The political stand-off between the former President General Ian Khama and his successor His Excellency the President Dr M.E.K. Masisi which came to the fore after the latter assumed the highest office in the land, is well documented. The protagonists have admitted to the stand-off whether directly or indirectly. There are suggestions to the effect that following this stand-off, the country is fundamentally divided between the so called North and South presumably owing in this instance, to fact that the former originates from the northern part of the country while the latter from the southern. By any measure therefore, the stand-off if not quickly resolved, could have serious political and socio-economic implications and ramifications for the entire country. As the country celebrated the milestone of the centenary celebrations of the founding father of this Republic Sir Seretse Khama on 1 July, it was my expectation that in recognition of the immense part he played, the President would seize the day and opportunity to reconcile and unite the already polarised nation considering the North/South argument. Sir Seretse Khama is our very own Nelson Mandela and I want to believe he must be turning in his grave to the fact that his own son and that of his former Minister could not sit under one roof on the occasion of his 100th birthday.
It is important to observe regrettably so in my view, that the centenary celebrations were marked by some controversy that should not have occurred. And this controversy has been in the making for a while until it actually occurred. Two celebrations took place in Gaborone and Serowe almost simultaneously. I had the benefit of reading the Serowe celebration programme in which the former President Rre Festus Mogae and the incumbent Dr Masisi appeared. Given the national importance of this day in terms of it serving as a reconciliation and uniting event, it should have been a given that the main event, whether in Gaborone or Serowe, would be attended by government led by the President and the entire Khama family. Sadly, it was never to be mainly because of personal differences between the President and General Khama. The two men are sworn enemies whose enmity does not suggest it will end anytime soon if ever given the body language of the two. I refuse to accept that Botswana and Batswana should be held at ransom by the two.
Notwithstanding their enmity, I would have expected the President to rise above it to demonstrate to all and sundry that he is the President of this Republic and that he will not fall into the trap of the said enmity. Put differently, the centenary celebrations offered the President a golden opportunity to demonstrate that he will use the occasion to demonstrate that he can go beyond personal differences to achieve unity. The President should have insisted that the main ceremony is held at Sir Seretse Khama’s birthplace of Serowe for obvious reasons. This would have been a very big plus for the President in trying to firstly, reach out to the Khama family to say much as I have a problem with one or two of your own, it would not derail me from honouring the 100 years milestone Sir Seretse Khama would have reached had he been alive. Secondly, much it would be deemed the President was succumbing to the Khama pressure of some sort, it would augur well for him particularly in the public eye that he is letting bygones be bygones. What’s more, the beautiful speeches made by the President and Rre Mogae amongst others and the calibre of those who attended the Gaborone celebrations would have been made at the birth and burial sites of Sir Seretse Khama. This would have been a huge statement in all its facets by the President right under Gen Khama’s watch. Whether the President and Gen Khama would have acknowledged each other in terms of say exchanging pleasantries in some respect would not have mattered much. That said, the President allowed himself to fall into Gen Khama’s trap by doing the opposite of the foregoing.
Reports have been suggesting the Serowe Centenary Committee had invited government and by extension the President to attend the Serowe event a year ago as at April 2021. According to these reports, no response was received as at this date. This would have been a perfect opportunity for government to have engaged this committee on the question of holding a single event where government and the Khamas would be under one roof. The two parties would have organised the single event which event would have brought them closer to each other possibly as a step to some truce. As it turned out, the Serowe committee released a centenary programme in which the President and Rre Mogae were expected to grace the occasion. May be as a face-saving measure or an after- thought, the Secretary General of the Botswana Democratic Party Rre Mpho Balopi attended the Serowe celebrations whereat he announced he was sent by the President to represent him. From where I stand, this was too little too late. May be the Vice President notwithstanding his own frailties would have been a better representative.
Since becoming Botswana’s fifth President, the President has extensively been covered by Botswana Television condoling with many families on their misfortunes. Some of these would be families of his own party and those from the opposition whose residences would far flung from Gaborone. To put some cherry on top, Francistown airport was renamed Phillip Matante International Airport after the veteran opposition leader. These are traits of a man who sought to unite the nation beyond the poisoned chalice of politics. Why should it be difficult for the President to travel to Serowe in order to share the podium with the Khama family whose political roots are originally at the Botswana Democratic Party which was formed by Sir Seretse Khama and in whose government the President’s father served as a Minister? Centenary celebrations are not General Khama’s but his father’s. The current stand-off between the President and General Khama should not, in the bigger scheme of things, be used by the two to advance and perpetuate each other’s political or other agenda.
In the eyes of we the riff-raff, Sir Seretse Khama’s centenary celebrations may turn out to have united the nation considering the pomp and ceremony as witnessed in the VVIP shade at the Gaborone celebrations. But is the nation better united by VVIP beautiful speeches and all that came with them? Far from it if you asked me. The stand-off between the President and Gen Khama still reigns supreme in the body politic of the Republic ably aided and supported by those in their corners. This is why both of them held parallel celebrations. A centenary celebration is a huge milestone in all respects wherein in this instance, it was desirable if not appropriate for the Khama family particularly his children and government to be under one roof to give the occasion all the respect and dignity it deserves. It is highly odd that when Sir Seretse Khama passed on in 1980, his children were under the same roof with other dignitaries including Rre Mogae. When his centenary is celebrated, the opposite is the case because his son and the son of his former Minister are not on speaking terms. A wrong message has been sent abroad and the excuse cannot be that the two sons are not on speaking terms.
At the end of it all, the President has squandered a golden opportunity through Sir Seretse Khama’s centenary celebrations to demonstrate that he is the President of this country and that he is made of steel to withstand any punches from his adversaries. He does not have to be on speaking terms with General Khama for government to have organised the celebrations such that all relevant stakeholders are under one roof particularly that the event is not purely a Khama family matter. It is so sad the President failed with the greatest respect I can muster, to rise to the occasion to show leadership so as to render the event controversy free by allowing his stand-off with Gen Khama to impede his intellectual judgement. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!
‘No one is safe until everyone is safe.’ Let us not lower our guard down because Covid-19 virus has become more deadly than ever before through its mutating virants.