Monday, May 18, 2009

From the Voice (Botswana) Newspaper - Interview of H.E. President Seretse Khama Ian Khama

source: Republic of Botswana (17/5/09): TAUTONA TIMES no 14 of 2009
The Weekly Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President
"Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline"

D. 15/05/09: From the Voice (Botswana) Newspaper - Interview of H.E. President Seretse Khama Ian Khama:

"I have agreed to take this position because I want to serve my people." - President Khama


Love him or hate him but you cannot ignore Botswana's fourth President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama. He was brought in from the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) to bring stability to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). In vain. But President Khama is not deterred. Last week Thursday, The Voice Editor, PAMELA DUBE-KELEPANG, mixed with multitudes that had descended at the Kgotla meetings at the villages of Lotlhakeng West, Ralekgetho and Moshupa. There, she observed first hand a leader at home with the ordinary folks, who would stand and respond on the spot when a villager pleads for service delivery. The following day, the President gave a candid one-on-one interview. He did not mince his words when he lashed out that "politicians are driven by self-interest and people putting self before duty."

President Khama's stay in power has been anything but smooth and stable. He has been accused of being a dictator and aloof. If there is anything he has managed to attract within and outside the BDP, is criticism and mistrust. Despite all the criticism Khama is determined to do his job. "I have a job to do. At the end of the day, people expect delivery.

"When I go out to meet and engage people, I don't care who belongs to what party. But then when I put on my party colours the following day, I am expected to attack my political opponents, the very people I was serving the previous day. No, that's not right." He reflects. And while at the top the President seems to have few friends, his popularity with the ordinary folks seems to be second to none. He has made his 'stay' in the Kgotlas across the land, and on the streets.

[Start of Interview]

Q. You have done many Kgotla meetings since you came into office. What would you say Batswana are most concerned about?

A. They raise a number of issues. It's all the same. At all Kgotla meetings, you pick trends of concern... lack of jobs, medical facilities and services, difficulties at the lands, concerns about the youth, etc. There are many issues, and through these meetings, we are able to assess the level of need. That is why, since coming to office, I have initiated many of the programmes, especially those targeted towards the youth. Initiatives such as the internship programmes, labour intensive jobs and the agricultural assistance scheme were done to address these problems. The fruits of these schemes are there for all to see.

Q. So such meetings help you decide the needs of Batswana? Government development programmes do not guide you?

A. We are. But, the fact that we have been given a five-year mandate does not mean we shouldn't go back to the people to assess the needs. In fact, I believe in ensuring that people are consulted regularly. That's why I leave my office and go out to talk to people. I can't talk to people, ask them their concerns, and come back to my office and do nothing. That's not my style.

Q. Poverty seems to be the theme that runs across. But Botswana is rated middle-income country. Yet many Batswana are poor. Are you surprised by this glaring poverty?

A. No, I am not surprised. I know, and have always known that... I'm not just starting now. I was doing the Kgotla meetings even when I was the Vice-president. In fact, even during my days at the BDF, I was always visiting the rural areas. As with Botswana being classified as a rich or middle-income country... yes, people out there are seeing what we have achieved and showing appreciation. But that does not mean there is no poverty. No. Even in the developed world, poor people are there. What the world hails us for is the fact that we have moved from a very poor country to a developing and well managed one. But even then, we don't fool ourselves to believe that because the world says you are doing well, does not mean you have no problems.

Q. How much of Botswana have you travelled on these 'meet and greet people' missions?

A. Oh, I don't know. How much have we done? (Looks at his Private Secretary, Duke Masilo; "Aah! A lot. We have been everywhere"). Yes, we have covered almost every corner of the country. As I said earlier, officially, I have been doing this from when I was the Vice-President. What we do is touch different places, and when the country is covered, we repeat the journey, now going to different parts of the district. I have decided that in my term, I will visit even the furthest and smallest of places. I don't do what had been the trend, going only to major centres as ministers always do.

Q. During these meetings, you issue instructions to public officers, and they immediately act. Why so? Are you not guilty of breaking government protocols and procedures?

A. No. I am not. When people are not given what they deserve, it is my duty to make sure that it is done. When water is cut for people of Tsolamosese, for no justifiable reason, and those suffering people tell me, I have a responsibility to tell the Water Affairs people to open the pipes so people are not inconvenienced. Yes, they act when I say they should because I tell them to. What should I do? Pretend not to hear people's genuine concerns just because I am afraid of what other people would say. No, I have a job to do. At the end of the day, people expect delivery. Sometimes there is a feeling that people come into these positions for personal gain. They forget that there are there to drive the agenda of citizens not their own. I think that's wrong. And when I think something is not right, I say so. That is why I made it clear what I felt about what (President Robert) Mugabe was doing. When you no longer serve people but yourself, you should step down.

Q. Yes, speaking of that, you have said politics is a dirty game. Did you just discover that? What were your thoughts of politics before going into politics?

A. Exactly that! That politics is dirty. I have always known that, and I had never had any intention of going into politics. You see, in the military, you live by the principle of 'one for all, and all for one'. You know, as a soldier-in combat all have to pull together, and do the work. When you are under attack, you can't afford to have a non-performer, because your lives will be in danger. In politics, it's different game. There is a lot of self-interest. If belonging to a family, as I assume political parties are, is this dirty, it is not worth it. Politics bring out the worst in a person. One of the reasons I agreed to take this position is that I want to serve my people. And when I go out to meet and engage people, I don't care who belongs to what party. But then when I put on my party colours the following day, I am expected to attack my political opponents, the very people I was serving the previous day. No, that's not right.

Q. You mean there is nothing positive in politics?

A. If there is any, I have not found it.

Q. What would you rather do then?

A. Charity work, like my parents... I had decided that when I retire from the army, I would do charity work, and also go into tourism business.

Q. You want to say you did not catch the political bug from your father (Sir Seretse Khama)?

A. My father had the drive to serve. He did not go into politics for selfish reasons. No, he wanted to serve, just as I have always wanted to. So if there was anything I caught it was that need to serve my people. My father did not have to go into politics. He was already a chief and had been to school. So he could have made it anywhere. And you don't have to be in politics to serve. Sometimes politicians make people think they are the only ones able and entitled to lead. Not necessarily. You can serve well as a teacher, a nurse, a police officer... But yes, my father's passion and drive to serve is what drives me in this position. Again, you know my mother (Lady Ruth Khama) had always been into charity work. She made a great influence in my life.

Q. Talking about your father; some say you have a passionate dislike of alcohol because of the personal, family tragedy?

A. What family tragedy? Listen, I have, for as long as I can remember, detested alcohol. Of all the social ills I can think of, alcohol is the root cause. Rapes, the spread of HIV, road accidents... You can be sober and driving to a wedding and some drunkard would come and end your life. I hate alcohol. Even people who smoke, I detest. Drinking and smoking don't bring any value into people's lives. This has nothing to do with family tragedy.

Q. When are you getting married?

A. I don't know!

Q. But seriously, people want to know. And what about the heir to the throne? (No answer).

Q. When the former president Festus Mogae, roped you into government and the BDP, it was for you to stabilize the party. But factions continue unabated. What is the problem?

A. That's politics for you (speaking with renewed vigour). And factions are not just in the BDP. Take the BNF (Botswana National Front), they are struggling with issues of factions. Like I said, politicians are driven by self-interest, people putting self before the party. There are always agendas. And every time we approach conference or there are internal election processes, people start positioning themselves and factions emerge. You have to understand that as a leader, but you can't let the situation get out of control.

Q. You try and control the situation, but you then accused of undermining the constitution. Take the recent proposal you made to the BDP council, that sitting ministers should not stand for party political office. How do you feel when you think you are solving problems, and you accused of dictatorship?

A. You learn to deal with it. Criticism, fair or not, comes with the job. You can be honest in your actions, and people will make you feel you are dishonest. That's politics. Dirty! On my recent proposal, there was nothing unconstitutional about it. The president appoints cabinet, and he alone decides who stays or who goes. And as I pointed out earlier, my interest is in seeing people being served, and from experience, when a minister is holding demanding positions such as being in cabinet and in the executive of the party, and at times also being a Member of Parliament, it is not the political office that suffers. It is the work in cabinet that is sacrificed. I would not have that. In any case, most BDP members agreed with me. And I later learnt that this was not the first time the motion was raised, and adopted. The same motion was put forward in 1999. It's only that the then president did not implement it.

Q. Your detractors in fact find your military background bothersome. You are accused of leading with directives, as if the government is the army. What do you say to that?

A. It does not bother me. In fact, I want to make it clear that I am proud of my military background. I am not ashamed of anything. I joined the Botswana Defence Force to defend my nation, our democracy. I served the nation very well in that role. And if I can bring anything to this office is the meticulous way the army runs the institution. In fact I find it amazing that people think former soldiers should not go into government or politics. That's strange because people bring their best when they bring experiences from their former positions. It should not be seen as a sin to want to serve your nation in different fields.

Q. The way ordinary people respond to you can be best compared to how South Africans do with Mr Nelson Mandela. At Lotlhakeng West, one woman who had just greeted you, was overheard saying she would not wash her hand for a week. How does that make you feel?

A. (Falling back into his chair, and looking uncomfortable) I don't know why people do that. I go out to meet people not because I want to be popular. No. In fact, I am very shy and reserved. I don't like standing before people and talking. I would rather just stay away and do the job. But I can't do the job without meeting and hearing people. But I suppose I would be excited too if a president makes the trouble of coming down from his office and visit me in my village.

Q. So, whom would you be excited to meet?

A. Eer! Who? Who? Give me five minutes to answer that. (We are still to get the answer).

Q. Who is your mentor?

A. My (late) parents. When an issue arises and I don't know how to respond, I sit and wonder what my parents would have done. Then I think over it and respond.

Q. Are you a player or spectator?

A. Player.

Q. Explain.

A. I try and do physical work for two and half hours every day. In the morning from 5 am until 6.30am, I go into the gym, at home, and exercise. In the evenings, I play football and cycle...

Q. So it's true you are always seen cycling around?

A. Where? I don't ride my bike in town. I do it out there (pointing somewhere off).

Q. There are a lot of stories, even tales, told about you. When we were young, we used to be told about this Ian who will go and wipe out Ian Smith (the Rhodesian dictator of the time). When you hear these, what goes through your mind?

A. It's very hard to know what impression people have about you. But like I say, it comes with the job. When you sit here (the presidency), people tend to say and hear things about you, and most of it wrong. Yes, a mystique! I have always been a private person. I try to keep a low profile. My parents used to tell me that even when I was young, I would keep to myself, and when visitors came, I would run away and hide. Maybe that's why people would create stories about me.

Q. Who is your best friend?

A. I don't think I have someone I can call my best friend. Maybe my brothers! Those are the people I go to when I have something to share.

Q. How would you want to be remembered?

A. I am not here to set a legacy. I have set myself objectives of how best to serve my people. Even though in the media, my opponents always want to discredit me, I know what I am doing is for the benefit of my nation. Of course I realise people will always find something wrong with you. What surprises me though is that even when you don't harm people, they will be hostile towards you. It's like there is always an agenda to attack the leader. But what the media forgets is that when you deliberately go out of your way to attack the president of a country, you are also killing the spirit of the nation. Some governments collapse not because there is anything wrong, but because they opponents just want to criticize and destroy.



Anonymous said...

Oh,my poor Seretse Khama...please,please do not be sooooooooooooooooooooo sensible!

The PRESS in democracy is there to critisize!The spirit of a nation will NOT be destroyed JUST by critisizing the head of the state!

Get an elephant's skin as we say in Germany!

All those Kgotta meetings are good for your image...regrettably they do not bring INVESTORS into the country,dear Seretse!
Poverty is there because there is not work and there is NOT work because there are NOT factories

or other businesses.


Anonymous said...

Sorry,i made a mistake by writing Ian Khama ought NOT to be "sensible".

I mixed it with the German word "sensible".

I wanted to say:sensitive.