With general election just around the corner, the stakes cannot be higher than this, maybe too high to call for desperate measures. But the recent ‘deployment’ of Botswana Defence Force’s 10 Squadron CASA aircraft to airlift Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) activists in full party regalia to a political rally is beyond impunity.
What is most disturbing is that both the BDF and the ruling BDP see nothing wrong with it, more so that they can qualify it by looking for needle’s eye loophole in privileges and powers extended to the President by the Constitution or any other piece of paper they may find convenient to quote at that moment. The last time I checked, the primary mandate of 10 Squadron was to provide strategic and tactical airlift for BDF missions and not BDP campaigns. Although assistance to airlift VIPs may be rendered, I take that it is in the discretion of BDF command to see to it that such assistance does not pose conflict of interest on their part and leave their supposed political neutrality in limbo. Common sense dictates that by now, the BDF command must be cautious of partaking in activities that may further severe public trust and raise credibility issues.
But that call may be just too much for the BDF and this leaves it vulnerable to political exploitation if not manipulation. What is further worrying is that, if an institution as big as BDF and that has a sole monopoly of force can allow itself to be tossed around by a political party, how about other smaller and less powerful institutions such as the Ombudsman and Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC); they literally count for nothing. However, the gist of this writing is not whether both BDF and BDP’s actions can be legally qualified or not; it is whether they are moral. I am bringing this normative ethics perspective to this issue because it has now become so common for the government and its agencies to qualify their actions and decisions purely by resorting to the legalities. But by so doing, they are ignoring our unwritten law of normative ethics which from time immemorial our forefathers summarised as “tlhong botho.” This is a common normative principle that is instilled in almost every Motswana household and it serves as core of our moral judgement and socialisation and it is not written anywhere in law books or even the Constitution.
It comes natural to every Motswana to display and protect this core value because it is a vital instrument that guards us against moral decay, be it in politics, sport or romance. The same can be said about the cornerstone of our diplomacy, “ntwa kgolo ke ya molomo,” it is purely informed by our normative ethics rather than a codified foreign policy strategy. This statement does not mean that Botswana cannot go to war when she strongly feels aggrieved but it is merely calling for dialogue to be given priority as an instrument of conflict resolution. If we are to look at tribal-formations and military history of various Batswana groups, it is self-evident that this principle has enabled them to survive the worst that had the potential to annihilate some groups totally.
Therefore, it would be grossly naïve of President Khama to simply reduce his leadership merely to paper work.The point here is, although there are certain things which are not illegal to do, we still restrict ourselves from doing them due to societal norms and values. Take for example, there is nothing illegal about a 19 year boy getting married to a 50 year old woman; but our normative ethics would right away say that it cannot be done because “go tlhabisa ditlhong.” Therefore, it is most probable that President Masire and Mogae and even President Seretse Khama were not ignorant of such ‘privileges’ but were mindful of the impression that they may leave on the general public. They had a holistic approach to issues, not only a lopsided view and a carefree attitude towards governance and public image. They all knew that leadership is not just about the leader; it is about protecting a culture, creating a legacy and being on the same wavelength with those you lead.
Therefore, no matter which side of the political fence you are seated, it is common causes that, “go tlhabisa ditlhong” to see BDF plane that is serviced by taxpayers’ money flying BDP colours. One cannot help but wonder as to what has happened to the moral gauge of our political leadership; they never seem to care or be bothered about how the public perceives them. In fact, judging by their repeated actions, one can only conclude that they seem to be enjoying being in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
In order to safeguard our democracy, we must give credit where it’s due and discredit where it so deserves. I do not see how running into parochial and politically motivated justification would “move Botswana forward.” As much as we have legal reference, let us also have moral and cultural reference.