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Masisi’s Uninspiring Inauguration Speech

Publishing Date : 10 April, 2018

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD)
BCP Deputy Leader

After the usual ceremony of inaugurating Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi as the fifth president of the Republic of Botswana, the focus quickly shifted to his inauguration speech to try to figure out his agenda for the country.

The first thing is that the speech should have been delivered in Setswana so that majority of Batswana get it from the horse’s mouth. Unlike former President Seretse Khama Ian Khama President Masisi is fluent in Setswana. At the press of a button the international audience would access it immediately after being delivered. Unless someone can tell me that the international audience was the main target of the Presidential address.

The speech lacked ambition and clear vision. There was no obvious thematic thread through-out the speech. The delivery of the speech was poor as the President did not seem to enjoy reading it. There were no cutting edge pronouncements worth a standing ovation or frequent rounds of applause. On the other hand the President’s body language showed someone who was clearly reading a speech that he had not internalized. The Masisi we know and the one who delivered the speech were two different characters. It is true that he had to appear presidential. However, one can be presidential without losing his true character.

Since the speech highlighted unity and inclusivity one was looking forward to get a sense of how such a noble idea was to be attained. This is in view of the fact that Khama’s leadership style was divisive. The nation was polarised between those who were passionate about his authoritarian style of leadership and those who violently detested it. For this reason the thrust of the inauguration speech by Masisi should have stated commitment to resolving the long standing impasse between government and the public sector unions. Instead of building broken bridges the speech adopted a business as usual tone.

Furthermore the President missed an opportunity to acknowledge the critical role played by the opposition parties. This country deserves a new narrative of governing and non-governing political parties. Treating opposition parties as enemies instead of opponents is undesirable. Political leaders in general and the President of the Republic of Botswana in particular should be preaching political tolerance. The peace and tranquillity enjoyed by the people of Botswana is at the main attributable to a mature and tolerant opposition.  In our view the much acclaimed multi-party democracy is a product of their selfless effort of funding democracy from their pockets.

President Masisi’s silence on these issues raises fears that we might be in for a rough ride especially as the 2019 electioneering intensifies.  His desperation to hold on to power coupled with real threats from a united opposition could drive him to adopt a confrontational approach thus pushing the country into unchartered waters.

Those who had high hopes that Masisi could revive the All Party Conference (APC) will be disappointed if his inauguration speech is anything to go by. APC played an important role in forging   consensus on issues of national concern without interfering in the day to day operations of government. The arrangement served this country well as it initiated progressive electoral reforms laws such as the introduction of an Independent Election Commission (IEC), allowing the 18 year olds to vote as well as the use of ballot papers instead of discs.  The absence of APC may have contributed to the introduction electronic voting machines (EVMs) and delayed state funding of political parties to avoid capture of political leaders by millionaires and monopoly capital.

Given the simmering political tensions over EVMs Masisi may go down in history as someone who presided over the most conflict ridden general elections ever. This is compounded by the fact that despite rejection by key stakeholders his government is determined to push on with the introduction of the controversial vote rigging machines. The EVMs can easily give all constituencies to the ruling party in 2019 resulting in a civil strife. Unfortunately the President failed to allay fears around EVMs.

Internationally EVMs are generally not accepted because they erode the integrity of the election process. Americans have recently cautioned Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) against the use of EVMs. Surprisingly they are conspicuously silent when it comes to Botswana which raises questions of double standard. It is unclear whether the United States of America prefers elections to be stolen in Botswana but not in DRC. If he cannot respect the voice of the opposition on this matter Masisi should at least respect the voice of the late President Sir Ketumile Masire who advised government against EVMs. To its credit the Roman Catholic Church is one of a few if not the only religious organization that strongly spoke against the use of EVMs in Botswana.

Masisi talked about national unity and inclusivity without stating how these are to be fully realized under the current discriminatory constitution. That President Masisi failed to even mention ethnic equality in his speech says a lot about his determination to maintain the volatile status quo. Voices of unhappiness among the so-called minority ethnic groups have been getting louder. As a nation we can ignore these at our own peril. In this respect Masisi should have addressed growing calls for a comprehensive constitutional review which is long over-due.  There is a lot that is broken about the current constitution that needs to be fixed urgently.

Another serious omission was a discussion on the role of social leaders such as those from the Church and Dikgosi under the new administration. During the Khama regime the relationship between religion and state was characterised by turbulent incidents especially with the emergence of “Fire Churches”. This was the case in respect of Bogosi to the extent of forcing Kgosi Kgafela of Bakgatla to flee the country and seek citizenship in neighbouring South Africa. The President should have opened a new chapter in this relationship to insure unity and inclusivity as stated in his speech.

The role of the media in nation building and economic prosperity should have been addressed to demonstrate government commitment to media freedom.  To show that what the President says about the media is not mere rhetoric such a declaration ought to be followed by action such as the withdrawal of sedition charges against Outsa Mokonde of the Sunday Standard Newspaper and allow Edgar Tsimane to return from exile in South Africa. 

The local media should not be starved of advertisements from government and non-state enterprises. On the other hand the state media should be transformed to become a public broadcaster. Most of the issues enumerated above including the introduction of a law on the declaration of assets and liabilities can easily be accomplished within the first hundred days.



Do you think the courts will help put the UDC, BMD impasse within reasonable time ahead of the 2019 General Election?