While some doubt President Ian Khama’s legacy, others are touting his name without hesitating to even call for Constitutional Amendment to allow him to run for a third term. To them he has been what the doctor ordered for the country. MPHO DIBEELA hazards the reasons behind the proclamation of Khama as a messiah. His compassion for the poor, being a champion for the arts and a no-nonsense approach in his administration has assured him of an indelible mark in the history of this country.
This is not an apologist stand for the leader but a fair assessment of what those that would die for him will project as his achievements. He landed with a clear well defined 4Ds approach to his government. He promised to ensure and uphold Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline. Later spurred by a big performance at the 2009 General Elections he added another D – ‘Delivery’, perhaps as an appreciation of voter confidence shown in his leadership. The question is whether he has matched up to his promise. Is Botswana still a democratic country? It is – but most are insisting that it has stagnated or generally not evolved with the times. To what extend therefore a question will be asked is President Khama to blame for this. Every leader has their style which mostly is influenced by his experience over the years. Khama landed at the highest office in the land having served as an army commander – where control is not negotiable! The general’s order is not questioned. It is this army control tendency and bias that he brought to his administration. Add to that the pre-occupation with strategy – no army goes to battle without exhausting options available to it. The so-called authoritarian in Khama was shaped by these – he demanded and expected complete loyalty and leaned to the powers given by law to him. When he suspended party officials it was because the law allowed him to do so and when he sought to have MPs vote for his choice of Vice President by show of hands he legally believed it was the procedure and hence went to court. He has not disregarded the judicial rulings that went against him. Though the judiciary’s independence appears to have been encroached on by the current administration President Khama seemingly has done what his predecessors have always done – to get a recommendation from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) of whom to appoint as judge and has either agreed or disagreed. The judiciary also would appear to have scored own goals by having failed to be strong enough to protect its independence, particularly administratively as the case of the four judges who spent a whole year on suspension shows. Politicians relish power and control and playing into their hands is dangerous.
Just a year into his presidency the country, as the rest of the world, had to face the worst economic depression in years. This meant that instead of having enough resources to spur development he had to put on a defensive gear – the country required austerity measures. Almost every cash stream that Government relied on shrunk. Diamonds, the mainstay of the economy for years, suddenly found few buyers and hence budget revenues became under severe pressure. Key projects were set aside. While civil servants embarked on the biggest strike – 2011 – in the midst of these President Khama did not immediately ignore the economic collapse at hand just to oblige and buy unions’ favour. While this moment has become the defining mark of anti-establishment posture adopted by unions the General in Khama has not allowed him to yield to blackmail. He didn’t allow the middle class to hold him at ransom and was rather more concerned about the poor; those in need of a social safety net. At the height of this economic hardships and labour stand-off, Khama was busy rolling out poverty alleviation initiatives driven directly from his office. Headed by a Minister and a full permanent secretary while recruiting retiring top civil servants to spearhead, Khama’s affection for the downtrodden was in full parade. Backyard gardening, bee keeping, livestock farming and related were rolled out. While most beneficiaries of backyard gardening appear to have abandoned the project due lack of water and also general laziness, the man could certainly not be blamed for lack of having a solution. The offerings under this project have grown to include small scale manufacturing like shoe design and the jury is still out whether beneficiaries will work their way out of their economic quagmire. What these offer is a lifetime opportunity for enrichment provided people work hard at creating sustainable businesses. Already the Office boosts often about having produced a number of businesses that have become sustainable. Equally the Ipelegeng programme which offers menial grass clearing and cleaning jobs was also launched to absorb some of the unemployed. Though the money they are paid is low, they can at least look forward for something to buy basic groceries and related. The President’s Housing Appeal perhaps stands as the hallmark of his presidency and more than highlights his love and compassion for those in need. Since he launched the programme immediately he assumed leadership the programme has afforded over 600 poor families who would otherwise have remained exposed to undignified existence. It is anticipated that by the time he leaves office next year more would have enjoyed his benevolence as this is his brainchild though funded by generous individuals and corporate entities. Alongside this has been a youth targeted Youth Development Fund where beneficiaries are given 50 percent grant and having to return their other to ensure that the fund is revolving so as to assist as many youth as possible. Thousands of youth have benefited and many are now running well functioning and sustainable businesses. The problem here is that some have taken to using this money for projects that they were not funded for while others have not been prudent enough in managing their businesses well. Having had to bear a backlog of projects due to economic depression, President Khama pulled a brave move to launch an Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) to re-energise the economy while clearing a backlog of construction projects in schools, roads and agriculture infrastructure. The ESP was expected to help boost job creation while breathing life to an economy that has stagnated. While this meant that Government went out to borrow and even dig into foreign reserves, the stimulus was needed to turn things around.
Commodity price issues
0nce more when the economy was showing signs of recovery, yet another unexpected monster entered the sphere. Suddenly China and other consumers of precious metals lost interest in them – mostly propelled by the economic hardships on their end. This spelt doom for the country with mines and related businesses being forced to close of cut down on production. Botswana’s biggest copper mine – BCL – was forced into liquidation with 6000 employees losing their jobs. Diamond miner Debswana has had to scale down on production while leaving other mines under care and maintenance. This means that while his immediate predecessors had sufficient revenue to push developments, he had little to use, barely scratching at the bottom pit to scrape through funds to keep Botswana running.
Tourism and cultural entertainment
Based on his personal attraction to conservation and tourism in overall, Khama has been able to oversee a fast growth of the sector which now stands as the second contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Though accusations of racism have escalated, many products have been launched and enhanced including the annual Khawa Dune Challenge, Rasesa Airshow, Makgadikgadi Epic among others. He stands as the only leader of an African country that promoted its tourism offerings at the IBT Berlin Expo, a major international tourism expo. He has also gone out of his way to promote local music and even launched polka as a dance that could be appreciated nationwide. Through his President's Day Celebrations local artists and performers of different genres have found a reason to perfect their game and performances because those outstanding win monetary prizes. Even for those who love sport they have been offered constituency tournaments to play in and compete to up national level where at every stage there are monetary incentives.
To him a spade is a spade. He landed the country into a confrontational; un-African diplomatic dispositions. He blasted neighbours and at worst was accused of aiding a take-over of opposition in Zimbabwe by seemingly having a soft spot for Morgan Tsvangirai – the main leader of opposition in Zimbabwe. When others watched in silence at the draconian rule of Robert Mugabe, Khama was brave enough to tell him to go – that he was too old to offer his country a worthy leadership. While he has been a keen traveller to Conservation International Board Meetings where he serves as a Board member he has deliberately scorned international meetings, attending mostly the regional SADC Head of State summits and skipping all others. To him, these international meetings have tended to be talk shops where no tangible solutions for the world are found and adopted. He has talked sharply against African leaders who are finding fault in the International Criminal Court (ICC), going even publicly to attack South Africa for attempting to pull out of it. Leaders, to him, must submit to instruments that bring about accountability.
National security and immigration
Coming at a time when terrorism was gaining momentum, the soldier in Khama didn’t want to expose the country to any of that. His obsession with security meant that he tightened immigration control and went all out to extinguish any internal threats increasing visibility of police and even having soldiers join in patrols in troublesome areas. Understandably his obsession with security could be arising from the fact that leading nations whose resources make them the most fortified are being tested to the extreme by terrorists. It was obviously not going to be easy to balance the need for the country to be vigilant in blocking possible terrorists from entering the country and attracting foreign investors. This is a problem faced by all countries and not Botswana alone. Khama will wear the badge of anti-immigrants posture but equally should be recognised as a man who scaled up security to make it more alert to external threats.
Politics – BDP management
His running of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) resulted in the first-ever split of the party, with those opposed to his style of running things walking out to form the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). Though some of the MPs who defected to form BMD later returned to the BDP, the damage was done and the result was that the party’s popular vote in 2014 general elections fell to below 50 percent for the first time. In some instances though he carries the blame for some draconian actions, he simply followed and exercised the powers given to him by the Party and Country constitution. His recent pronouncements at the Party National Council in which he called for reconciliation points to a man who is worried about the state in which he will be leaving the party. He has gone out to visit each constituency in the country to try and restore BDP popularity. Though the opposition has combined into one big force to attempt to dislodge the BDP from power, Khama’s legacy in the BDP would be of one who made mistakes at the beginning but attempted to correct such at the end.
It is his push under the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD) that has been dramatic in at least positively changing the SMMEs landscape. The value of cumulative total purchases since the scheme’s inception in 2010 amounts to P22 billion. “Out of this figure, the value of purchases from local manufacturers and service providers is P11 billion. So far a total of 1 625 enterprises have been registered. These companies have created 44 337 jobs,” he said in his 2016 State of the Nation Address. Local farmers have also been allowed to sell their produce which includes maize cobs, water melons and related to schools.
Fighting corruption and upholding the rule of law
Though no heavyweight has been brought to book and he has faced accusations of protecting close allies, Khama has not stopped the trial of two of his ministers – Kenneth Matambo and Vincent Seretse. His only qualm has been that he could not suspend them from work because he believes in the principle of one being innocent until proven guilty. He has not stopped the freezing of accounts of some of his close friends as the tax man queried their declarations. He has also faced accusations of supporting extra-judicial killings after the death of John Kalafatis and has not come out to defend himself. The circumstances under which this was done or allowed will remain a matter for speculation.
While he started with 4Ds and later added another one to make it 5Ds, the jury is out about how he has performed. Democracy, he has upheld; has restored dignity of many; has faced development challenges due to limited resources and at times poor prioritisation and you won’t doubt his hand in dispensing discipline. Though absent in international space, his voice has been very loud on issues that mattered to reach anywhere across the globe. His love for the poor, the arts and sport has endeared him to many. It comes as a belated move for some to call for direct election of the President just when Khama is leaving. It is highly likely that had it come during his time, he would have won a landslide for the BDP.