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Political Vision and its Enemies in Botswana: the Argument against

Tedzani Thapelo

Botswana novelist, poet, historian, researcher, biographer, writer of short stories, travelogue and human rights campaigner, Teedzani Thapelo*, advances the critical argument that Vision 2016 failed principally because we failed right from the beginning of this political project to diagnose the nature and severity of our national crisis and then compounded the situation by tailoring it to subverted, blighted and meaningless public policies. To give Vision 2030 a better chance of success we should this time around try to do things the proper way. More important we should make sure political vision does not morph into a baiting gimmick for political catastrophe; blighting the fortunes and future of our children.

First things first, political vision is by tradition an intellectual inquiry into the problem of social order. It is rightly regarded as Plato’s greatest political programme, perhaps his greatest contribution to political art. Scholars are agreed about its centrality to political philosophy as we understand it today. I should, however, confess I’m rather surprised Botswana has become so much besotted with this thing.

First it was Vision 2016: Towards Prosperity for All, and we all know what happened to that little pet project. Now it’s Vision 2036: Beyond Tomorrow, Beyond the Stars. What next? Well, I suppose we should try to do something about the sociological landscape of our nation. Why not? We are a member of the global village. We have got neither our own philosophical tradition nor do we have philosophers to chart our way into the future; a future I should sadly admit, that looks rather bleak and perilous. It’s also interesting to find one’s country so suddenly head-over-heels in love with something so purely intellectual. Oh, yes, Botswana is charmed by Plato, it’s a first rate love affair!

But do we know what we are doing? No, Batswana, these vision things do not come from Government Enclave; ga se mananeo a goromente. The visions come from some obscure offices and corridors in the UN, very far away. We only talk about them here because we belong to that beastly old creature, and our political education cannot, of course, be anything but western. So let’s fall in love with this thing from the canon of Western political philosophy as we please, but I do think we should try at least to be certain we really do know what it is we are doing.

Utopian ideas can be dangerous in politics. We all know about the sparkling fire of communist rhetoric and what came of it. Look at Russia. Look at Zimbabwe. Remember what happened to Muamur Gadaffi and his little Green Book, and Mao Zedung and his little Red Book. Words that look too beautiful and too promising in politics generally lead to dangerous disasters.

Let’s hope these fantastic little visions that Government Enclave is embracing with so much romantic enthusiasm don’t take us the same road. 2036 is not very far. From Rwanda I understand Paul Kigame will still be in power. Mugabe is threatening to rule on earth and right on to heaven, if he does get past Saint Paul at the Golden Gate, and so he probably will still be around.

My eldest son who just started working in Canada will be a family man and the two little ones, Davis and Rabasi, will still be in school if they are foolish enough to spend twenty-one uninterrupted years collecting useless certificates from universities all over the world like their father did. Why, one might ask, am I saying these things? It’s because politics is a deeply personal thing. Many people don’t realize this, but there can never be thriving human life and happiness where there’s no politics.

This is why I am asking: do we know what we are planting in our political system and tradition by adding these little poetic visions into it? Are Batswana ready to contend with the Platonic vision? Are our institutions and belief systems ready for it? Do we have the resources, ingenuity and moral fortitude to see these visions through? Aren’t we baiting political catastrophe?

I am told Ian Khama sent out an eminently distinguished team of professors to teach Batswana about these things, hear their views and write up our next political vision. I can only hope these professors too knew what they were doing. Did Batswana know they were talking to Plato, the greatest philosopher known to mankind? Did they know this thing is not a joke? I can hear an impressed Motswana at Sekondomboro village lamenting, like Faust, “sweet analytics, thou hast ravished me.” Good work. Remember Faust wanted all the things that Botswana wants: prosperity, power, peace, immortality. We all know what happened to him.

Let’s hope the same thing does not happen to us. Let’s also hope our distinguished professors taught Batswana well. There must be a reason why Batswana accept these things. Much of Africa does not care about these visions. We have better things to do than excite the passions and interests of already highly restive populations is what one writer friend of mine said to me. Too cynical? I don’t know. What am I saying here? Let me explain.

A political vision is by definition not an easy thing. But we don’t have to resurrect Plato to understand what it is all about. The vision documents that have become the fundamental sub-texts of our political strategy, survival and destiny in the last twenty years, including the now discredited Vision 2016 Document, are products of a political imagination going back at least 2000 years. The original purpose of political vision as a project of political philosophy was aimed at addressing a set of perennial issues afflicting ancient civilizations.

I want to focus on only a few most pertinent ones; moral corruption and degeneration in civilization, and political decay and collapse of civilizations. Political vision sought to speak literally to these menacing concerns at certain levels; beginning, degeneration, end, and revival, as well as discernable moments of truth that could be recovered, and provide the necessary means for political redemption. In short political vision is born of political crisis.

This must sound familiar to any Motswana who has been watching BTV the last couple of weeks. Vision 2016 calls for a moral, compassionate, educated and informed, innovative and productive, safe and secure, democratic and accountable, and tolerant and united nation. The issue of pride is nothing but political jingoism and for the most part sentimental foolishness. The operative concepts for our purposes here are moral, educated, innovative and productive, and safe and secure. As for democracy and national unity these I critiqued in a recent widely published article concerning a public lecture by former president Ketumile Masire (Ref. 16-22 July, Weekend Post/15 July, 2016, Botswana Guardian).

More problematical, research shows that totalitarian regimes tend to deal with national crisis better than democratic ones; and that they often thrive and endure longer in moments of historical stress than democratic ones do under the same circumstances, sad but true enough. The issue is, however, still open to debate. Even Plato did address this issue in his famous political dialogues. To sum up, political vision always speaks to contemporary political crisis and the possibilities of political redemption. And here lies the greatest problem.

When Botswana authored this vision twenty years ago what political crisis did it seek to address? Was there any historical stress in the republic? If political crisis did exist, what political redemption has been accomplished?  I’ve already said the vision programme came from the UN; never mind what Madomkrag say. Our business was only to domesticate and own it. But did we do this thing well? I don’t think so. When this global discourse was first mooted I was a graduate student in the economics department at SOAS. I knew right away it would create policy problems for African countries and said so at our weekly student’s seminar.

To my surprise everybody present disagreed with me, arguing it was a great opportunity for Africans to rethink their politics and policy instruments. I was staggered. So far as I understood the debate what was at stake was the possible ruin of two phenomena: western civilization and the capitalist international economy. Africa’s existential problem at the time was located elsewhere: structural adjustment programmes and the debt trap. Our problem was one of underdevelopment and perennial political crisis; and that of the West, corpulent affluence run amuck, and institutional complacence.

We were failing to adjust to postcolonial modernity and trauma; and Europe struggling to adjust to globalization and the triumph of capitalism. How could we lump the two development trajectories together? I was furious, so implacably furious my thesis advisor, the distinguished Marxist-Leninist scholar and philosopher, Ben Fine, decided I should write a development theory paper on the subject for the next seminar. I can’t say I entirely convinced my classmates about the merits of my argument. But that was to be expected. I was the only African student in that seminar. But my supervisor was delighted when two years later my thesis examiner, an oxford economics professor, brought up the question on the day I was defending my PhD and intellectual integrity, and I calmly stood up and gave the don that document word for word; from nothing short of an astonished memory and anguished temper. One hour later I was awarded my doctorate and only a week later I arrived home a free man.

To my surprise I found Batswana here agog about the same vision thing. I did try to make a contribution but my proposition seems not to have sat well with better minds at Government Enclave so I let the thing run. No one can deny today the whole thing is a scandalous failure. Just look at the crisis in education, and productivity, and the problem of political intolerance. Consider the continuing radical income inequalities, and the political anxiety gripping the entire country. Are we really as safe and secure as we think? Are we compassionate? Are we truly educated? Are we prosperous? Are we democratic and accountable? Are we a moral and united nation? Did we properly diagnose the real problems facing this country twenty years ago?

Why were we so shy to talk about HIV/AIDS at the time and its possible spill-over consequences in the areas of human capital, market integration and growth? Why didn’t we worry about its decimation of the finest educated and trained professional elites this country ever possessed; the very people whose mass deaths and anguished existence was soon to orphan and traumatize an entire generation of our national youth? Why were we so coy to concede our own environmental weaknesses? Why didn’t we talk about our ruinous maladjustment to diamond liquidity capital? Why didn’t we talk about the cancer of corruption in public life? Why didn’t we worry about donor fatigue and departure? 

Why did we not talk about the yawning cultural vacuum that was already threatening to eat out our national soul and vitality at the time? And the question of national unity: why didn’t we realistically talk about the things that held us together and go out of our way to cement and solidify them while doing away with those that continue to divide us, eating at the heart of our national consciousness? Why didn’t we talk about these things? Why did we settle for empty borrowed words that were mostly irrelevant to our situation? Why did we borrow other people’s problems instead of acknowledging our own and trying to do something urgently about them? Look again at Vision 2016.

Even today we could give that blasted thing to Burundians, or the South Sudanese. They need it. We don’t; or at least we didn’t need it twenty years ago. We failed, dismally, to author our own destiny as a nation and a people in 1997, to seek political redemption to the crisis facing us at the time, and what a missed opportunity. We have got fewer resources today, fewer friends in the international community who really count for something, and we have got far less energy and fire in us. It’s terrible the way things are going on in this country.

But maybe we still have a chance. I see now Ian Khama has just received the Vision 2030 Document. Once again its origin is the UN, and Western philosophical disquisition. I said it was compiled by Botswana’s finest intellectuals. Well, I won’t step on their decorated feet this time. I do see, however, the UN has this time diagnosed our national crisis fairly well; social and human development, sustainable growth, and environmental protection. Yes, governance, peace and security as well. This is all proper. International relations have changed profoundly in the last twenty years. The mandate of political philosophy is now somewhat different; thanks to the third wave of globalization, the forth industrial revolution in the West, the crisis of capitalism and the 2008 world recession, climate change and crazy imans in the Middle East. In general, right now we are not a safe world. Botswana must share these extraordinary and extreme concerns and these things must be reflected in our political agenda and calendar.

But what really is our current national crisis? How should we seek to explain our contemporary politics?  And what are the possibilities of political redemption going into the future; to 2030? These are issues that require serious research and rigorous analysis. I see the professors tasked to prepare this document had clear terms of reference; to mobilise Batswana to define their national dream and aspirations, to review background materials on the subject, to produce a document built from national consultation and consensus. I am sure the experts did this competently.

What baffles me, though, are the questions put to Batswana. The kind of country they want to see built by 2030? The kind of person a Motswana should look like in terms of social standing in 1930? The first question is open to too much irrelevant waffling. The second, well, one would have to look for something between Darwin’s evolution of species theory and Dickens’s Great Expectations. It’s a most singular question to put to any person; and ridiculous questions always get ridiculous answers. This is the major problem with Batswana. We never take ourselves seriously.

I remember the questions for Vision 2016. They were just as bad. I don’t even care if these questions-God forbid!-come from the UN as well. They are bad research questions. Then; what should be done to accomplish this dream? A good political question, but the who part is suspect. Why not how, given our poor work ethic, diminishing resources, education crisis, the malice of nature on the land, possibilities for political caprice, etc.? That way you enter the province of political philosophy where the political vision project originates.

Political vision presupposes ideological purpose. It is a symbolic character of human activity. It speaks to the philosopher’s city that is at work. It presupposes rule by those who profess to know the ground of justice. It implies the end of tension between truth and politics. It is rooted in the dilemmas and social tensions of society and the disillusioning experiences of a known and lived world (Ref. my article The Trouble with Botswana: a poet speaks, in 15 July, 2016 vol. 33, No. 106, Mmegi and subsequent publication). In some cases it originates from the failure of political experience. It is a therapeutic vehicle for the possible failures of nationhood and human civilization.

It seeks answers to the problems of human order and historical existence. It is key to the fundamental understanding, not only of human beings, but of the world as well. Its greatest concern is the problem of social order and man’s relation to his natural resource base; the environment. It seeks and desires to create a cultural world that conditions historical existence. For man it seeks perfect orientation and intellectual disposition, and politics, the authority to order society. Its creative transformation draws power and strength from agreed upon political symbols. It is, in the poetic language of Heidegger, the house of Being; a beautiful thing. But like all things beautiful it is not immortal. It can be destroyed with deliberate vehemence which, sadly, I believe, is what happened to Vision 2016.

What is required for a political vision to succeed? I refuse to answer this question. It would be the height of arrogance to try to tutor the best and brightest at Government Enclave, and a possible invitation of unnecessary personal harm and humiliation. But I do think Batswana know exactly what it is they ought to do.

First, identify the national crisis to be addressed, and then go all way out to seek political redress. Word of advice, take heed of the wise words of that great poet, the author of Paradise Lost, John Milton; “there is no art that has been more cankered in her principles, more soiled, and slobbered with aphorizing pedantry than the art of policy,” and all will proceed well, bearing in mind, of course, all the time, that politics imply a certain idea of man, and not always a good idea.

 

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020
FATED “JIHADI” JOHN

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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