His failure to create sufficient employment opportunities, fight corruption involving close confidantes, and tendency to muzzle freedom of the press while scaring away potential and real investors with draconian and selective migration laws are a litany of President Khama’s failures. ADAM PHETLHE argues that Khama leaves the presidency with a much poorer and weaker Botswana than the one he inherited. To him, he might as well leave NOW.
In a year’s time, President Khama will be referred to as a former President in which we will be looking at what he has done and left for us-his legacy. Is the President going to leave Botswana and Batswana in a better position than he found them? The President, we were told, was brought into politics to quell and stabilise the fractious position of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) through the recommendations of Professor Schlemmer. When he ultimately assumed the highest position in the land, he set up his roadmap anchored around the 5 Ds-Delivery, Democracy, Discipline, Development and Dignity. Sadly and regrettably, these have hardly been mentioned in the President’s recent and major speeches. In this conversation, I will be looking at different aspects like fighting corruption and the rule of law; the BDP; relations with labour and private media; international relations in no particular order.
The BDP would naturally be a platform through which the President sets in motion his socio-economic and political agendas. As it is, it is not in a better position to deliver these agendas because it is deeply divided. Internal democracy in the BDP, like in other political parties, has become a bone of contention where members have bitterly complained about its lack thereof. The party is advocating for compromise among and between members who don’t seem eager to embrace. Political positions in the context of internal democracy are competed for. Bulela ditswe has continued to be a source of disgruntlement because those who participate in it have cried foul of how the process is manipulated to favour certain party members, a view confirmed by the Siele Commission. As a result, the party gave birth to its first off spring in the form of BMD. In the run up to the 2014 general election, a lot of Bulela Ditswe participants left the party in protest over the process, a point arguably credited for the poor performance of the party in that election. Since independence, the BDP was known to embrace Therisanyo (consultation), a process through which important national issues are debated. Politically, a structure called The All Party Conference (APC) was created where political parties met outside parliament to discuss national issues. This structure has since been disbanded. While this happened before the President’s arrival, one would have expected him to have resuscitated it so that his party is seen as broadly in line with his road map of the 5 Ds. Events which reportedly emerged at the recent BDP national council where delegates are said to have defied instructions from the party leadership not to wear T-shirts in support of party candidates contesting for positions in the upcoming July congress, is a stark reality that the President has somewhat lost ‘the dressing room’ like football analysts would say. This being the case, party wars inevitably spill over to the nation where service delivery and other benefits to citizens tied to the ruling party mandate become the casualty.
While Transparency International and other bodies tell us that Botswana is a least corrupt country, I beg to differ. While I am not competent to dispute this observation, I will rely on Trading Economics which says ‘ ….Corruption Rank in Botswana averaged 30.68 from 1998 until 2016, reaching an all-time high of 38 in 2007 and a record low of 23 in 1998’. These stats tell a story. Fighting corruption in Botswana, and whatever the levels, cannot be achieved with the current legal frame work. The institution mandated with this task, is under the direct and total supervision of the Office of the President. There was a small semblance if ever there was of independence of the corruption fighter, the DCEC, before the arrival of the President. After his arrival, it was transferred to his office. This, on its own, even if the legal frame work was better than it is would still be susceptible to manipulation. A call was made that a specific Judge of the High Court will be charged with the responsibility of doing corruption cases. While this was a welcome move, it is yet to take off. A conclusion is reasonably made that there is no political will to fight corruption. Corruption in government for example and by its very nature, would involve both huge and low financial transactions where in the former category, senior government officials have unfettered access to such transactions by virtue of their positions. In this context, government has undertaken high value projects which for some deliberately unexplained reasons, have failed with no one so far held accountable in all respects. I am refusing to accept that none of the officials, who oversaw these projects, cannot say why they can’t be held accountable and responsible for the financial losses in these projects. In instances where the DCEC has luckily investigated and forwarded dockets to the prosecuting authority, these dockets are permanently stuck on the shelves. To add salt to injury, some senior members of the ruling party have boasted that it time for them to eat. The DCEC cannot take pride that by arresting the ‘small fish’ at the roads department, it is some major success. The big fish is swimming at a cost to the country in the corruption swimming pool and must be retrieved ASAP. On this score, the President has failed to fight corruption beyond the usual mention of it in his public speeches.
The Rule of Law
The rule of law is a globally acceptable principle which if followed to the letter, determines which direction governance compass will point. Coupled to this is another principle, separation of powers. Regrettably and sadly so once more, these principles have been thrown out of the window under the President’s watch. This view was emphatically and beyond any reasonable doubt, driven home recently by the President of the Court of Appeal Justice Kirby when he said that ‘In Botswana, there is no real separation between the executive and the legislature….The true separation is between those two putative branches of Government’. Courts have consistently passed judgements against the executive where the latter has picked and chosen which to comply with and which to deliberately ignore. The case of two Uganda refugees comes to mind. The revelations at the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises laid bare the systematic and perhaps the impunity through which government Ministers flouted all governance rules. Ministers presided over institutions in their portfolios without boards, some going as far as to window shop aeroplanes and open tourism offices in the Middle East without lawful authority. No punitive steps have been taken against them. These issues and many other similar ones have taken place under the President’s watch.
Relations with Labour and the private media
Any government which cultivates an adversarial relationship with workers and the private media is courting trouble for itself. Labour relations in this country have since President Khama’s presidency been moving from bad to worse. Notably, his administration has continued to enact laws which are essentially anti-workers like the amendments to the Trade Disputes Act (TDA) wherein the underpinning motive is to render them ‘lame duck’. By declaring almost all civil servants essential (against the ILO definition of an essential worker) as the current and amended TDA 2016 provides, is taking away workers’ historical weapon of striking. Government liquidated BCL mine late last year where over 6000 workers lost jobs. Up to this day, the President has failed to visit Selebi Phikwe just to offer his personal sympathies. This I will argue confirms his anti-workers stance. Government will argue that his Vice President visited the mining town on his behalf. I beg to differ. The current dysfunctional state of the Bargaining Council is a result of government high-handedness. President Khama is known to be anti-local private media since taking office. He has given interviews on rare to external news outlets like when he recently asked President Mugabe to resign. Since he took office, the President’s relationship with the private media has taken a serious down spiral. By its very nature, it asks questions which are always uncomfortable with the powers that be. The recent example where private journalists were threatened with instant death at Mosu sums up the lives and tribulations of the private media in Botswana. It doesn’t end here. Government is known to have selectively targeted private media considered hostile to it by withdrawing advertisement from them thereby denying them revenue to sustain their existence. The recent dismissal of Gabz FM journalists following alleged complaint from the ruling party is another example of a frosty relationship between government and private journalists.
The President has since taking office not attended major international political meetings like the African Union and the UN General Assembly where, as the face of Botswana, he would be able to market and sell the country. His administration’s recent pronouncements on calling on Mugabe to retire and the condemnation of South Africa’s intentions to withdraw from the ICC for example have not done the country any good. As a result, Botswana is generally viewed in bad light, rightly or wrongly, for its foreign policy. Political analysts give examples of Botswana’s failure to do well in international bodies like at the recent AU elections where the Minister of Foreign Affairs stood, the Commonwealth where we failed to win the Secretary General position and the ICC where we failed to win its presidency position.
For Botswana and Batswana to be on a sound socio-economic footing, sound and sustainable programmes have to be in place. Government has overtime found an excuse in the 2008/09 global melt down to be the reason for the poor performance of the economy. While this ‘fact-cum excuse’ cannot be denied, I will argue that government has dismally failed to stimulate the economy through factors within its own control-effectively and profitably managing state-owned enterprises to retain and generate more jobs through effective and sound corporate governance; ensuring consequent management for any lapses; rooting out corruption in all its manifests to ensure delivery of sustainable high value projects cost-effectively; creating timely and effective conducive environment to attract foreign direct investment and so on. When these ‘must do and within own control’ socio-economic prerequisites fail, the economy continues to wobble like it is. What is more, government recently stated through the Minister of Finance that it is not her duty to create jobs. This notwithstanding what the ruling party promised voters in its election manifestos and political rallies. In recent times, Batswana continue to lose jobs in the mainstream economy. In this regard, the livelihoods of citizens continue to be poor with the economy shrinking as a result.
The President’s 5 Ds
When he took over, the President anchored his road map around five pillars-Delivery, Democracy, Discipline, Development and Dignity. If he had pursued his road map with vigour and intent as he promised at inception, his legacy would be without any blemish. All in all, the President’s legacy leaves a bitter taste in my mouth because he leaves Botswana and Batswana worse off than he found them. I still believe that apart from external factors over which he didn’t have control, not much was done with those he had. The current furore around the Electoral Act specifically the EVMs, the crisis in the judiciary and the general governance state of the country, does not help the situation. Like they say, it is not how you start a race but how you finish it. The President lost traction and momentum in the race hence the poor finishing. Judge for Yourself!