Inarguably, the year 2019 will go down in Botswana’s political history as the worst year ever, or at least the most eventful political year this country has ever endured. I say worst because several tendencies came to the fore which are inimical to the democratic ideal that our country has become internationally acclaimed for.
Such of our values and virtues as tolerance, inclusiveness and abhorrence of such ills as tribalism and sexism were, this year, tested to the core. In my view, it is the feud between his Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, and his predecessor, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, which made this year the nightmare it was. For the first time in our history, we witnessed public spats between the current president and the former, with the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) joining the fray in support of the current.
In an unprecedented development, the former president’s staff were pulled from his residence and/or offices without his knowledge and/or consent; the former president was, in some instances, denied the privilege to travel by air; the former president was denied the privilege to determine who is employed as his private secretary. Not only that. Dr. Khama was barred from using obstacles at the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) range and several positions were taken from him, including the chancellorship for the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN) and the Vision 2036 patronship.
Of course, some of these decision (e.g. the refusal to appoint former Director General of the Directorate on Intelligence & Security Services(DISS), Isaac Kgosi, as Dr. Khama’s private secretary) by government were appropriate, but because of the feud they were done in a combative manner which sometimes led to mistakes, which resulted in government retracting from some.
On the international stage, the feud caused embarrassment to Botswana when Dr. Khama was not accorded full diplomatic protocols when he visited the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, contrary to government’s preference because of its One China policy. This incident dented relations between Botswana and South Africa because the latter granted Dr. Khama a diplomatic passage in his capacity as former head of state.
Recently, it was reported that this feud escalated to unprecedented levels when Dr. Khama was denied VIP protocols and courtesies at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport. Reportedly, he was not allowed to use the VIP gates and he queued like everybody else and walked to the aero plane, something which was not only embarrassing, but also put his security at risk.
It is disconcerting that there are allegations that the public service and law enforcement and security agencies, especially the DISS, are used to fight these political battles. If true, it is regrettable since this is an abys from which we may never recover. Dr. Khama himself is not without blemish. Against tradition, he has spoken ill of not only his party, the BDP, but also the government as though he has not been part of them for the past twenty years or so.
This he did not only locally, but also internationally when he gave interviews to international media houses during which he gave a negative account of the government he once led, which is currently led by his chosen successor, Dr. Masisi. Of course, Dr. Khama, like every citizen, has the right to the freedom of conscience and expression. But, he, as former head of state, is no ordinary citizen. Not only that. The world over, tradition dictates that former heads of state, especially when they are succeeded by a head of state from their own political party, stay out of politics and do not openly criticize their successor after they have left office.
It is also unheard of, and it is almost taboo, for a former head of state to use international fora or platform to criticize his or her government. The Masisi/Khama feud has given rise to several unpleasantries which marred the year 2019. One such was the response Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi got from Dr. Masisi and the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) simply because she decided to challenge Dr. Masisi for the party presidency.
In the eyes of Dr. Masisi and the BDP, Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s decision to challenge Dr. Masisi was a sin which warranted her dismissal as a cabinet minister. While Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s dismissal from cabinet may be understandable because ministers serve at the President’s pleasure, it is not understandable why some in the BDP became as intolerant as to question her nationality, claiming she holds dual citizenship since she is also a Malawian citizen.
Worse still, others became as personal as to depict her as not only ugly, but also a bully. Others brought in the tribal card, claiming that the reason Dr. Khama supported her candidature is that she is a MoNgwato. The tribal card was also used against one of Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s ardent supporters, former Member of Parliament (MP) for Tati East and former BDP Chairperson, Sampson Guma Moyo, who has since fled the country to South African claiming his life was at risk.
Suddenly, Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s credentials as one of the longest serving Parliamentarians and cabinet ministers, who Dr. Masisi himself supported during her campaign for the chairpersonship of the African Union, counted for nothing simply because she exercised her democratic right to stand for political office.
The Opposition has also played a role in making this year the worst in Botswana’s political history.
The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC)’s failure to deal decisively and timeously with the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) saga resulted in the UDC expelling the BMD in the eve of the general elections, something which could only spell electoral doom for the Opposition.
Subsequent to the expulsion, instead of spending time and resources on the campaign trail, the UDC and the BMD spent time and much needed resources in the courts, fighting a battle which, as the Court of Appeal held, was, for all intents and purposes, academic and based not on pragmatism, but on mere principle, if at all.
Also, just like in 2014, the Opposition’s vote was split because the Alliance for Progressives (AP), as if it did not learn from the Botswana Congress Party (BCP)’s 2014 lesson, contested the elections outside the UDC.
It is because of this that many, especially workers, trade unions, the unemployed and the poor believe that the Opposition reversed the gains of 2014 and handed victory to the BDP on a silver platter.
For the first time in our electoral history, there have been allegations of massive vote rigging and fraud, with allegations that the DISS, the state president and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) were involved.
As we speak, the High Court is seized with at least sixteen (16) petitions for Parliamentary elections, something which is unprecedented by any measure.
If true, this would be a serious indictment on our democracy, one of whose invaluable tenets has been free and fair elections. Given the history of the DISS, many may not be surprised about allegations of its involvement.
But the same cannot be said about the IEC, an institution which has, so far, been almost beyond reproach. It would indeed cause an irretrievable damage to our democracy if it were to be found that the IEC or its officials were involved in vote rigging and fraud as alleged by the UDC.
Granted, the state president is a politician who desires political victory at all costs. But, never before has a state president been accused of participating in vote rigging in our country. Therefore, if it were to be found that he was indeed involved as alleged, our country’s reputation will suffer irreparable harm.
The BDP and Dr. Masisi’s response to the UDC’s petitions have not been clothed with grace. As if filing a petition is a crime, some have accused the UDC of lack of patriotism, treason and sabotage.
This cannot be correct, and it should be frowned upon by all who believe in democracy. Electoral petitions, just like any form of litigation, are a constitutional remedy which is available to any person who feels aggrieved by the electoral results.
In countries where this remedy is thwarted, people resort to unconstitutional and/ or unlawful measures which invariably put the peace and security of the country in jeopardy.
One, therefore, prays that this be the last year our country suffers such political turmoil for if this continues, the good governance, peace and stability our country has become internationally acclaimed for may be in jeopardy.
Given the size of our economy, our meagre population and the fact that we are a landlocked country, if we suffer an attrition on good governance, peace and stability, we are guaranteed to go down the drain. What a waste that will be!
Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.
This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.
The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.
On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members. The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.
The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.
The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed. The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.
The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.
If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.
So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.
The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption. Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.
The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus. So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS. They demand a start from a clean slate.
The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.
Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.
Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.
In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.
Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.
The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.
There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.
But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.
There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.
He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.
The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.
For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way.
I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However, the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’. Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.
No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.
I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century. Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?
The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.
In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”
The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.
Nothing happens until something moves
The secret of getting ahead is getting started
Act or be acted upon
All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD! This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.
To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts: *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”
As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide. What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. ..so they end up driving around in circles’.
As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.
JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated. Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”
2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.
.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.
Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!