It is really cold at the top. It’s even colder when you are the president of a country that has been ruled by one party for more than 48 years. With economic prospects looking gloomy, time is running fast for the BDP, more especially for President Ian Khama.
For the first time in Botswana politics, the ruling party slipped below the 50% popular vote, a sign that the citizens have become frustrated with the ruling party. At the centre it is Mr Khama who is feeling the heat; his leadership has been put under scrutiny. And it doesn’t look good. He is receiving criticism from all fronts and some have even went further to brand him as the worst president this country has ever had: an assumption that neglects some basic truths.
Often compared to the past presidents, the comparison neglects the fact that president Khama is operating under an altogether different setting. While other past presidents could throw money and mask the true extents of the problems, Mr Khama does not have that luxury.
He faces enormous challenges, a burgeoning class of unemployed graduates, civil servants with depressed disposable incomes, fragile world markets, elusive diversification of the economy and a robust opposition parties that claim can do better than him. To be fair to the man, most problems frustrating Batswana are not his own doing, rather it’s a culmination of lack of foresight from all the past presidents. He just happened to find himself as the president at the wrong time.
But not all it’s lost. With four years left before he concludes his second term, the president can turn things around and salvage his presidency.
The general consensus is President Khama will face four years of lame duckery. To avoid this, the president will have to roll back his sleeves and set in motion policy reforms. Something he hasn’t exactly done since assuming office six years ago. With the opposition parties currently riding high, Mr Khama will have to think outside the box to ride the wave that is currently threatening to drown him. The sooner he starts the better.
President Khama might feel the criticism levelled against him is unfair but he is the man at the driving seat. It hasn’t been an easy presidency for him. When he assumed the presidency, the world economy went into a recession leaving him with few cards to play. He couldn’t meet the workers demand for higher salary wages nor create employment opportunities. He faltered in handling the first major workers strike and his administration had to battle with corruption scandals implicating high ranking officials.
Furthermore, delayed major projects (Morupule B, Sir Seretse Khama airport) and cost overruns blighted his rhetoric about delivering results. To the already frustrated citizens, the president came across as being aloof and authoritarian. His attempts to controlling the situation was dismissed as fickle, his projects were branded populist and money wasting. This in turn left the president to be frustrated and combatative due to the incessant criticism he was receiving from all corners,
To achieve success, the president will have to change his leadership style that is often seen as divisive, vindictive and exclusionary. The president has just emerged from a bruising election that echoed a warning message, Batswana want change. It might not be a change of government but they want a meaningful change in their lives. The president owes this change not only to those who voted him but even to those who did not vote for his party.
First on his agenda should be democratic and economic reforms. When he assumed the presidency, Mr Khama assured the citizens that he holds democracy in high regard. Unfortunately the president hasn’t done much to prove that point. Although Botswana remains a vibrant democracy, that democracy is being surpassed by late comers such as South Africa.
The oversight institutions in Botswana are weak, the presidency has too much power and parliament has become a toothless dog. This has created an impression that Mr Khama is a dictator whenever he excises his executive powers. Its no longer sufficient for the president to deny the allegations, what is sufficient is for the president to introduce reforms.
He should rally his BDP majority led parliament to pass laws that promote democracy. This includes giving parliament more power over other oversight institutions. He should also avail himself to be questioned by legislators as it is done in mature democracy such as Britain.
Mr Khama will have to rise above the occasion and accept that the private media remains a cornerstone of any thriving democracy. He might hate the lies that have been told about him but he is partly to blame for this. His distaste for the private media is legendary, and the private media is giving back as much as it is getting. To get over the impasse, he should make information easily accessible to the media by embracing the Access to Information law.
On the economic front, the impetus is on the president to promote transparency and accountability. Most of the government excesses have been due to corruption. Tendering has become a money spinner for a few business people, including foreigner investors. To remedy the situation, there is a need for a comprehensive review of the tendering process in Botswana.
The Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board should be mandated to release all the names of companies that have won tenders, the value of their tenders and the progress achieved. This will guard against people who have made it their past time to defraud the government.
The president should get his pen ready to sign important laws like the Asset and Liabilities Declaration. This will absolve the president form the assumptions that he condones corruption. Batswana have complained about feeling like second citizens in their own country as foreigners continue to benefit more than them. This calls for a robust citizen empowerment strategy which will also emphasize the dire need for skills transfer.
The biggest challenge for the president will be the transformation of the education sector and creating employment. Botswana is facing an educational crisis, the whole thing is a ticking bomb. On the other hand you have frustrated teachers who are not getting their dues and on the other hand you have students who are becoming increasingly annoyed with an outdated education system.
Contrary to popular belief, the education crisis did not begin during Mr Khama’s administration, rather it has been the results of the past governments that have been lax and unimaginative. The current education model is cruel to the less academically gifted students. Its time for an education system that enhances capability and also relevant to the modern times.
For example, the current education model in Botswana is big on theory and lacking on the practical aspects. Information technology remains a critical skill hence the need to introduce it at primary school level. This should go beyond the typical basic computer functions but rather introduce students to programming. Innovation remains key to economic growth, and this innovation is driven by technology.
A change of personnel lays critical to Mr Khama’s plans. But his choice of personnel has been disappointing. The president should change how his administration is run. He should go public with his team of advisors, official and non official advisors.
The president should get rid of the tag that his administration is run through a coterie of insiders chosen more for their loyalty rather than merit. Instead of picking a team of people who can compensate for what he lacks, Mr Khama seems to prefer people who are loyal and meek The president will have to let go of certain people who have brought him more headaches than solutions.
First on the list should Be Isaac Kgosi, the Director General of DIS. This is the man who shouldn’t have been the head of the DIS in the first place, his close proximity to the president has tied everything his organisation does with the president. The lines have become too blurred.
To make matters worse he has been implicated in corruption allegations and the organisation he leads continues to be a source of fear for the citizens. The president should either disband the organisation or appoint someone neutral. The chop list should also include Carter Morupisi Eric Molale, the recently appointed director of DPSM and minister of presidential affairs, respectively. Mr Morupisi and Molale have been at the centre of the disgruntled civil service. Their approach to the civil service has been a comedy of tragic errors.
President Khama can achieve a lot in the next four years. He just needs to change the way he has been doing things, when handled well he will go down history as one of the best statesman in Africa. President Khama needs to lead with a feeling, that includes being decisive and authoritative. The democratic and economic reforms will boost his already popular public image. Most importantly it will leave his critics will little ammunition, in the process consolidating his power and repositioning his party as the only alternative in 2019.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.