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.
Parliament was this week once again seized with matters that concern them and borders on conflict of interest and abuse of privilege.
The two matters are; review of MPs benefits as well as President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s participation in the bidding for Banyana Farms. For the latter, it should not come as a surprise that President Masisi succeeded in bid.
The President’s business interests have also been in the forefront. While President Masisi is entitled as a citizen to participate in a various businesses in the country or abroad, it is morally deficient for him to participate in a bidding process that is handled by the government he leads. By the virtue of his presidency, Masisi is the head of government and head of State.
Not long ago, former President Festus Mogae suggested that elected officials should consider using blind trust to manage their business interests once they are elected to public office. Though blind trusts are expensive, they are the best way of ensuring confidence in those that serve in public office.
A blind trust is a trust established by the owner (or trustor) giving another party (the trustee) full control of the trust. Blind trusts are often established in situations where individuals want to avoid conflicts of interest between their employment and investments.
The trustee has full discretion over the assets and investments while being charged with managing the assets and any income generated in the trust.
The trustor can terminate the trust, but otherwise exercises no control over the actions taken within the trust and receives no reports from the trustees while the blind trust is in force.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, has defended President Masisi’s participation in business and in the Banyana Farms bidding. His contention is that, the practise even obtained during the administration of previous presidents.
The President is the most influential figure in the country. His role is representative and he enjoys a plethora of privileges. He is not an ordinary citizen. The President should therefore be mindful of this fact.
We should as a nation continue to thrive for improvement of our laws with the viewing of enhancing good governance. We should accept perpetuation of certain practices on the bases that they are a norm. MPs are custodians of good governance and they should measure up to the demands of their responsibility.
Parliament should not be spared for its role in countenancing these developments. Parliament is charged with the mandate of making laws and providing oversight, but for them to make laws that are meant solely for their benefits as MPs is unethical and from a governance point of view, wrong.
There have been debates in parliament, some dating from past years, about the benefits of MPs including pension benefits. It is of course self-serving for MPs to be deliberating on their compensation and other benefits.
In the past, we have also contended that MPs are not the right people to discuss their own compensation and there has to be Special Committee set for the purpose. This is a practice in advanced democracies.
By suggesting this, we are not suggesting that MP benefits are in anyway lucrative, but we are saying, an independent body may figure out the best way of handling such issues, and even offer MPs better benefits.
In the United Kingdom for example; since 2009 following a scandal relating to abuse of office, set-up Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)
IPSA is responsible for: setting the level of and paying MPs’ annual salaries; paying the salaries of MPs’ staff; drawing up, reviewing, and administering an MP’s allowance scheme; providing MPs with publicly available and information relating to taxation issues; and determining the procedures for investigations and complaints relating to MPs.
Owing to what has happened in the Parliament of Botswana recently, we now need to have a way of limiting what MPs can do especially when it comes to laws that concern them. We cannot be too trusting as a nation.
MPs can abuse office for their own agendas. There is need to act swiftly to deal with the inherent conflict of interest that arise as a result of our legislative setup. A voice of reason should emerge from Parliament to address this unpleasant situation. This cannot be business as usual.
The 490-hectare campus researches the world’s deadliest pathogens, including Anthrax (in 1944, the Roosevelt administration ordered 1 million anthrax bombs from Fort Detrick), Ebola, smallpox, and … you guessed right: coronaviruses. The facility, which carries out paid research projects for government agencies (including the CIA), universities and drug companies most of whom owned by the highly sinister military-industrial complex, employs 900 people.
Between 1945 and 1969, the sprawling complex (which has since become the US’s ”bio-defence centre” to put it mildly) was the hub of the US biological weapons programme. It was at Fort Detrick that Project MK Ultra, a top-secret CIA quest to subject the human mind to routine robotic manipulation, a monstrosity the CIA openly owned up to in a congressional inquisition in 1975, was carried out. In the consequent experiments, the guinea pigs comprised not only of people of the forgotten corner of America – inmates, prostitutes and the homeless but also prisoners of war and even regular US servicemen.
These unwitting participants underwent up to a 20-year-long ordeal of barbarous experiments involving psychoactive drugs (such as LSD), forced electroshocks, physical and sexual abuses, as well as a myriad of other torments. The experiments not only violated international law, but also the CIA’s own charter which forbids domestic activities. Over 180 doctors and researchers took part in these horrendous experiments and this in a country which touts itself as the most civilised on the globe!
Was the coronavirus actually manufactured at Fort Detrick (like HIV as I shall demonstrate at the appropriate time) and simply tactfully patented to other equally cacodemonic places such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China?
THE FORT DETRICK SCIENTISTS’ PROPHECY WAS WELL-INFORMED
About two years before the term novel coronavirus became a familiar feature in day-to-day banter, two scientist cryptically served advance warning of its imminence. They were Allison Totura and Sina Bavari, both researchers at Fort Detrick.
The two scientists talked of “novel highly pathogenic coronaviruses that may emerge from animal reservoir hosts”, adding, “These coronaviruses may have the potential to cause devastating pandemics due to unique features in virus biology including rapid viral replication, broad host range, cross-species transmission, person-to-person transmission, and lack of herd immunity in human populations … Associated with novel respiratory syndromes, they move from person-to-person via close contact and can result in high morbidity and mortality caused by the progression to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).”
All the above constitute some of the documented attributes and characteristics of the virus presently on the loose – the propagator of Covid-19. A recent clinical review of Covid-19 in The Economist seemed to bear out this prognostication when it said, “It is ARDS that sees people rushed to intensive-care units and put on ventilators”. As if sounding forth a veritable prophecy, the two scientists besought governments to start working on counter-measures there and then that could be “effective against such a virus”.
Well, it was not by sheer happenstance that Tortura and Bavari turned out to have been so incredibly and ominously prescient. They had it on good authority, having witnessed at ringside what the virus was capable of in the context of their own laboratory. The gory scenario they painted for us came not from secondary sources but from the proverbial horse’s mouth folks.
CDC’S RECKLESS ADMISSION
In March this year, Robert Redfield, the US Director for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee that it had transpired that some members of the American populace who were certified as having died of influenza turned out to have harboured the novel coronavirus per posthumous analysis of their tissue.
Redfield was not pressed to elaborate but the message was loud and clear – Covid-19 had been doing the rounds in the US much earlier than it was generally supposed and that the extent to which it was mistaken for flu was by far much more commonplace than was openly admitted. An outspoken Chinese diplomat, Zhao Lijian, seized on this rather casual revelation and insisted that the US disclose further information, exercise transparency on coronavirus cases and provide an explanation to the public.
But that was not all the beef Zhao had with the US. He further charged that the coronavirus was possibly transplanted to China by the US: whether inadvertently or by deliberate design he did not say. Zhao pointed to the Military World Games of October 2019, in which US army representatives took part, as the context in which the coronavirus irrupted into China. Did the allegation ring hollow or there was a ring of truth to it?
THE BENASSIE FACTOR
The Military World Games, an Olympic-style spectrum of competitive action, are held every four years. The 2019 episode took place in Wuhan, China. The 7th such, the games ran from October 18 to October 27. The US contingent comprised of 17 teams of over 280 athletes, plus an innumerable other staff members. Altogether, over 9000 athletes from 110 countries were on hand to showcase their athletic mettle in more than 27 sports. All NATO countries were present, with Africa on its part represented by 30 countries who included Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Besides the singular number of participants, the event notched up a whole array of firsts. One report spelt them out thus: “The first time the games were staged outside of military bases, the first time the games were all held in the same city, the first time an Athletes’ Village was constructed, the first time TV and VR systems were powered by 5G telecom technology, and the first use of all-round volunteer services for each delegation.”
Now, here is the clincher: the location of the guest house for the US team was located in the immediate neighbourhood of the Wuhan Seafood Market, the place the Chinese authorities to this day contend was the diffusion point of the coronavirus. But there is more: according to some reports, the person who allegedly but unwittingly transmitted the virus to the people milling about the market – Patient Zero of Covid-19 – was one Maatie Benassie.
Benassie, 52, is a security officer of Sergeant First Class rank at the Fort Belvoir military base in Virginia and took part in the 50-mile cycling road race in the same competitions. In the final lap, she was accidentally knocked down by a fellow contestant and sustained a fractured rib and a concussion though she soldiered on and completed the race with the agonising adversity. Inevitably, she saw a bit of time in a local health facility. According to information dug up by George Webb, an investigative journalist based in Washington DC, Benassie would later test positive for Covid-19 at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.
Incidentally, Benassie apparently passed on the virus to other US soldiers at the games, who were hospitalised right there in China before they were airlifted back to the US. The US government straightaway prohibited the publicising of details on the matter under the time-honoured excuse of “national security interests”, which raised eyebrows as a matter-of-course. As if that was not fishy enough, the US out of the blue tightened Chinese visas to the US at the conclusion of the games.
The rest, as they say, is history: two months later, Covid-19 had taken hold on China territory. “From that date onwards,” said one report, “one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 15, the total number of infections stood at 27 — the first double-digit daily rise was reported on December 17 — and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60.”
TWO CURIOUS RESEARCH HALTINGS
Is it a coincidence that all the US soldiers who fell ill at the Wuhan games did their preparatory training at the Fort Belvoir military base, only a 15-minutes’ drive from Fort Detrick?
That Fort Detrick is a plain-sight perpetrator of pathogenic evils is evidenced by a number of highly suspicious happenings concerning it. Remember the 2001 anthrax mailing attacks on government and media houses which killed five people right on US territory? The two principal suspects who puzzlingly were never charged, worked as microbiologists at Fort Detrick. Of the two, Bruce Ivins, who was the more culpable, died in 2008 of “suicide”. For “suicide”, read “elimination”, probably because he was in the process of spilling the beans and therefore cast the US government in a stigmatically diabolical light. Indeed, the following year, all research projects at Fort Detrick were suspended on grounds that the institute was “storing pathogens not listed in its database”. The real truth was likely much more reprehensible.
In 2014, there was a mini local pandemic in the US which killed thousands of people and which the mainstream media were not gutsy enough to report. It arose following the weaponisation at Fort Detrick of the H7N9 virus, prompting the Obama administration to at once declare a moratorium on the research and withdraw funding.
The Trump administration, however, which has a pathological fixation on undoing practically all the good Obama did, reinstated the research under new rigorous guidelines in 2017. But since old habits die hard, the new guidelines were flouted at will, leading to another shutdown of the whole research gamut at the institute in August 2019. This, nonetheless, was not wholesale as other areas of research, such as experiments to make bird flu more transmissible and which had begun in 2012, proceeded apace. As one commentator pointedly wondered aloud, was it really necessary to study how to make H5N1, which causes a type of bird flu with an eye-popping mortality rate, more transmissible?
Consistent with its character, the CDC was not prepared to furnish particulars upon issuing the cease and desist order, citing “national security reasons”. Could the real reason have been the manufacture of the novel coronavirus courtesy of a tip-off by the more scrupulous scientists?
President Mokgweetsi Masisi may have breathed a huge sigh of relief when he emerged victorious in last year’s 2019 general elections, but the ultimate test of his presidency has only just begun.
From COVID-19 pandemic effects; disenchanted unemployed youth, deteriorating diplomatic relations with neighbouring South Africa as well as emerging instability within the ruling party — Masisi has a lot to resolve in the next few years.
Last week we started an unwanted cold war with Botswana’s main trade partner, South Africa, in what we consider an ill-conceived move. Never, in the history of this country has Botswana shown South Africa a cold shoulder – particularly since the fall of the apartheid regime.
It is without a doubt that our country’s survival depends on having good relations with South Africa. As the Chairperson of African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe once said, a good relationship between Botswana and South Africa is not optional but necessary.
No matter how aggrieved we feel, we should never engage in a diplomatic war — with due respect to other neighbours— with South Africa. We will never gain anything from starting a diplomatic war with South Africa.
In fact, doing so will imperil our economy, given that majority of businesses in the retail sector and services sector are South African companies.
Former cabinet minister and Phakalane Estates proprietor, David Magang once opined that Botswana’s poor manufacturing sector and importation of more than 80 percent of the foodstuffs from South Africa, effectively renders Botswana a neo-colony of the former.
Magang’s statement may look demeaning, but that is the truth, and all sorts of examples can be produced to support that. Perhaps it is time to realise that as a nation, we are not independent enough to behave the way we do. And for God’s sake, we are a landlocked country!
Recently, the effects of COVID-19 have exposed the fragility of our economy; the devastating pleas of the unemployed and the uncertainty of the future. Botswana’s two mainstay source of income; diamonds and tourism have been hit hard. Going forward, there is a need to chart a new pathway, and surely it is not an easy task.
The ground is becoming fertile for uprisings that are not desirable in any country. That the government has not responded positively to the rising unemployment challenge is the truth, and very soon as a nation we will wake up to this reality.
The magnitude of the problem is so serious that citizens are running out of patience. The government on the other hand has not done much to instil confidence by assuring the populace that there is a plan.
The general feeling is that, not much will change, hence some sections of the society, will try to use other means to ensure that their demands are taken into consideration. Botswana might have enjoyed peace and stability in the past, but there is guarantee that, under the current circumstances, the status quo will be maintained.
It is evident that, increasingly, indigenous citizens are becoming resentful of naturalised and other foreign nationals. Many believe naturalised citizens, especially those of Indian origin, are the major beneficiaries in the economy, while the rest of the society is side-lined.
The resentfulness is likely to intensify going forward. We needed not to be heading in this direction. We needed not to be racist in our approach but when the pleas of the large section of the society are ignored, this is bound to happen.
It is should be the intention of every government that seeks to strive on non-racialism to ensure that there is shared prosperity. Share prosperity is the only way to make people of different races in one society to embrace each other, however, we have failed in this respect.
Masisi’s task goes beyond just delivering jobs and building a nation that we all desire, but he also has an immediate task of achieving stability within his own party. The matter is so serious that, there are threats of defection by a number of MPs, and if he does not arrest this, his government may collapse before completing the five year mandate.
The problems extend to the party itself, where Masisi found himself at war with his Secretary General, Mpho Balopi. The war is not just the fight for Central Committee position, but forms part of the succession plan.