Ideas of Heroism in Politics: Why I don’t Consider Ketumile Masire a Hero
In this thought provoking seminal article novelist, historian and poet, Teedzani Thapelo*, inaugurates a radical revisionist analysis of the political canonization of late president, Sir Ketumile Masire, and drawing from philosophic exposition, argues this action is not only premature but far too precipitate, rising as it does from hysterical hallucinations, and frightening disregard of the critical role of historical interpretation in the place of heroism in politics and public life.
The argument is part of his coming book; Sir Ketumile Masire: willow in the limelight and the gathering storm. The republic buried Masire in Kanye this morning; 29th June, 2017. In the last few days I have watched, fascinated, and appalled, a tempestuous flurry of hysterical allusions, and precipitate confirmations, of this man’s supposed political heroism; prompting my historical conscience to both revisit, and perhaps, rethink, in the same regard, the philosophical idea, and logic, of heroism in politics. This, I am told, is a country of educated people. So I am not going to waste time, and space, on political definitions. Batswana, I think, know what they mean when they talk about political heroes.
My second assumption is that Batswana know perfectly well political heroes are not fictional characters. Third, Batswana know, and I hope, understand, the history of political heroism in Africa, and African struggles for liberation, freedom, democracy, human rights, and human dignity, in the last five hundred years. Four, Batswana, I think, know, and understand, the idea, and logic, of political heroism in political philosophy, Christian doctrine, historical experience, and moral African traditions, even in our daily known world; a world of lived human experience. What type of a hero was Masire?
There are many archetypes of political heroism in political studies, history, and development theory. All these revolve around several cornerstones; the art and culture of war, man’s historical struggles for survival against the ravages of nature, and the elements, and for religious people, human struggle against mortality. All these heroic struggles are defined by the terror of existential menaces, and the necessity to impose sufficient restraints on them, and without such struggles, human history would by now be a thing of the past, and perhaps even planet earth would be extinct. Throughout history, political heroism has almost always manifested several strands.
First, rejection or affirmation of the human condition. Second, the struggle against environmental ruin. Third, and, in my mind, perhaps the greatest object of heroic political effort; the struggle against human extinction. I understand the Sir Ketumile Masire Foundation deals with issues of peace studies, and the resolution of conflict, among other things. So I take it Batswana know what they are talking about when they advocate the republic must crown him a political hero. I also have sufficient reason to doubt the intellectual vigour of this political knowledge.
My concern here is simple: why should the nation crown him a political hero? Is this man, really, a political hero? From what historical premise does this heroism arise? Has it been sufficiently confirmed by historical experience? My second concern is also simple: empirical studies still have to be done to establish any claims to status of such imperial ranking in annuls of national history. But I might be mistaken about this. Sir Ketumile has been University Chancellor at UB, and it might as well be that political scientists and history professors there have already carried out studies to assist propel this argument forward; something I very much doubt.
In the absence of that, my question still stands: is this man a political hero? If these suppositions are simply journalistic impressions, not backed by vigorous, and objective, investigation, my suggestion is that we shelf them for future consideration. If, however, they are just outpourings of human emotions, we must reject them outright. Political grief is one thing, and political heroism, quite another thing. Most of the time the two do not even relate to each other. Some may say he is not a political hero, per se, but he has done so much for Botswana that it would be grossly remiss to not acknowledge him a national hero. Granted; but he alone?
We must, I think, read well, the marked difference between heroism, which, in essence, is individual or human triumph, over adversity, and therefore deserving of national honour, and excellence in one’s duty, which is a simple academic criterion for application of the human mind, and labour, to professional duty, and therefore deserving of a salary, and promotion. I grant both rewards are forms of appreciation. But the two still differ considerably. Masire was paid well for his work, and got the promotions he deserved in his lifetime. If now he must be recognised at a level greater than this, then there clearly is need to re-assess the peculiarity, and genius, of his political career.
This, I am afraid, Batswana have not done. To the best of my knowledge the Botswana national project was collective effort, mostly rooted in African moral principles of common humanity, and human fellowship, and these communitarian precepts are not unique to Botswana: Ubuntu, botho, buthu? To the best of my knowledge it’s untrue to say Masire alone embodied these African values in our political life. Not even the ancient organisational political principle of consultation is unique to Masire’s brand of politics or Botswana political culture in general. These things are common knowledge. Second, our political history is deeply rooted in republican constitutionalism, regardless of the flawed nature of our constitution; a thing that Masire conveniently ignored throughout his life.
What, then, constitutes his political heroism? What political attributes denote the heroic in his political philosophy? What I have heard Batswana say is based on personal observations, professional attachments, collegial cooperation, routine-and rustic- interactions, and, friendships, family connections, and highly select, and unacceptably subjective, historical memory. None of these things are sufficient intellectual tools, in themselves, to confirm the idea, and logic, of political heroism, on their own; not even collectively. The political hero, by definition, is born in war, and allied human struggles; struggles, historical, divine, environmental, eschatological, and metaphysical.
It doesn’t matter what you are talking about; saints, martyrs, statesmen, artists, philosophers, generals, humanist celebrities like Nobel Laureates, all these have homes in these areas of human conception, and imagination. Where, pray, does, Sir Ketumile fit? Is it possible, according to this criteria, to locate, and affirm, to place, his brand of heroism? I think not. And there lies the problem; the simple indifferent challenge of conceptualizing his political heroism. What appears to be indisputable is the fact he was an ordinary, honest, hard-working man. I should think, possibly a most decent fellow, at least to his family, friends, and those to whom he sought audience, and company.
In short, he was a typical Motswana man. There are more than a million men like him in this country. The major difference is that he entered politics, and reached the highest political position in the republic, and in this he is not alone. Are we then to designate all former Presidents political heroes? Isn’t this foolishness of the first order? Would not Sir Ketumile, himself a literate man, and passionate political animal, find this ridiculous to the extreme? Batswana must be aware scholars are already revising the heroic status of Nelson Mandela, the finest amongst African political icons. I have read just about everything solid there is to read about political heroes like Churchill, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela himself, Fidel Castro, and several other historical figures that caught my imagination in the last third years. I have also read the political villains; Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Idi Amin, Mabuto of DRC and Robert Mugabe; a man who tearfully calls Sir Ketumile his best friend.
It shocks me, profoundly, that Mugabe, a man guilty of killing revolutionary heroes in the land of Zimbabwe, can come here and talk about national heroism. He says in Zimbabwe, they would regard Masire as a national hero, and Batswana applauded him, but do they know of the villainous political criminals who lie in the Heroes’ Acre in Harare? Do they know that Mugabe committed genocide against the Ndebele and BaKalanga people in Zimbabwe between 1982-84, right under the watchful eyes of the Masire government?
Or should we take it Masire gave tacit consent to these crimes against humanity? Are we now being called upon to celebrate the horrors of Gukurehunde; the cleansing of chaff, the Zimbabweans Mugabe considered too impure, and unfit, for citizenship in liberated Zimbabwe? Throughout his tyrannical rule Mugabe has relentlessly brutalized, terrorized, intimidated, assassinated, ruined, humiliated, and exiled hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean finest intellectuals, artists, musicians, professors, students, and laid to waste fertile land that once was the economic backbone of Southern Africa. He has scattered millions of hunger-stricken citizens to all corners of the world so that today it is not uncommon to see the children of that beautiful land begging in the capitals of the Western world or being burned alive in South African cities and crowded, equally poor, townships.
The children of Zimbabwe die, lost, and miserable, in the most sordid ways possible, and this man has the audacity to come to a funeral in Kanye and talk about the genocide in Rwanda. Mugabe never mentions Seretse Khama in his inane reminisces about his fond friendship with the good Masire precisely because his politics are a radical pervasion of values that Khama cherished most; moral distinction, racial equality, tribal tolerance and cultural-historical consciousness in pursuit of the public good. Just what is it that constituted such a bond between these two men, Masire, and Mugabe? Should we not consider Masire just as guilty, at least by way of association, of many of the wrong-doings, and heinous crimes, committed by his good friend in Zimbabwe?
Just what are we expected to make of this relationship? Did Masire not care about the killings of innocent little Ndebele, European, and Kalanga children by the Mugabe regime? Then there is the irritating talk about Masire’s mediation exploits in DRC and efforts at reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda. Oh, really? What did he actually accomplish there? Nothing, absolutely nothing. As I write Congolese children are still being raped, and massacred, in that permanently lawless country, and Joseph, the arrant son of Laurent Kabila, continues the legacy of his father unperturbed. Yes, some warlords have been arrested, convicted, and imprisoned, but all this happened after Masire had thrown in the towel, and flown home to his farms. I really do think people should learn how to examine, and grade, political success.
Batswana always surprise me. They claim to be educated, and yet seem to know so little about the world around them that ignorance of simple realities has come to define us in the eyes of the world. It is because of our gallivanting around with rude, and rustic, characters, like Mugabe, that we have become the laughing stock of the world. If Masire could choose such men for company, and personal friendship, what does this tell us about his political judgement, about his sense of justice, and moral rectitude? What other kind of friends did he choose here at home? Things like these seriously call into question the personality, and moral integrity of a man. Is this how we want Masire to be remembered? What was that silly applause, broadcast live on TV, about?
The argument for Masire’s heroism is too premature, perhaps even misplaced. I look, in both political literature, and the historical drama continually unfolding in Botswana, at how Masire interacted with public servants, and his colleagues throughout his presidency, and how these people remember him. By the time he left office, and I left graduate school, there were already 10, 000 doctoral theses on Botswana, and I have since made it my business to make them my personal friends. Just about all of them are available online. I look at his relationships with civil society, the private press, academics and students.
I look at the presidential commissions, land tribunals, landmark court cases; just about everywhere this man left a fingerprint in the many years of his political life, and little, to nothing, suggest to my mind, this man is a national hero. I look at his political biography from various angles; cosmopolitanism, entrepreneurship, political innovation, administrative accountability, values of statesmanship, elderhood, and patriarchy, and still I am not convinced any case can be made for political canonization. I don’t want Batswana to misunderstand me. I am not trying to take anything from this man’s political life. In politics people do get embroiled in the most vexatious and violent disputes. The few who rise above these without scars, at great trouble, and peril, and some expense, and wearing the grand badge of political glory, are people who are capable of legislating their own path to this glory, people who are their own lawyers in national matters of the greatest importance, and these few we call heroes.
For the most part these people die good, wise, incorrupt, and free of slanderous aspersions, and social acerbities. Masire is not one of them, and this now brings me to issues that bothered me when this man was still president. I have heard Batswana argue these past few irritating days he is the architect of our republican constitutionalism, the crafter of our political culture, an undisputed guardian of the public purse during his heady days at Government Enclave, master of financial prudence and economic austerity, the master-farmer statesmen who gave name, dignity, and prestige, to rural production, the finest educationalist that ever strode the republic; it’s as if even Seretse Khama, and other BDP leaders never existed. I don’t even know how to address this emotional juvenile delinquency. It’s just terribly frustrating.
Can the people who argue he is a national hero answer these questions? Why, and how, did the problems of poor work ethic, productivity, and corruption in the public sector worsen under his administration? What really happened to our diamond wealth? Don’t Batswana want to know? Did we get an agreement that was right for the nation? Is it possible by partnering with this gigantic, and notoriously secretive behemoth, we traded away not only national wealth but certain fundamentals of our democracy as well? Is it possible this agreement clawed back our national sovereignty?
How does a small, uneducated, poor, legally and technically ignorant country, like Botswana, negotiate a secret mining agreement with a giant like De Beers in the turbulent, racist world, and climate of the late 1960s, and still claim political legitimacy, and credibility; even mutual benefit? What is the basis of equivalence in De Beers working together with the Botswana government through a corporate deal of this nature for so many years? The agreement is not transparent, it is shrouded in too much secrecy and darkness; does this not bother Batswana at all? Is there an arbitration clause in this agreement? What exactly is the revenue sharing formulae between the two parties, and how has this been affected by subsequent revisions of the original agreement, including the setting up of Debswana, and other attendant organizational and operational changes? Have all these things been done in good faith, and good will?
For example if there have been cases of over-mining, illegal smuggling of rough stones, gratuitous injury to workers, and the environment, has it been possible for government or other affected parties, to claim compensation? Who exactly is entitled to arbitration, and under what circumstances? What kind of legal protection did De Beers ask, and what did it get? Or is this a non-recourse commercial agreement? What are the limits to regulation? What about the issues of social contract and social conscience? How have these been handled, and continue to be handled at these mines?
Was this agreement a blueprint for others to come? Is it a legal precedent for other mining agreements with international mining companies in Botswana? More significantly, how much political capital was invested in this agreement? Is the agreement as progressive as its signatories claim it to be? These are important issues of commercial justice. Batswana rightly suspect the nature of this agreement stifled our economic growth and development, and that we gave too much away, and got little, to nothing, in return. The agreement has absolutely no contact with real society yet it applied to lucrative mining in tribal land, isn’t that the strangest thing? The voice of the people was totally ignored. Only a small elite of less than five educated Batswana found a sit at the negotiating and signing tables, and these people possessed no expertise! Is it possible the agreement took advantage of national poverty, ignorance and appalling levels of political anxiety to impose terms and even redefine political consensus? Under what circumstances can aggrieved Batswana sue De Beers? These are very serious matters.
Just look at our standards of living. Look at the high levels of poverty and unemployment. Look at the swathe of social wretchedness. It has been estimated we could have built more than six international cities the size of Johannesburg with money from our diamonds; what really happened here? How come this huge wealth failed to inaugurate a historic economic dynamic for radical social transformation, the creation of good sustainable jobs, high incomes, industrialization and modern knowledge society? The whole world is astounded at our missed opportunities. We really should get a prize for this briefest gleam of stupendous prosperity that passed by so swiftly and so inconsequentially.
It is obvious Batswana who signed up to this infamous deal were only looking at the political track; they had no knowledge of economics, and no vision of the future. They knew not the cost of doing such things, and could hardly ensure that choices were made with the fullest possible understanding of the facts, risks, and uncertainties involved. Yes, they had help from other white fellows, people who went on to work for De Beers and its affiliates like Anglo-American while those who stayed in Botswana joined the BDP and sat on the local board of the mining company. What do you make of that? Did subsequent renegotiations of this relationship rectify this anomaly? What should be done now? Kana re jelwe Batswana, go ile fela jalo?
My second issue with Masire relates to corruption and elite behaviour during his rule. We know for certain that substantial mineral revenues accrued directly to the state, which enjoyed monopolistic influence on how they could be spent for a good many years. We also know that massive politico-bureaucratic involvement in livestock production has been enhanced with the result that the rural livestock sub-sector has benefited through input subsidies, lax taxation legislation, and other forms of institutional support, but this involvement has left the majority of Batswana lurching helplessly in the poverty trap; and the institutional origins of state lethargy originate in the Masire presidency, of that most scholarship is agreed. What really happened, and why?
I particularly query Masire’s relationship with De Beers, the cattle industry, and his influence in the funding, and transformation of the entire rural economy. Under his presidency one man could be a senior civil servant, an active politician, a priest, a witch, a self-confessed thief, a businessman, a husband, a father, a community leader and a commercial farmer, and therefore, by virtue of all these accoutrements, a hirer of human labour, a trustee of public confidence, and a moral redeemer; a situation that angered progressive Batswana like Gobe Matenge to the extent the two remained enemies throughout their lives in government.
Let us consider the issue of economic austerity. Throughout his administration National Development Bank was held to ransom by agricultural producers, and at challenging election years, was forced to write-off millions of money it could not afford to lose. In 1980s the bank was under such brutal political siege that faced with uncertain elections, and shrinking BDP urban political support base, government had to save the NDB from imminent liquidation by writing-off over P24 million in debt payments owed by both arable and livestock farmers. When NDB was confronted by yet another bankruptcy threat government was once again compelled to intervene. Its accumulated losses at one point totalled P41.1 million.
Outstanding loans amounted to P91.3 million, of which over one-third were in arrears, most for more than six months. The Government's equity position was a negative P15.6 million. In addition, the Small Borrowers Fund, administered by the NDB for the Government, had at the same time accumulated losses of P32.4 million; 70% of its accounts were in arrears, almost all in excess of six months. The NDB was losing P450, 000 a month. The pre-pacified acerbic weekly tabloid, Midweek Sun, reported that NDB was owed more than P60 million in arrears, and borrowers, all of them BDP politicians, were refusing to service their loans. According to the 1991 Budget Speech, P31 million had been provided by the Government in 1988 in order to write off bad debts.
A parliamentary statement by the Assistant Minister of Finance appeared in the Botswana Gazette newspaper on 30 March 1994. In the article the minister revealed that the loans to the NDB had been written off in 1985/1986 and 1988/1989. According to the minister the total cost to the tax payer engendered by these rescue operations amounted to more than P35.5 million. Press interviews of disgruntled NDB employees, including unsigned documents listing NDB loans to Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament, makes the startling revelation that the Bank habitually sanctioned the rescheduling of loans on an across-the-board basis, neglecting individuals' creditworthiness. It tried to deal with this crisis by using ineffective instruments like direct grants, interest recapitalisation, suspension of loan and/or interest payments, conversion of loans into equity, increasing authorised share capital, extension of loans, hikes in rates charged by corporations, and revaluation of assets, and meanwhile 40% of Batswana lived in poverty.
This political burlesque irked, and riled, a public that was only beginning to awake to the sad reality that pirates were in power, vultures that were daily navigating their horrid and ruined lives with greedy eyes that spared no human carcass. Faced with a possible rebellion from angry citizens, especially poor people like us, government turned to constitutional changes designed to make sure we remained compliant, submissive, biddable, and compromised. These laws have protected corrupt, greedy, lecherous, vile, villainous, unethical, immoral, crooked, avaricious, gluttonous, lustful, randy, dreadful, loathsome, evil, contemptible, base, shameful, unpleasant, horrid, and nasty large cattle producers, multinational corporations, senior civil servants and the various members of the liberal professions for a worryingly long period of time. This means that all these oppressors have licence, authority, liberty, privilege and freedom to abuse us, our women, our children, our resources and our fragile environment with reckless abandon and legal impunity. Is it any wonder that these same rulers laugh at us, ridicule us, mock us and play games with us all the time?
Another issue that Masire lazily, and complacently, ignored is the serious matter of grave civil rights violations in the country. While he was busy accumulating wealth, poverty was worsening in the rural sector as shown in the household incomes surveys of 1975/76, 1985/86, 1993/94, 2002/03, the BIDPA reports of 1997 and finally acknowledgement by President Mogae in the 2004 Annual Address to the Nation Speech (see RoB 1976 1986 1994 1997 2003 2004). The plight of Basarwa communities, most of whom had been pushed out of ancestral land to make way for TGLP ranchers, national parks and game reserves, diamond mines and emerging townships like Gantsi actually worsened to the point that by 2004 thousands of these people were irking a living in economic camps, some will say death camps, called remote area dwellings (RADs).
Are all these disturbing facts marks of heroic politics? My point? Studies in political heroism are a minefield. More often than not, one man’s hero is another man’s villainy. To me, this presents a serious problem. I take it I know Botswana political literature well. I also know the history of this country. In fact just about all educated Batswana know these things very well. We also know the story of our country’s development. We understand, I think, the politics, of this country well. I have heard Batswana speak about this man since he died; in the streets, on social media, radio stations, BTV, and a few other infamous places I would rather not reveal. It is, I think, not a particularly good thing to speak about the dead without compunction. But this does not mean those who choose not to speak in public have nothing to say. To most Batswana, and under such emotional circumstances, it is always prudent to subscribe to the cliché discretion is the better part of valour.
So it is, that I have noted, with great concern that certain sections of the republic have deliberately chosen not to participate in these debates. So it is that I have noted these people more or less chose to discreetly boycott the entire funeral dialogue, and process. So it is, I doubt, they will very much miss the late Sir Ketumile, and many of these people are prominent BDP members, past, and present. Yes, statements of condolences where issued, but reading between the lines it is obvious the praises for Masire, were deliberately designed to criticize, and spite, the Khama presidency, instead of directly honouring Masire, on the basis of his own political merit.
Almost all living former cabinet ministers, high court judges, senior civil servants, ethnic minority human rights activists, intellectuals, trade unionists, cultural workers, stayed away. It would not be an exaggeration to say this man was buried, from the depth of hearts, mostly by his best friends, family, foreigners, and tribesmen. Government officials, and some leading politicians, seemed appalled, even annoyed, by this stupendous hysterical exhibitionism. Why? Do they know something that we don’t? When parliament convened to pay oration, three of the four parliamentarians who spoke were Masire’s tribesmen, and the last an opposition member. The rest just watched, almost stunned.
All this is very disturbing. But what I find even more disturbing than this, perhaps even most extraordinary, was the appeal from certain other sections of the republic for emotional restraint during his burial. This is surprising. What was the meaning of these appeals? I particularly remember the appeal by Vice President Masisi. Botswana is a democracy. Masire was a democrat; perhaps not a perfect one, but a democrat nevertheless. So far as I am aware, I am the only citizen who responded, in print, to the last public lecture delivered by Sir Ketumile at a university in Botswana. I admit I disapproved of his domkrag politics. When this man was still president I was refused permission to research Basarwa anthropological anger in Botswana.
I then proposed to write on De Beers and diamond mining but still I found myself struggling against a wall. Infuriated, I turned to something else just so I could get my doctorate. By the time I reached that decision, I had read so much literature about Botswana politics, and development thrust, that when the PhD Selection Committee demanded I should furnish them with development literature review to demonstrate I had sufficient grasp of what to write about Botswana after such a peripatetic shuffling by the Masire presidency and his bureaucratic machine I gave them 200 pages of modern development theory in three weeks. It was only recently I discovered Debswana had been financing Masire’s farming business, and Basarwa sitting on diamond wealth in CKGR.
I have never met Masire in person, but I know about his rule. I lived under his administration. I too have a lot to say about him. As I said, the conception of political heroism is grounded on historical reality, and not only the attributes of a man. Character is important to heroism, but it is what a man actually does accomplish that makes him to stand out as a hero. The accomplishment must be extraordinary, and of infinite benefit to humanity. I don’t believe Sir Ketumile is a political hero. It might be he was admired within BDP but his presidency was certainly not a distinguished chapter in the history of our republic. Many have suggested he was not the right man for the job in the first place. I will not be that ungenerous.
But I do doubt it was a good idea to keep him in the job that long. He has occupied too huge a space in our lives, and brought far too many citizens great misery, and mistrust of the art of politics. No one can deny these charges. He did try to develop a constructive approach to opposition politicians, but the aim was to accommodate, and destabilize the opposition, and not to nurture it. Otherwise he would have allowed government to fund it. We need to be honest about these things. He retired because, like a pillar of salt crumbling away rapidly, he was losing authority in the party.
It cannot be said a man who could not control political dissension, and revolt, in his own party, was also a man happily enamoured to the interests, and agenda, of an organised outside opposition that wanted to torpedo his government. That is a contradiction of terms. Of his forays in international politics after retirement, I really have little more to say. The strangest thing is that he went out to defend political values he routinely violated during his own tenure in office, political values he allowed his best friends, like Robert Mugabe, to also routinely violate; international law, human rights, and personal dignity.
How will I remember Masire? He was a lucky man who found himself thrust in the momentum of history. Sadly, he did little, to nothing, to benefit his own people, and humanity, with the political light put in his hands by benevolent gods. But then there’s always something egotistical about grand lofty things, about mountain tops, a sort of wisdom that is woe, a path in life that takes those who wonder out of all human understanding, even while living, in the congregation of the dead. Such is the road that men like him, and his friend, Robert Mugabe, have travelled. In the end only history can judge them. We are too human, I think, to pronounce the last word in their careers. For this reason alone, I don’t think political canonization will do his memory much good. Let him rest in peace.
Teedzani Thapelo*, is author of the Botswana novel series Seasons of Thunder, Vol. 1(2014), Vol. 2 (2015) and Vol. 3 (2016) and forthcoming books; Battle Against the Botswana Democratic Party: the beginning of the point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe: abandonment and revolt, The Argument Against the Botswana Democratic Party: an intellectual inquiry and Khama Presidency and Vanity Fair in Parliament: an African political tragedy, and Sir Ketumile Masire: willow in the limelight and the gathering storm.
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The case for Botswana to ratify the ACDEG
The Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) is the most comprehensive dataset measuring African governance performance through a wide range of 81 indicators under the categories of Security & Rule of law, Participation, Rights & Inclusion, Foundations of Economic Opportunity, and Human Development. It employs scores, expressed out of 100, which quantify a countryâ€™s performance for each governance measure and ranks, out of 54, in relation to the 54 African countries.
The 2022 IIAG Overall Governance score is 68.1 and ranks Botswana at number 5 in Africa. In 2019 Botswana was ranked 2nd with an overall score of 73.3. That is a sharp decline. The best-performing countries are Mauritius, Seychelles, Tunisia, and Cabo Verde, in that order. A glance at the categories shows that Botswana is in third place in Africa on the Security and Rule of law; ninth in the Participation, Rights & Inclusion Category â€“ indicating a shrinking participatory environment; eighth for Foundations of Economic Opportunity category; and fifth in the Human Development category.
The 2022 IIAG comes to a sweeping conclusion: Governments are less accountable and transparent in 2021 than at any time over the last ten years; Higher GDP does not necessarily indicate better governance; rule of law has weakened in the last five years; Democratic backsliding in Africa has accelerated since 2018; Major restrictions on freedom of association and assembly since 2012. Botswana is no exception to these conclusions. In fact, a look at the 10-year trend shows a major challenge. While Botswana remains in the top 5 of the best-performing countries in Africa, there are signs of decline, especially in the categories of Human Development and Security & Rule of law.
I start with this picture to show that Botswana is no longer the poster child for democracy, good governance, and commitment to the rule of law that it once was. In fact, to use the term used in the IIAG, Botswana is experiencing a â€śdemocratic backsliding.â€ť
The 2021 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) had Botswana at 55/ 100, the lowest ever score recorded by Botswana dethroning Botswana as Africaâ€™s least corrupt country to a distant third place, where it was in 2019 with a CPI of 61/100. (A score closer to zero denotes the worst corrupt and a score closer to 100 indicates the least corrupt country). The concern here is that while other African states are advancing in their transparency and accountability indexes, Botswana is backsliding.
The Transitional National Development Plan lists participatory democracy, the rule of law, transparency, and accountability, as key â€śdeliverables,â€ť if you may call those deliverables. If indeed Botswana is committed to these principles, she must ratify the African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance (ACDEG).
The African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance is the African Union’s principal policy document for advancing democratic governance in African Union member states. The ACDEG embodies the continentâ€™s commitment to a democratic agenda and set the standards upon which countries agreed to be held accountable. The Charter was adopted in 2007 and came into force a decade ago, in 2012.
Article 2 of the Charter details its objectives among others as to a) Promote adherence, by each State Party, to the universal values and principles of democracy and respect for human rights; b) Promote and protect the independence of the judiciary; c) Promote the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation, transparency, access to information, freedom of the press and accountability in the management of public affairs; d) Promote gender balance and equality in the governance and development processes.
The Charter emphasizes certain principles through which member states must uphold: Citizen Participation, Accountable Institutions, Respect for Human Rights, Adherence to the principles of the Rule of Law, Respect for the supremacy of the constitution and constitutional order, Entrenchment of democratic Principles, Separation of Powers, Respect for the Judiciary, Independence and impartiality of electoral bodies, best practice in the management of elections. These are among the top issues that Batswana have been calling for, that they be entrenched in the new Constitution.
The ACDEG is a revolutionary document. Article 3 of the ACDEG, sets guidance on the principles that must guide the implementation of the Charter among them: Effective participation of citizens in democratic and development processes and in the governance of public affairs; Promotion of a system of government that is representative; Holding of regular, transparent, free and fair elections; Separation of powers; Promotion of gender equality in public and private institutions and others.
Batswana have been calling for laws that make it mandatory for citizen participation in public affairs, more so, such calls have been amplified in the just-ended â€śconsultative processâ€ť into the review of the Constitution of Botswana. Many scholars, academics, and Batswana, in general, have consistently made calls for a constitution that provides for clear separation of powers to prevent concentration of power in one branch, in Botswanaâ€™s case, the Executive, and provide for effective checks and balances. Other countries, like Kenya, have laws that promote gender equality in public and private institutions inscribed in their constitutions. The ACDEG could be a useful advocacy tool for the promotion of gender equality.
Perhaps more relevant to Botswanaâ€™s situation now is Article 10 of the Charter. Given how the constitutional review process unfolded, the numerous procedural mistakes and omissions, the lack of genuine consultations, the Charter principles could have provided a direction, if Botswana was party to the Charter. â€śState Parties shall ensure that the process of amendment or revision of their constitution reposes on national consensus, obtained, if need be, through referendum,â€ť reads part of Article 10, giving clear clarity, that the Constitution belong to the people.
With the African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance in hand, ratified, and also given the many shortfalls in the current constitution, Batswana can have a tool in hand, not only to hold the government accountable but also a tool for measuring aspirations and shortfalls of our governance institutional framework.
Botswana has not signed, nor has it acceded or ratified the ACDEG. The time to ratify the ACDEG is now. Our Movement, Motheo O Mosha Society, with support from the Democracy Works Foundation and The Charter Project Africa, will run a campaign to promote, popularise and advocate for the ratification of the Charter (#RatifytheCharter Campaign). The initiative is co-founded by the European Union. The Campaign is implemented with the support of our sister organizations: Global Shapers Community â€“ Gaborone Hub, #FamilyMeetingBW, Botswana Center for Public Integrity, Black Roots Organization, Economic Development Forum, Molao-Matters, WoTech Foundation, University of Botswana Political Science Society, Young Minds Africa and Branding Akosua.
Ratifying the Charter would reaffirm Botswanaâ€™s commitment to upholding strong democratic values, and respect for constitutionalism, and promote the rule of law and political accountability. Join us in calling the Government of Botswana to #RatifyTheCharter.
*Morena MONGANJA is the Chairperson of Motheo O Mosha society; a grassroots movement advocating for a new Constitution for Botswana. Contact: email@example.com or WhatsApp 77 469 362.
The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.
Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués. In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.
The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.
However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.
Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region. The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”. The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?
As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel. It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.
The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.
Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.
As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie
Internal party-democracy under pressure
British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”
The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.
As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.
We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.
Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.
Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values. This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.
Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.
Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.
Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.
We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.
These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.
Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.
The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.