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The Kamala Selection: Let Africa Take Cue

In Africa, the continent I happen to know best, the choosing of a VP by a sitting President or a running mate by an aspiring President can more often than not be so simplistic and self-seeking, with a bit of dirty wheeling and dealing thrown into the mix.

Edgar Lungu of Zambia opted for Inonge Wina not so much because he was a champion of gender parity, at least with respect to the top two slots, as that he was desperate to placate the obstreperous and even secessionist-bent Lozi tribe of the Western Province, a corner of the copper-rich country that has been a political hot potato since the days of Kenneth Kaunda.

Cyril Ramaphosa settled for the reportedly thuggish and intellectually uninspiring David Mabuza to bolster his chances of keeping the presidential perch well beyond the clutches of the formidable, Msholozi-backed Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

“The Crocodile”, as Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe is affectionately known, did not have to wrack his brains either: General Constance Chiwenga was pivotal in the table-thumping game of brinkmanship that made the otherwise lion-hearted Robert Mugabe cower and at long last cave in. Needless to say, Chiwenga was a given for the No. 2 slot.

As regards our own Ian Khama, I would not vouch for his raison de tre for picking Mokgweetsi Masisi at the expense of his blood brother TK or his obsequiously loyal protégé of many years Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.  But whatever it was, Khama, with the benefit now of hindsight, made the right choice anyway, just as Masisi in turn cleanly nailed it when he roped in the sober, staid, and sagacious Slumber Tsogwane from Boteti for his deputy.

In the US, it is a different ball game altogether. There, folks, choosing a VP is a meticulous, painstaking process that invariably takes months and can be energy-sapping for both the presidential nominee and the candidates on the VP short list.

“I BEAR NO GRUDGES”

On August 11, the US Democratic Party presidential hopeful Joseph Biden announced by way of a gushing tweet that he had picked Senator Kamala Harris for his running mate. The 55-year-old enchantress has gone into the annals of American history as the first black woman and the first Asian-American to cop up such a privilege.

Biden had a reason to sound so ecstatic when he conveyed his decision to an obviously elated Harris by way of Skype. She overnight electrified his campaign, when hitherto Donald Trump, who is notorious for his bare-knuckle verbal jabs, took special delight in calling him “Sleepy Joe”, “Slow Joe”, etc, as a direct dig at his alleged physical and cognitive decline – ironic though that may sound when Trump’s own faculties and intelligibility have  lately been questioned by his compatriots.

Now, to some people, Joe’s choice was a foregone conclusion considering that Kamala had been the odds-on favourite in surveys conducted by many a pollster. To most, however, it was something of a daredevil move and this view was not entirely unfounded.

Kamala, who along with 28 others had thrown her hat into the presidential ring too, was Biden’s most caustic opponent in the self-promotion debates, landing bazookas on him left, right, and centre, notwithstanding the fact that once upon a time, she and Joe’s late eldest son Beau had an abiding collegial rapport.

In the run-up to the primary campaign debates, Kamala had even thrown her weight behind the three or four women who had levelled accusations against Biden to the effect that he had touched and even smooched them with lewd intentions.

Quizzed as to the absurdity and seeming incongruity of his choice by members of the American press corps, Joe said he was not the one to bear grudges, that he always was ready to make bygones be bygones. He had probably plucked a leaf from the Obama book: he himself had dressed down Obama as grossly unworthy of the presidency during the debates but Obama went on to co-opt him in the running anyway.

SHACKLED TO THE NO. 2

That a prospective President should go to the lengths Joe Biden did to choose his running mate makes a great deal of sense. In the US, the President is stuck with his VP in a manner akin to a until-death-do-us-part scenario. This is because according to the constitution, the President has no power to axe his VP.

The only body vested with such power is the Senate, the upper chamber of the US’s bicameral legislature, which in Botswana we call Parliament or the National Assembly but which Americans call Congress.

What should happen is that in the event that  the VP commits a wrong deserving of dismissal (“Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanours” according to the constitution), the 435-strong House of Representatives, the lower chamber, votes on impeachment and if the majority gives the matter a thumbs-up, it is referred to the Senate for trial. A two-thirds majority vote in the Senate (that is, 66 since there are 100 members) is required for the impeachment to proceed, whereupon the VP is removed from office.

In practice, however, that might be problematic in that the VP is also the President of the Senate, meaning he is supposed to chair the proceedings of his own impeachment! That makes the process somewhat convoluted, with the result that a President would rather endure a disagreeable VP than subject him to a process which for all practical purposes is futile.

The only viable way to get rid of a VP is to eject him from the second-term ticket. This is what Andrew Jackson (President from 1829 to 1837) did in 1833, when he dropped John C Calhoun, who had been a constant thorn in his flesh in the first term, and chose Martin Van Buren  as his running mate.

In any case, a VP would rather resign than face up to the ignominy of the impeachment process as did Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s VP, in 1973, the only such case in US history.

BIDEN GETS SET

If two people at the pinnacle of political power in the US were particularly close, it was Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The two so swimmingly jelled that even in public showings, they kept to a matey, first-name-terms etiquette.

Joe is even on record as having said that Obama offered to financially take care of the then ailing Beau, who Joe feared might not be able to sufficiently sustain both his family and himself in the event that he miraculously fought off his ailment. In his own VP, Joe was looking for a person with whom he could forge the same chemistry and that was quite a tall order indeed.

From the get-go, Joe had made it clear that his sights were set on a female VP. No sooner had he said this than hordes of prominent black activists, lawmakers, and opinion leaders descended on him to plead with him that he choose a woman of colour to accord with a ticket that reflected the diversity of America’s demographics.

But skin colour was far from an end in itself. “A lot of his thought process was about who shared his values, who he could work with, who could help him win and who could be ready on Day 1,” the Biden campaign team’s joint-chairman Cedric Richmond would later disclose to a newspaper in one interview.

“Biden’s focus from the very start was on who would be the best governing partner to help him lead our country out of the chaos created by Donald Trump.”

JOE NARROWS FIELD TO ELEVEN FINALISTS

Biden commissioned a team of four to do the initial vetting of more than 20 candidates who included a disabled Iraq War veteran whose mother was of Thai and Chinese descent.  They were a former senator, a member of the House of Representatives, a Los Angeles mayor, and a former advisor, split evenly between the two sexes to underscore Biden’s penchant for gender equality.

The team in turn used a legion of party activists, interest groups, and other key stakeholders as sounding boards on who could best serve the party and country, in the process logging a total of 120 hours.

It was an extensive and laborious process which involved interview after interview in some cases. All the 20 candidates were subjected to an initial public records review, notably press reports, TV, radio, and online interviews, and mentions in published print and electronic books.

The team then prepared a power-point presentation for Biden and his wife Jill. Where the couple detected critical gaps to fill in, they summoned individual members of the team to furnish further particulars or fine-tune their recommendations.

“He was looking at data and looking at track records and looking at a whole bunch of things,” Richmond said. Biden at long last picked eleven finalists out of the twenty pitched to him.

THE GRILLING PROCESS

In evaluating the finalists, Biden employed a two-prong approach. First, they were subjected to legal vetting by three veterans of the Obama administration comprising of two males and one female.

The legal minds were reinforced by between 12 to 15 attorneys who were acting for the candidates and who ferreted their histories with a tooth comb just in case there was a potentially explosive skeleton in their cupboards that could ruin Biden’s chances of ousting Trump.

The candidates each were handed out an elaborate   questionnaire that left no stone unturned. It sought answers to a total of 160 questions. Said The Washington Post: “The 11 finalists were asked about their past writings, details of arrests or criminal charges, medical records and videos of past speaking engagements.

Elected officials were asked about their campaign donor policies, questions were asked about workplace complaints directed at their spouses and the candidates were told to describe the most controversial matters they had dealt with in the course of their careers.”

One such question wanted to know whether there was “any organisation that would take steps, overtly or covertly, fairly or unfairly, to affect your appointment, including any news organisations”.

Second, Biden engaged a team of political researchers whose brief was to “release information to the public in an effort to complicate their (the candidates’) paths to the nomination”.

This was to ensure that whatever dirty linen they possessed was brought before the full glare of the American populace from the very outset so that no surprise was sprang somewhere along the way when their VP candidacy was a fait accompli.

All the while, Biden did his part in personally promoting the candidates and thus raising their profile. He hosted them on his podcast, at fundraisers, and at virtual town halls, while his staff helped place them on television news programs.

IT’S KAMALA

Finally, the candidates were personally interviewed by Biden, either in person or by way of Skype over nine full days. They were formally and professionally introduced by Celinda Lake, one of Joe’s campaign pollsters, complete with potential new campaign logos and promotional jingles.

Biden’s first question to them in what has been described as typically “jarring” interviews conducted on not one but several  sessions  was, “What would your agenda be?”

Amongst the people whose take Biden repeatedly counted upon in the process of making up his mind were his wife,  his sister Valerie Biden Owens, his long-time friend and adviser Ted Kaufman,  his political strategist Mike Donilon, Congressman James Clyburn,  and of course Barack Obama. “My advice was sought,” Clyburn said. “I talked to Joe over the past several days more than I talked to him all year.”

Biden informed the lucky lady by Skype, exactly 66 days after he won the Democratic Party nomination. “I’m calling you today because I’ve made that first Presidential decision,” a beaming Biden announced. “I’ve decided I’d like you to join this effort to win back the soul of this country and be our nation’s next Vice President.”

On their part, Biden’s four-man committee described Kamala Harris as having “an impressive balance of the presence to take on President Trump and knowledge of the issues,” with her other advantage being “her personal story of having immigrant parents, a mother from India and a father from Jamaica”.

It is my hope and trust that the American model will provide a salutary lesson to our own political parties on the continent of Africa so that they spare us the circus to which we have become accustomed and even inured.

Meanwhile, will Biden’s choice of Kamala really assist his resolve to unseat Trump?

Make a date with me next week for the view from Mana House in this regard.

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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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