Khama article played fast and loose

Facts and figures and individuals  arecarefully rolled together to look like they are all the beneficiaries of presidential largesse. The comment that the "M&G investigation has revealed President Ian Khama's extensive use of the Botswana state to establish a far-reaching network built on patronage" sets the tone in nailing all who were mentioned.

This article about Botswana, a small country in terms of its economy, population and power in the world, is similar to many that regularly appear in the Gaborone media. In fact, it is mild by comparison. Botswana's vigorous free press hammers all and sundry on a daily basis, including Khama, the government and opposition parties, without evidence of much fear or favour. This context says much about the strength of our societies and institutions in our region.

Botswana is a young nation, having grown quickly from a tiny base with a very small, well-educated leadership in the early 1960s to a vibrant, democratic and independent-minded nation with many of the stresses such success brings to a society.

I question whether, to meet the critical storyline, the M&G has unfairly savaged some honest people's reputations.

The Botswana described by government spokesperson Jeff Ramsey as a small country where "everybody knows everybody … and where many business, political and civil society leaders are friends and even relatives" might seem an odd observation to make unless one accepts that in 1960 the population was almost 500 000 people (the size of Bloemfontein) and the country's tertiary educated leadership numbered at most a few hundred. It is true that everyone knows almost everyone else – it's a "nation village".

Tsetsele Fantan is one of the people drawn into the cast mentioned in the article. My life first crossed her path in 1987 when I met an independent-minded, egalitarian and competent professional in her fields of human resource management; she was pioneering HIV treatment in the workplace at Debswana mining. A few years later she was head-hunted by the Bill Gates- and Merck-supported African Comprehensive HIV/Aids Partnership – no known political or family connection there. Her reputation for good governance as a director of companies and organisations is, to my knowledge, uncontested.

Implying that such an individual owes her various careers to patronage is not justified even by the accident of birth that makes her a relative of the Khama. In fact, she is the daughter of a cousin of Sekgoma II, paramount chief of the Bamangwato people from 1923, who died in 1925. Sekgoma II is the grandfather of Khama and Fantan is related through his grandfather's cousin.

The article does not illustrate a single instance in her career when patronage advanced her. The appointment to a tribunal (not much largesse there) overseeing complaints against the Directorate of Intelligence Services is precisely because she is the "bolshie" individual such tribunals require. Such an appointment cannot be made other than by the president's office, which is not dissimilar to a democracy anywhere in the world.

The dilemma with having such first-hand knowledge is that one questions the foundation and relevance of the circumstantial fact in a story such as the M&G's one. Reflecting on the society that makes up today's Botswana and how fast it has evolved into a vibrant country with a critical middle class and independent union movement will contribute to a better informed critique of long-established political and business interests in Botswana or elsewhere. In doing so, spare a minute to remembering that individuals are more than what they are; it is who they have become. – Tom Tweedy, Johannesburg

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