswana are after all, happy with the above and consequently ‘a happy untroubled lot.’ In short, Batswana are unhappy about glaring lack of inequitable social justice and social security.
During his inauguration speech in parliament on the 1st April 2018, Masisi said at paragraph 15 that “…We shall not be satisfied until we have eradicated poverty and social exclusion in order to build a society that provides opportunity and dignity for all.” He continued at paragraph 17: “As you all know, Botswana faces a myriad of challenges such as unemployment, poverty, crime, HIV and Aids….Therefore, one of my top priorities as the President of this country will be to address the problem of unemployment especially amongst the young people who constitute the majority of our population….”
The above myriad of challenges as the President refers to them, are inevitably those that make a lot of Batswana, an unhappy troubled lot. If we were a happy untroubled lot, why would issues that promote social exclusion be the immediate top priorities for Rre Masisi? As the Sunday Standard correctly pointed out, opposition parties and some members of the civil society were marching in Gaborone against the institutionalised and runaway corruption as demonstrated by the current National Petroleum Fund scandal which to the best of my recollection, has not been convincingly addressed by government. One would have expected government to have addressed the nation on this scandal over and above the Public Accounts Committee’s intervention. The recent strike by employees of Choppies stores where Batswana are paid slavery wages in this day and age, yet owners’ earnings pierce the roof top. While this is a private enterprise under a capitalist environment under which the owner takes all, it demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that Batswana are suffocated by these slavery wages elsewhere in the world of work.