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Is Botswana experiencing a new dawn?

Publishing Date : 29 May, 2018

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Recently, when South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, assumed the presidency he pronounced that South Africa was at a new dawn following the dark cloud that had befallen the country under former president Jacob Zuma’s calamitous reign.

Here at home, though he did not say it in so many words, when His Excellency the President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, succeeded former president Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama it became clear that he had the intention of ushering in a new dawn. Granted, President Khama’s reign may not meet the description of a dark cloud that befell our nation so much so that we could be yearning for a new dawn, but it was tumultuous enough that calling for a new dawn is not unwarranted.  

But, besides the cabinet reshuffle, the sacking of former Director General of the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Isaac Kgosi, and the shake-up of the public service’s senior leadership can it be said that Botswana is experiencing a new dawn under the Masisi presidency? Put differently, is there hope that the myriad of issues that many Batswana complained of during the Khama regime will be addressed under the Masisi presidency? Is there hope for a new beginning?

It has been reported that during a recent High Level Consultative Conference (HLCC) President Mokgweetsi Masisi stated that one of his priorities is the normalization of relations with various stakeholders so that all contribute maximally to our country’s development. This is indeed a commendable decision for it is only if government admits that relations between it and some stakeholders were strained during the Khama regime that meaningful steps to rebuild the relations can be taken. 

During Khama’s tenure relations between labour and government deteriorated to their worst, culminating in the 2011 public sector strike which resulted in the dismissal of thousands of essential service employees. Draconian amendments were made to the Public Service Act and the Trade Disputes Act; there was an attempt to stop the secondment of trade union Secretary Generals; GEMVAS was taken away from trade unions, e.t.c.

Trade unionists, especially at the leadership level, and those regarded as anti-government were purged through ill-advised transfers, forced early retirements, dismissals from the public service, e.t.c. Khama disregarded the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) and made unilateral salary increments, resulting in several disputes which culminated in the abolition of the PSBC. So, if we are to experience a new dawn one of the relations that president Masisi has to mend as a matter of priority is that between government and labour.

During the Khama era Botswana Television and Radio Botswana became more and more partisan, giving unfair coverage to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and mainly reporting on the Opposition when it was in the wrong. Just like trade unionists, such journalists as Joshua Ntopolelang and the late Laona Segaetsho were purged simply because government believed that they were pro-Opposition. Private media which was believed to be pro-Opposition was starved of adverts from government departments and parastatals, resulting in reduction in circulation, job losses and self-censorship.

So, if we are to experience a new dawn the other of the relations that president Masisi has to mend as a matter of priority is that between government and the private media. One hopes to see president Masisi holding regular press conferences and interviews with the private media. One also hopes to see members of the private media, at least on a rotational basis, joining the president on international trips.  

During the Khama regime we witnessed the militarization of the public service, with many former members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) appointed to head government departments and parastatals often at the expense of merit and experience. We also witnessed the weakening of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and a rise in corruption, with some cabinet ministers paraded before the courts though it ought to be stated that they were acquitted.

If we are to experience a new dawn the impartiality of the civil service has to be restored. Not only that. The civil service’s civilian status has to be maintained. Also, the independence of such institutions as the DCEC has to be upheld at all costs. Just recently our country was hit by the National Petroleum Fund scandal, with allegations that some cabinet ministers are involved, yet Khama refused to at least establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the allegations.

If we are to experience a new dawn the least we should do when faced with such allegations, which have the potential to scare away possible investors, is to establish a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations and make recommendations to the President. During his inaugural speech, Masisi promised that he will, as a matter of priority, bring a Bill of Declaration of Assets and Liabilities to Parliament. This was received with applause, and many wait with baited breaths for the Bill, especially following the recent corruption scandals.

If Masisi delivers on this promise and ultimately signs the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Bill into law he will indeed have ushered a new dawn in as far as the fight against corruption and economic crime is concerned. Khama signed, into law, an Act allowing the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) despite the fact that most Batswana, including members of the BDP, are opposed to it. In fact, the Bill was rushed through Parliament under a certificate of urgency.

The BDP government has refused to at least hold a referendum on such issues as political party funding, Specially Elected Members of Parliament and Nominated Councillors despite the fact that many Batswana have long been advocating for such. If we are to experience a new dawn the least we should do is to reconsider the EVM law lest we cause unnecessary doubt on the results of our elections, something which will no doubt undermine our democracy.

Since independence Botswana has received international acclaim for, among other democratic credentials, the fact that we hold free and fair elections. We cannot afford to negate such an impeccable record through an unnecessary use of EVMs. Experiencing a new dawn may also require us to put to rest the question of political reforms which some have been calling for. The least that government should do is to hold a referendum so that Batswana exercise their democratic right to vote on the proposed political reforms.

Khama showed a total disregard for the Leader of the Opposition (LoO), sidelining him even when having visits by foreign heads of state and heads of government. One hopes that this will change under President Masisi though no promising signs have been shown for the two months that he has been in office.

Some have argued that it is too early to start passing judgment on the Masisi presidency. I agree. But a new dawn is seen early and expecting to see signs of a new dawn is not judgment, but well placed expectation for if there is no dawn there is no day.
Ndulamo Anthony Morima



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