Botswana’s political stability is an example that should be emulated across Africa – writes Mosibudi Mangena
THE outpouring of love and grief, in equal measure, from ordinary Batswana people during the funeral of the country’s former president Ketumile Masire on 29 June, was indicative of his pivotal role in laying the ground work for political stability in Botswana, during his 18 years in office.
Many political analysts agree that Masire was instrumental in establishing a political culture which, to this day, continues to prioritize socio-economic development as the main government goal.
Having succeeded Sir Seretse Khama, Botswana’s first president after independence, it was vital that Masire provided a strong leadership free of corrupt practices which tend to taint most African leaders.
Since gaining independence from the UK on 30 September 1966, Botswana has been a model of political and social stability and economic development.
Not surprisingly, the authorities pay particular attention to the provision of education, health care, clean water, housing etc. As a result crime levels are low and the social fabric of that society is the envy of many countries across Africa.
Another noteworthy fact about Botswana is that it it has never produced a deluge of political refugees seeking shelter in neighbouring countries or in Europe.
It is no coincidence that when a country respects political freedom, human rights and government accountability, positive benefits also accrue in other spheres of life as well. Similarly, when the politics of a country goes wrong, almost everything in that country tends to follow suit.
When people’s trust in their government starts wavering the chances are that economic activity will be affected. Businesses stagnate or close, leading to increased unemployment and poverty. That in turn leads to diet deficits in the population, including a negative impact on school attendance by the children.
The slowdown in economic activity means less tax flowing into state coffers and the ability to pay for education, health, salaries of civil servants and many other responsibilities of the state suffer.
To a great or less extent, the supply of electricity, clean water, road building and maintenance, housing, broadcasting and many other things we take for granted depend on the direction of the country’s politics.
Zimbabwe is a good example of a country that was wonderful to live in, until it’s politics went wrong. Now there are shortages of almost everything, including medicines in hospitals and clinics. There are even shortages of chemicals to purify water for consumption in cities such as Harare where poorly maintained roads have become the bane of motorists.
Furthermore, Zimbabwe is struggling to pay for the electricity that it sources from South Africa’s power generator, Eskom, and from other external entities. Generally, Zimbabwe’s acute shortage of foreign currency has made it less and less able to conduct business with other countries.
No doubt, the health of ordinary Zimbabweans too has taken a pounding from inadequate supply of clean water and regular electricity black outs.
Contrast the Zimbabwean situation with that of neighbouring Botswana, and it becomes demonstrably clear that political stability is vital to socio-economic development.
Although South Africa is a much bigger economy than Zimbabwe I can’t help wondering if we should have been taking notes on how Botswana has conduct itself since independence from Britain.
Political skullduggery, corruption, state capture and all those things fouling South Africa’s political space indicate that we have not paid due attention to the fundamentals of political stability in the same way that little Botswana has.
In a quirky sort of way, South Africa has two perfect examples, in the case of Botswana and Zimbabwe, in so far as the does and the don’t do’s in politics is concerned.
For years now we have been watching millions of Zimbabweans spilling out of their country, legally and illegally, to find jobs in South Africa and other neighbouring countries. We have sympathized with them to a certain extent because we are aware that their politically troubled country is unable to provide jobs.
But how many of us are prepared to put the blame where it lies or to recognize the fact that when a government neglects its principal duty to its citizens no amount of camouflaging the issues will rectify the situation?
History has shown repeatedly how difficult it is to turn things around once bad politics has been allowed to prevail.
Somali and Libya are the other two African countries suffering immense deprivations as a direct result of their messed up political situations.
Needless to say, South Africa is nowhere near those two countries. Yet it would also be naïve of anyone to think that such a scenario is impossible in South Africa because every step away from democratic accountability is a step nearer complete breakdown to law and order.
A few years ago I had a conversation with two Angolan government ministers from both the MPLA and UNITA . They spoke passionately about rebuilding their country and decried the civil war which had claimed thousands of lives when they were fighting each other. They also regretted the destruction of schools, clinics, roads, bridges and other forms of infrastructure during the civil war.
Both men vowed that they would never to allow their country to go down that path again!
One hopes that, in the coming years, as South African political parties lose majorities in municipalities, the provinces and at national level, they will see the wisdom of forming coalition governments. This is only possible if they are able to put the interests of the country and its people first. Otherwise, the country might find itself on a rather bumpy road in the near future.