- There is a common feeling that Botswana is going through an uninspiring phase and that the Batswana need assurance and motivation. Almost everyone is in agreement that the economy is in trouble and that something drastic needs to be done. Some say that while there are countless issues of national concern, President Festus Mogae has not been there to provide leadership and assurance through these difficult times.
"There has never been so much doubt about our economy. The devaluation was massive and every day, there is talk of capital flight to other countries. This is a time when we need our president to tell us what is happening," said a resident of Gaborone, Botswana's capital, who also stressed that President Mogae's silence is not good.
Like other Batswana in remote areas, Mercy Koolopile of Rakops wishes that the President would visit the village more often. She believes that there is a disconnect between the President and the people, a thing which is not healthy for democracy. "There are so many issues which I believe could be addressed in a meeting," she said.
Without comparing President Mogae to his predecessor, Sir Ketumile Masire, one resident of Gabane said Mr Mogae is more a president of the electronic age who is seen more on television and newspapers. He does not make the effort to press flesh with people in "Kgotla" meetings - traditional courtyard meetings for public consultation.
Asked what they thought about the President's interaction with the general population, leaders of the opposition parties said Mr Mogae behaves like a reluctant President. They lamented that he hardly consults the nation when taking major decisions. Unlike ex-President Masire, he hardly convenes Kgotla meetings to discuss issues with the nation.
"The problem is that Mogae has surrounded himself with a bunch of loyalists who never question anything he does. His cabinet consists of his friends and in fear of losing their positions, they would not dare challenge what he says," said the president of the opposition Botswana Peoples' Party (BPP), Bernard Balikani.
He says this explains why President Mogae receives little help from his ministers when he is heavily engaged in national issues. Mr Balikani said a strong leader who has faith in his juniors would always delegate duties to them.
He blamed the poor performance of the economy on lack of consultation. "Had he consulted the nation, some of the decisions would have not been taken. This poor economic performance has translated into poverty," said Mr Balikani.
He complained that President Mogae did not consult the nation on the introduction of VAT, the devaluation of the national currency, the pula, and the abolition of marital power bill. "Mogae would only consult on issues that do not need consultation. He wastes a lot of money appointing commissions which are often unnecessary, like that of the second university," said Mr Balikani.
Gilson Saleshando, president of the opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP), shares the same sentiments as Mr Balikani. He accused President Mogae of believing in those who are close to him. He said the government finds no reason in consulting because of the absolute power that officials possess. "Our civil society is weak and as a result, the government gets away with everything," said Mr Saleshando.
He added that the ruling party does not feel accountable to the public, hence the lack of consultation. Mr Saleshando said this spirit impact badly on democracy, as there are no checks and balances. He condemned Mr Mogae for spending a lot of time outside the country and paying little attention to local issues.
He asserted that President Mogae's cabinet is weak, mainly because those who sit in it are appointed on the basis of loyalty. "Mogae has appointed ministers who are committed to him as a person. They are not accountable to the public but to Mogae. They know that their fate lies in his hands," he said.
Otsweletse Moupo, president of the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF), agrees. He says Mogae spends a lot of time on international trips and this explains why he does not have time to consult with the nation. Mr Moupo added that lack of consultation affects Botswana badly.
He said major changes such as the re-introduction of school fees need serious consultation. "This will have adverse impact on people's budgets and it will perpetuate poverty especially because education is one of the major things that can liberate individuals from poverty," he said.
On the other hand, the press secretary to the president, Jeff Ramsay believes that the government does enough consultation on every decision taken. "In this era, consultation cannot only be confined to Kgotla meetings. We have so many fora that can be used to consult people. We are living in a modern world where technology can be used."
Mr Ramsay said that the President uses the media to communicate with people and there are individuals who often approach him on certain issues. "Certainly, Kgotla meetings are held, but not many of them though," he said. He pointed out that they would hold more Kgotla meetings in future.
The press secretary further rebutted claims that President Mogae spends a lot of time outside the country. "If we compare his trips to that of other heads of state, you would realise his are modest," said Mr Ramsay. He said as a small country, Botswana's presence should be felt on the international scene and this can be achieved by visits by the Head of State.
He said every visit undertaken by Mogae has a purpose and cabinet ministers are performing their duties well. "It is unfortunate that the media fails to pronounce the input that they make. Perhaps they should have press secretaries," he said.
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