Someone wrote “Typically, an approval rating is given to a politician based on responses to a poll in which a sample of people are asked whether they approve or disapprove of that particular political figure. A question might ask: Do you approve or disapprove of the way that the current President is handling their job as President.” Put differently, approval ratings as defined by Merriam-Webster means ‘a rating based on a percentage of people (as voters) who think someone (as a politician) is doing a good job.’ Because I do not have any sample of people asked whether they approve or disapprove of the way His Excellency the President Dr M.E.K. Masisi is running the country thus far as the basis of the subject matter, I will rely on my own judgement. It is a given that this question would be answered objectively by some while there will be those who are subjective which subjectivity will be clouded by sheer blind loyalty. This arising from the fact that Botswana, like other countries, is a highly polarised country politically speaking whereat we choose to see nor hear no evil in our political leaders. Be that as it may, I humbly believe the President has so far had a mixed bag in approval ratings-very impressive at the beginning and surging half-way his first term. These would be occasioned by the political and socio-economic circumstances prevailing at a given point in time.
Like any President at the beginning of their terms, His Excellency has had a good beginning where in my view, he had a decent run-in towards the 2019 general election and immediately thereafter. In the SADC region, he would be compared to Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa and Edson Mnangagwa. In South Africa, many people across the board had had enough of former President Jacob Zuma while the same goes for Zimbabwe with Uncle Bob (Robert Mugabe). Here at home, a good percentage of people I want to believe, wanted to see the back of former President Ian Khama hence the goodwill displayed towards the His Excellency. The President ran with the tagline of a Botswana being an inclusive economy where no one would be left behind; dealing decisively with run-away corruption; growing the economy which will in turn create jobs to deal with run-away unemployment and poverty; revive the All Party Conference; enforce the Rule of Law probably never seen before; meaningfully work with trade unions to maintain and further good industrial relations amongst others; holistic Constitutional review and, to repair and restore Botswana’s haemorrhaged image on the international arena. To put the cherry on top, parliament proceedings started to be broadcast live on national television. Even for the hard core anti BDP persons, it was almost impossible not to believe the President. All in all, the President promised a Botswana never witnessed in the history of this Republic. Were the President’s promises too good to be believed? The devil would be in the detail as some could say. At this point though, the President’s promises were resonating well with many Batswana given the political mood and reasonable goodwill towards him. It was almost a case of what the doctor ordered some would say. The results of the 2019 general election in which he was a presidential candidate for the first time bore testimony to his message and promises. I am not interested in the rigging stories because they were put to bed beyond any reasonable doubt by the courts of law. Only the denialists still carry the heavy cross. At this point I must say without blinking, his approval ratings were up there probably beyond his own expectations. The President was on a captivating cruising mode.
He appeared to be delivering on his promises when he engaged trade unions. He struck a good cord with them by increasing public workers’ salaries even though there were palpable discrepancies or controversies borne out of what was regarded as favourable salary increases to the disciplined forces over other public servants; An All Party Conference was convened where all opposition parties were represented; high profile corruption cases involving the P 100 billion ‘theft’, the National Petroleum Fund scandal and the prosecution of the erstwhile Permanent Secretary to the President Rre Carter Morupisi got underway in courts; he embarked on international trips to return the country to the international arena. The list is endless.
But the wheels started to come off when the President was reported to be pursuing business interests with the Choppies supremo who had already had a bad history of his involvement with the former President Rre Mogae. This brought into question the President’s credentials in moral and ethical conduct or leadreship given his high position in the land. His Press Secretary tried to protect his boss by saying there is no law precluding him from pursuing business interests while still occupying the position of President of the Republic. I am one of those who criticised and still do so, the bad error of judgement on the President. I still believe the President’s position goes beyond the legalities me and you poor souls, are subject to. Next in line was the Banyana Farms story in which the President acquired a portion of the State owned farms. It was and still is the general perception that his position, more than anything else, influenced his allocation of the Banyana Farms portion not because he fairly deserved to acquire it more than other Batswana who had applied.
As all eyes were focussed on the President to deliver on his promises, it emerged he was struggling to do so. Job creation amongst such promises, was and still is the elephant in the room. To be fair to the President, he took over when the economy was under severe strain to create jobs. Some would argue and justifiably so, that his plans were thrown into disarray by Covid-19 pandemic. But Covid-19 aside, it could justifiably be argued that his party, under his leadership or not, has failed over the years and dismally so, to diversify the economy for obvious reasons. The President is failing to deliver on his corruption promises. From where I sit, fighting corruption has become a tired populist rhetoric because results do not point in that direction. The high profile corruption cases in court barring that of Rre Morupisi, do not give some level of comfort that enough is done to secure convictions in corruption cases. Trade unions are crying foul that the President has sold them a dummy on many issues like for example, the resuscitation of the Public Service Bargaining Council as promised in 2018.
The President’s agenda has not been helped by performance or should I say incompetence of his Ministers as evidenced in parliament. And thanks to the live parliamentary proceedings. To be fair to the President, some argue probably correctly so that he does not have a suitable pool to choose from what he has on the back bench. While I concur with this proposition, I believe the current Ministers are more interested in protecting him in order to preserve their positions. BDP back benchers have chosen the party line to the detriment of the greater society. Overly disappointing are Ministers who are lawyers by training who have decided to be simply pedestrian in their inputs during debates. BDP MPs behave as if they have the monopoly of ideas to carry Botswana forward. This does not put the President and his party in a good position to be viewed as tolerable. This is the other arena where his approval ratings are in my view, taking a beating which do not help his course. If I were to score him and his party in so far as performance in parliament is concerned all things considered, the score line should look embarrassing.
One issue that has not done the President any good is the way he has managed the Covid-19 pandemic. While I sympathise with him on account that the pandemic brought with it unprecedented socio-economic and health challenges, I am harbouring a feeling to the effect that he may have under- estimated the duration of the pandemic. That is to say the pandemic would be over shortly. A lot of money was spent unwisely if I may say at the beginning of the pandemic. We will recall that some people particularly the who’s who of this Republic who tested positive at the beginning were quarantined/isolated in luxury hotels at high cost. While it was initially said these facilities were offering their facilities ‘for free’, it later emerged government owed them millions of Pula. A lot of basic things in the health domain were not done like increasing bed capacities and procuring oxygen supplies in public health facilities. These are currently taking place when the pandemic has already overwhelmed the health sector in more ways than one. Frontline workers specifically doctors and nurses are still complaining about serious lack of personal protective equipment. The recent public statements uttered by the President probably out of sheer pressure to provide vaccines wherein he trashed the COVAX facility as being nothing more than a scam and the one where he went overboard in criticising those Americans who have refused to be vaccinated have not endeared him to some members of the public. Some believe the President was overly insensitive and undiplomatic. The President was being convenient in not acknowledging that his government joined the COVAX facility late hence the slow pace in accessing the vaccines. The news of other countries in our neighbourhood receiving reasonable amounts of vaccines is a daily occurrence. Vaccine procurement and roll out have become a stumbling block in the fight against the pandemic. The process has moved from bad to worse and nothing suggests it will become better anytime soon. It is fair to say the manner in which the President has managed Covid-19 will further decline his approval ratings.
So where do the President’s approval ratings stand almost half-way into his presidency? They say it’s not how you begin a race but how you finish it. He may have started very well like Glody Dube did in the Olympic Games back in 2000. As we know, Dube finished seventh in the 800 m finals. While the President has not finished his race as yet, there are tell-tale signs that he may not finish his race as brightly as he started it. But I will give him the benefit of the doubt to pick up his ratings. As matters stand, I believe his approval ratings have significantly plummeted as argued in the latter part of this conversation. There is a belief in some quarters that the President is not an honest person who says one thing at one point but changes at another. Remember when he flatly denied that he never said he is a lelope (sycophant) during the presidential debate when evidence to that effect amply confirms it. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!
‘No one is safe until everyone is safe.’ Let us adhere to all Covid-19 health protocols. My sympathies and condolences to all those who are undergoing Covid-19 challenges and those who have sadly departed this planet.