Monday, February 16, 2009

President Ian Khama in Mahalapye


President Ian Khama speaking at the Mahalapye Kgotla

This post is mostly for people living outside of Botswana, people who don’t know how things work here, people who will find most of what I’m about to write refreshingly enlightening , or so I hope.

Last Thursday our president, President Ian Khama, visited my home village of Mahalapye. He does this to find out what is happening in the country he is responsible for. He came with the Finance Minster, the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, the Minister of Agriculture, and the Vice President who is also our MP in Mahalapye Mompati Merafhe. They gathered at the main kgotla, the traditional meeting place and traditional court.

They had little to say because, instead, they were here to listen. The way that these presidential talks work is that people from the village, anyone- and people from the village take this seriously- should come forward with their grievances. Along with the high-powered delegation from Gaborone, sitting at the front are all of the heads of the various government departments. The reason they and the ministers are there is to give the people an answer- on the spot.

On Thursday there were various issues raised. One man claimed the police are useless and he suspected they were in cahoots with the criminals. The President looked around until he spotted the Mahalapye Police boss who went to the microphone to address the man’s allegations. Another well known chicken farmer told the President that government tenders for buying chickens were not done fairly. A parent complained that many children could not proceed to senior secondary school because the junior secondary schools were not giving them a waiver since the children owed for lost books. Another complained that the sewage pipes are leaking sewage into the Mahalapye River. Another told the President that Mahalapye only looked nice at the moment because civil servants were running around fixing everything once they knew he’d be visiting. One old man wanted the old age pension amount increased. A woman commended the government for our new hospital.

In each case, if the problem was with the government workers, they would come forward to answer and explain how they would address the problem. If a higher power was needed the Minister, Vice President, or the President himself would answer. Throughout the entire meeting, President Khama was taking notes.

The President travels all over the country like this. Perhaps it is not the most efficient way to gather information, but it is the most people-friendly. He doesn’t need to worry about civil servants milking down an issue; he can see with his own eyes the passion behind the speakers’ words. This is important for a man who grew up in a way very different from his compatriots. He is trying his best to understand what his fellow citizens feel is important, what they want help with. I think it is a commendable thing.

Time was running out and the queue was still long so the President skipped his meeting to allow for another hour of talking with the people. When that time had passed there was still a man who was adamant he must speak to his president. He was perhaps a bit crazy and likely drunk and the police and security folk stepped in and got him sat down in a chair and gave him a drink. This seemed to placate him. But as we were dispersing, and President Khama was making his way from the kgotla, I saw him stop at this man and bend down and listen to his concerns. Perhaps I’m easily manipulated by such things, but I was touched and the act moved me a little bit closer toward the President’s side. If nothing else, the man has a good heart.

23 comments:

Selma said...

That is enlightening. I wish Presidents and Prime Ministers the world over would take a leaf from his book. He reminds me of the medieval Kings who used to hold court granting boons and favours. Inspiring!

Lauri said...

He's good where he is good and problematic where he is problematic. He's still quite new so we don't know yet which will get the upper hand.

Cricket said...

This is amazing. I am stunned a leader of a country would devote so much time to talk with and address the concerns of average everyday citizens.

Angela said...

Fascinating post! I`m glad you watched it and wrote it down for us! Thanks a lot. The best news in Africa I always hear from Botswana.

Rob Inukshuk said...

Quite refreshing to read of a leader prepared to listen. Lets hope that he can make a difference with his new found knowledge and insight.

It certainly is a good beginning point and the man must be respected for trying. Thanks for sharing.

kayt said...

I think this is incredibly wonderful, a lesson from which the US should take to heart. Perhaps it is not literally logistically possible here - that I do not know, but the spirit and intent could most certainly be adopted.

Thanks so much for this post!!

R:Deus-von Homeyer said...

Oh,Keith,
do not complain..you,in the USA have the SMALL CLAIM courts for such trivial matters.

We,in Germany(I live in Berlin) have ADMISTRATIVE COURTS or Labor court or Family court for such claims.
I appreciate what Ian Khama is doing...regrettably he loses plenty of valuable time for such trivial,everyday matters.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

RDeus-von Homeyer- Thanks for visiting my blog. I think what President Khama does is a little different from a small claims court. He wants to hear first hand how his government it working.

Rosie Deus-von Homeyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Rosie- I'm afraid you are terribly misinformed. Batswana have a long tradition of free speech in the kgotla system. People do not fear to criticise Ian Khama. Do you read online Botswana newspapers such as our daily private paper Mmegi? Hardly a day goes by that people are not making comments about everything under the sun, it is entrenched in Setswana cultures and tradition.

Your work at Facebook will fall on deaf ears I'm afraid. You are talking as someone who knows hardly nothing about this country and yet feel you have a right to criticise- Batswana will not jump on your band wagon I'm afraid.

I myself was invited by you to join a group to ban corporal punishment in our schools. Why would I want to do that when I believe in corporal punishment? I was a teacher and my husband is a headmaster, we know that fair corporal punishment is a useful and effective way of maintaining order and again part of the culture here.

Rosie, my advice to you is to take care in making assumptions. Currently this country is dealing with the ridiculous campaign by Survival International and Stephen Cory, that at one point was so off target as to label our diamonds blood diamonds. This threatened the fantastic social programmes that the money from diamonds allows in this country. Misguided proclamations from positions of little knowledge can be very dangerous indeed.

Rosie Deus-von Homeyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Rosie I'm not sure what a democracy is then. Perhaps you have a definition that others are not aware of. I wonder how Germany is a democracy but Botswana is not.

Countries give money to other countries for reasons that both are fully aware of, very rarely is it altruistic. Botswana gives plenty of money to other countries too.

I wonder what an "authocratic" government is. Perhaps you could explain in what way Botswana would fall into this category. The country is not a monarchy. Just because Ian Khama is president and his father was president does not make it a monarchy. Each were voted into power by the people. The same has taken place in many democracies in the world, i.e. America.

As for your opinions on Batswana, you yourself have said that you have not visited this country so I wonder how you've come to your conclusions. If a Motswana disagrees with a German are they by definition arrogant? How your traveling in North Africa is relevant to your opinion I find difficult to fathom. That would be like me saying I traveled in Turkey and now I know how the Swiss should behave. That just doesn't make any sense.

Rosie Deus-von Homeyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nelia said...

Rosie, it seems that you are the angry one.
Lauri, thanks for the post. I live in South-Africa and visit Botswana often. I love Botswana and the Batswana people and I admire the efforts from your president.

forgetmenot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Rosie- just a point of information. Palapye.com is not a newspaper from Botswana. What it is is a website that collects news about Botswana from other original sources. What this means is there is an aspect of selectivity. I myself have spoken to the man who runs this website, he like you, is a European, not a Motswana. My advice to you is to read from the source, many of our newspapers are online- Mmegi or Gazette for example.

I'm sure the European Union will be overjoyed to get your sensible, respectful, rationally presented arguments. Good luck with that.


I wonder Rosie if you've done any research as to how much Europe and other Western powers have taken from Africa? Taken, not bought, not negotiated -but stole. Have you managed to find time to discover what percentage of Europe's wealth stems from that stolen property? Perhaps begin there and then you might see things a bit more clearly.

I might caution you again- Africa is a continent of many countries- countries of varied governments, cultures and people.

forgetmenot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
forgetmenot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nelia said...

Yes, it is frustrating that Africa can't help itself but the problems are sometimes simple and obvious (corrupt leaders) but sometimes complex and difficult to solve (like borders set by colonial powers).
@forgetmenot - you don't need to be so arrogant.

MACAULEY said...

The people of Botswana are incredibly luck to have a family like the Khamas. It should be taught in every school, the story of how KHAMA 111 saved Botswana from being turned into a colony by outwitting the British Government in 1895.

MACAULEY said...

You are very lucky to have the Khama family in Botswana. If KHAMA 111 had never lived and not made his incredible journey to England in 1895 , Botswana would have been turned into a colony and been swallowed by Rhodesia or South Africa.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Macauley- Thanks for stopping by. The trip to England did not only include Khama III, I'm not sure if you are aware of that. Also the history, like all history, is not quite as simple as you make it out to be. Of course our history is taught in our schools.

MACAULEY said...

Yes, I am aware and did my research over the last few years. As a result, I have written a feature film script (Based somewhat on Neil Parson's book) which is now in early development. I feel like I know Khama 111, Batwen and Sebele better than my own family. Mark