Masisi has a serious case to answer after the Namibia ‘escapade’

SHARE   |   Monday, 30 March 2020   |   By Adam Phetlhe On Sunday
President Masisi elbow greeting other heads of state in Namibia President Masisi elbow greeting other heads of state in Namibia

The last person I expected to break the rules and precautionary measures on preventing the intrusion of the Coronavirus into Botswana is His Excellency the President Dr M.E.K. Masisi. Yet, he did exactly that a mere two days after addressing the nation on national television. At the time of this address, the President was fully aware that in the following two days, he and those who accompanied him will secretly fly out to attend the unnecessary inauguration of the President of Namibia. Unnecessary in the context of the rules on the Coronavirus the President Masisi had pronounced and to which he was bound hence the ‘escapade’ narrative. Secretly in the context that his trip was against normal protocols, not announced to the nation. If it wasn’t for the use of technology, the nation may never have known about the trip given that there was a complete blackout on the same. The government spin-doctoring that followed which in effect was meant to be a damage control exercise albeit in futility, does not by any wild imagination, convince me. After the fourteen day self-isolation period therefore, the President must in my view come out and explain to the nation why he broke the very rules he asked every Motswana to observe and respect without fail. This is the serious case to answer I am referring to. Apart from the ‘escapade’, I will make general comments and observations on the Coronavirus. 

In answering the serious case of breaking the rules on Coronavirus, the President must at the same time apologise for the serious and probable fatal error of judgement on his part. The apology in my view, will go a long way to redeem his perceived or real dented credibility and legitimacy as a person fit and proper enough to lead the nation in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic. Politically and otherwise, the apology will somewhat go a long way as well to deflate the energy and vigour with which his detractors are throwing at him. In any event, the President has already apologised to the nation with respect to the change in retirement benefits of the former Presidents particularly that such changes were seen as being tailor-made to suit personal tastes of former President Ian Khama. This apology was delivered on national television during a press conference he addressed on his return from one of his external visits. He has himself set a precedent that he is man enough to apologise. It is generally accepted and agreed that an apology is one of those things human beings find hard to express or extend. But in the unfortunate situation the President finds himself in, I would provide an unsolicited advice to the President’s advisors and to the President himself to apologise unreservedly to the nation. The positives in this regard far outweigh the negatives.

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One of immediate positives accrues from the reasoning that the President is a normal human being who can err like all of us. It is this erring that when genuinely acknowledged, separates cowards from honest human beings. I believe the President belongs to the latter category. It is not about the provisions of the Constitution that confer certain powers to the President but all about integrity, moral standing and taking responsibility of an individual facing a situation the President faces. Also, it should not about what the Leader of Opposition said in a statement critical of the President’s visit to Namibia. It should not be about the political mileage such statement sought to achieve if it all. The President must find it from within himself if the trip and for all intends and purposes was absolutely necessary given the pandemic we all face. If he apologises, he would have shown shrewd leadership in all its constructs.

The negative side will be devastating and immeasurable for him as a person and a leader. It will be hard for him to expect people to take him seriously in whatever he says now and into the future. He will lose confidence even from those he may have inspired up to this point of serious error of judgement. The country, like the rest of the world, is facing a devastating pandemic which requires all hands to be on deck and the President must be seen to be a credible person in words and deeds in spreading the word on Coronavirus pandemic. So if he doesn’t walk the talk, he cannot remotely or otherwise expect citizens walk such talk. The long and short of it is that some people, generally speaking, won’t take him seriously. He will live to face a hostile nation. Did the President have to travel to Namibia?

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I have partly answered this question above. But to be brutally honest, there was no compelling reason to do so amidst the Coronavirus requirement that movement of people should be restricted. At the time of writing this article, there was no reported and confirmed Coronavirus case in the country. Yet, the precautionary message is that we should restrict unnecessary travelling. Now for the President to have travelled to a country with confirmed cases of the pandemic was grossly irresponsible and against the World Health Organisation’s protocols governing such pandemic.

Let me make a few comments and observations on the situation with regards to the Coronavirus in Botswana. One should be happy that against all odds, Botswana has no confirmed cases of a Coronavirus patient(s) at the time of writing this article. One prays that we keep the zero number at the foot of the graph until eternity. What strategies is Botswana using that other countries even the wealthiest of the wealthy are failing to? Have we acted faster and proactively enough than other countries like South Africa who is the neighbour Botswana interacts with heavily on so many fronts particularly economically but whose pandemic numbers are increasing exponentially?

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We are told by scientists that Coronavirus reached our neighbours who have already recorded confirmed cases via people who would have visited countries far hit by the pandemic. Botswana has before putting the current stringent measures on people arriving from the hard hit countries, admitted such people into the country. I am not sure whether these people have been followed after arriving to be tested for the virus symptoms. On the basis that measures were not as stringent as they are today, it could reason that those people have not been followed to test them. I stand corrected as always. Against this background, can it be said reasonably that such people who arrived before the current measures, have not or may have not brought the virus as they did in countries with confirmed cases. These people would have arrived by air, land and some even through un-gazetted points of entry? I am not by any wildest dream being cynical but ‘thinking outside the box.’

I had a conversation with a fellow Motswana who made a profound observation. He asked rather rhetorically but pointedly to say: apart from testing people for symptoms who arrive from outside the country, is such test undertaken randomly from members of the public during road blocks to ascertain whether such symptoms obtain. This random testing could in some way pick up some of us who may have come into contact with those who may have arrived before the stringent measures were put in place. Without been discriminatory, wouldn’t it do some good for example to randomly test commuters boarding public transport or better still in the malls? These random testing would require resources but police at road blocks and a few other people at bus terminuses should not be a problem. I guess compatriots, generally speaking, recognise the devastating consequences this pandemic brings whereupon most of them would be amenable to random testing.

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When all is said and done, I maintain that the President should, in his own interests and in the spirit of social cohesion, apologise for the Namibian trip. With him spoiled for choice in terms of communications machinery as a Head of State and particularly with the risk of him coming into contact with someone touched by the virus, he would have had a conversation with the aid of technology. I expect journalists to engage him on the Namibia ‘escapade’ the next time he addresses a press conference. Botswana may if my observations and comments on Coronavirus are correct and God forbid, be sitting on a pandemic time bomb planted by the earlier arrivals and acceptance into the country by those who arrived from the hard hit countries and whose Coronavirus may not be known. Neither will as a consequence, be the status of those they may have crossed paths with and who are presently resident in this country. I am not being pessimistic but that it is hard for me to ignore the pre-stringent measures period for doing so could prove deadly in the long run. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!

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