Friday, February 25, 2005

Warning Signs for Bothswana

Despite being often portrayed as an enclave of democracy in otherwise anarchic Africa, Bothswana's government appears to be taking a distinctly non-democractic turn. In a harbinger of bad things to come, the government has become extremely hostile to criticism - to the point of expelling critics.

A renowned academic and political commentator has been ordered to leave Botswana after writing a paper criticising the government.

Professor Kenneth Good, who co-authored the piece with a Scottish academic, was given 48 hours to get out after questioning the decision by Botswana’s president, Festus Mogae, to select his own successor.

Prof Good, an Australian who has worked in Africa for more than 30 years, has appealed against the order and will make his case in court next month.

Speaking to The Scotsman yesterday, he said: "Botswana claims high democratic credibility but behaves in this way."

President Mogae reacted to Professor Good's critique by branding the professor a "prohibited immigrant" and giving him forty-eight hours to leave the country. The professor appealed to Bothswana's high court and was granted a stay to argue his case next month.

Having obtained his reprieve, Prof Good last night went ahead with his public lecture based on the controversial paper, "Presidential Succession in Botswana: No Model for Africa".

The two main targets of the attack are Mr Mogae and the president-designate, Ian Khama.

Mr Khama is the 52-year-old eldest son of the country’s first president, Sir Seretse Khama, and is chief of the Bamangwato - the biggest clan within the majority Tswana population.

Mr Khama’s mother, Ruth, was an English secretary when she married Seretse Khama after the Second World War. The British Labour government of the time, embarrassed by an inter-racial marriage, banished the couple from Britain to what was then the Bechuanaland Protectorate. However, Seretse Khama became head of government and was knighted when Bechuanaland became independent Botswana in 1966.

Until a few months ago, Mr Khama was head of the 10,000-strong Botswana Defence Force. He was appointed to parliament by Mr Mogae without an election and elevated to vice-president without any consultation of parliament. Under the Botswana constitution the vice-president automatically becomes president when the president steps down, which Mr Mogae plans to do by 2007.

Prof Good said Mr Khama had no ministerial experience or educational credentials, adding: "His temperament and actions are autocratic and prone to order-giving, rather than debate and argument, the stuff of democracy."

He said a recent decision, in defiance of a government task force decision, to move the establishment of Botswana’s second university to the large village of Serowe, the "capital" of Mr Khama’s cattle-rearing Bamangwato clan, from the major diamond mining town of Selebi-Pikwe, is "seen by many as a portent of things to come".

The elevation of Mr. Khama - first to parliament and then to vice president - by President Mogae without election or parliamentary approval, cannot be interpreted as anything other than a threat to Bothswana's democractic process. Mr. Khama's military background adds a distinctly sinister overtone to the manuever. Hypersensitivity to criticism - and the silencing of critics - usually signals a leadership with malign plans. The list of African governments overthrown by military leaders is long and depressing. Bothswana looks to be in distinct danger of joining the general trend.


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