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Will Masisi sustain his goodwill?

Publishing Date : 17 September, 2018

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

That His Excellency the President, Mokgweetsi Masisi,’s popularity has taken many by surprise is incontrovertible. This is especially true considering the bad will he brought from being Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration. 

He was, among other things, blamed for the 2011 public sector strike; the poor relations between the media and government; and the poor relations between trade unions and government. His self-acclamation of being a lelope, i.e. boot licker did not help the situation.
Today, H.E Masisi is so popular that some in the Opposition are singing him praises. Trade unions and the media, though not yet in a celebratory mood, are prepared to give him a chance. The question is: will H.E Masisi sustain the good will he is currently enjoying?

To answer this question, if it is at all possible to answer, one may look at the case of former President Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama. When Khama started his tenure as President his name was revered; he was regarded as the savior that Botswana had been waiting for. Khama, no doubt, had tremendous goodwill. Granted, Khama’s goodwill was largely because of his status as not only the son of Botswana’s founding president, Sir Seretse Khama, but also Kgosikgolo for the BaNgwato.

But there is no denying that Khama had acquitted himself well as Vice President (VP). He had positioned himself as pro-poor and as accessible. It was during his tenure as VP that he gave an impression that anyone who wanted to meet him could do so without going through the normal bureaucratic channels. One of the things that ingratiated Khama to the masses was his support for Village Development Committees (VDCs), something which resulted in high rental payments by VDC house tenants who had hitherto been perpetual defaulters.

Initially, his position against alcohol abuse, which resulted in the introduction of the alcohol levy, also endeared him to the masses, especially the religious and elderly who had the believe that alcohol abuse was at the center of moral degeneration among our people. The other was his seeming disdain for corruption. Khama gained this accolade after calling politicians vultures after Members of Parliament (MPs) agitated for their own salary increment and not that of the civil servants they represent.

Then, Khama had so much clout that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) pinned its hopes of continuing in power on him. So much was his clout that former president Festus Mogae overlooked such stalwarts as Ponatshego Kedikilwe and Danial Kwelagobe and made him his vice. So much was Khama’s political gravitas that he resigned from the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) only to be elected Vice President the following day. Khama was such a force that Mogae gave him an unprecedented one-year sabbatical leave and allowed him to continue flying BDF aircraft.

In the dawn of his presidency Khama did not disappoint. To the delight of many, especially the elderly and rural area dwellers, he introduced such programmes as Ipelegeng; constituency tournaments; the poverty eradication project; backyard gardening, etc. Khama also endeared himself to the youth through such programmes as the National Internship Programme, the revamped Youth Development Fund; National Service Scheme, Youth Employment Scheme, etc.

He endeared himself to the elderly and the poor through bond fires; unannounced walk-abouts; the Housing Appeal Project; hand outs of blankets and food parcels. He endeared himself to people living with disabilities by prioritizing their needs and having their affairs coordinated from his office. But it seems that amidst the celebrity and pomp Khama lost the support of a significant portion of our voters. He lost the support of the civil service owing to his confrontational approach in dealing with trade unions.

He lost the support of the fourth estate, the media, because of his ostracization of the private media, as well as the enactment of the controversial Media Practitioners Act in 2008, whose passage in Parliament was boycotted by the Opposition. He, according to the views of many people, allowed the former Director General of the Directorate on Intelligence & Security Services (DISS), Isaac Kgosi, a free reign, something which many believe led to the DISS perpetrating gross human right violations. 

In the end, though at the dawn of this presidency he was welcomed with ululations in view of his enviable track record as Vice President, Khama’s tenure as president was marred by controversy and loss of good will. He retired a very unpopular president who will go down in history as the first BDP president under whose leadership the BDP attained a popular vote of less than 50%.

In the 2014 general elections the BDP garnered 46.7% of the popular vote compared to the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP)’s 30% and 20.4% respectively. In terms of parliamentary seats, while the BDP suffered a decline of 8 seats, the UDC celebrated an upsurge of 11 seats. The BCP suffered a decline of 1 seat.

Even after his retirement his name has been embroiled in controversy because of, inter alia, his alleged support for some candidates during the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) primary elections and his insistence on the appointment of the former Director General of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Isaac Kgosi, as his Private Secretary.

The question is: will H.E Masisi sustain his goodwill or he will, like Khama, suffer a humiliating loss of his good will even before the end of his term? Put differently, will Masisi’s popularity go beyond his honey moon?

For H.E Masisi’s goodwill to be sustainable, he must embark on sustainable interventions which will address such issues as employment creation; poverty mitigation; media freedom; employee welfare, and enhancement of our democracy, generally. Also, H.E Masisi must, through an enhanced foreign policy and improved diplomatic relations with the international community, put Botswana in its rightful position in the world.

Though there is need for more impetus in employment creation, the interventions that H.E Masisi’s government is putting in place give hope that more sustainable jobs will be created, especially for the youth. The Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs’ relaxation of restrictions on VISAs and work and residence permits, which hitherto scared off many investors, will go a long way in not only attracting Foreign Direct Investment, but also creating employment. 

For the first time in many years, we see the president not only holding Press Conferences, but also meaningfully interacting with the media during such conferences. To date, he has held more than four press conferences, one of which was broadcast live on both Botswana Television and Radio Botswana. Also, for the first time in about ten years, the president met with the leaders of Opposition parties. This, in my view, was a good start for the reintroduction, in earnest, of the All-Party Conference, which Khama abolished.

Though the wounds on trade unions and workers cannot be healed overnight, H.E Masisi has started well in trying to repair the damaged relationship between government and labor. He has already met with trade unions; the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC)’s restoration is ongoing, etc.

We recently witnessed something which cannot have happened under Khama’s reign. Following complaints that the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Basic Education, Dr. Collie Monkge, had used uncouth language in relation to school managers, the Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, immediately arranged a meeting with the school managers during which he tendered an apology on behalf of government.

What is even more heartening, in as far as relations with trade unions is concerned, is that Morupisi invited representatives of the concerned trade unions to attend the meeting with him. Morupisi would not have done that under Khama’s reign. In the foreign relations front, H.E Masisi has also done a lot within a short period of time to bridge the gap that widened during Khama’s era.

Besides visiting Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries as well as the United Kingdom, Mauritius and Seychelles, he has also already paid a state visit to the Peoples Republic of China and attended the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). Also, particularly heartening has been H.E Masisi’s recognition of former leaders by paying them visits. In an unprecedented move, he was joined by some Opposition leaders during such visits. He was also joined by former president, Festus Mogae.

Though his government has not repealed the relevant amendment to the Electoral Act, the statement by government that the controversial Electronic Voting Machines will not be used in the 2019 general elections and that supplementary registration will continue is a welcome development. There are, however, issues which H.E Masisi has not yet addressed but will, hopefully, address soon. In my view, if he does not address such issues his goodwill will not be sustained in the same manner that Khama’s was not.

Though he has assured Batswana that his government shall, by the end of the year, table the long-awaited Bills on Declaration of Assets & Liabilities and Access to Information, progress has not been made in that regard. Also, even though the issues have been topical for years, H.E Masisi has not made any commitment of at least taking such issues as political party funding; direct presidential elections; changing the electoral system from first past the post to proportional representation and recall of non-performing MPs and Councilors to a referendum.

He has also not made commitment to consider such issues as enhancing the independence of the Independent Electoral Commission, the Ombudsman and the Directorate on Corruption & Economic Crime. Nor has he made a commitment to convert Btv and RB from state broadcasters to public broadcasters despite complaints that they are biased in favor of the ruling BDP.



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