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.