The Botswana Gazette, Business Weekly and Review, and Sunday Standard response to “Government’s” Press release of July 4, 2017
President Ian Khama has issued a statement from the “Private Office of the President”, calling for the media and politicians to desist from telling tall tales; “Mainane”. While “The Private Office of the President” is a misnomer, and we of course, cannot speak for politicians, The Business Weekly and Review, Botswana Gazette and Sunday Standard feel it is important to correct the narrative of the statement, whichever office it emanates from.
Ours is a tale of survival and pursuit to truth. “We” the media, note that we use “we” in the plural and not the Royal “we” as Khama has (but more on that later), take note of the message by Khama, issued in his personal capacity on the Government Facebook page, denouncing public allegation of personal gain from public funds. While it is unusual that Government allows a private citizen’s message to be published on its official pages, the convergence of roles by Khama of President, public persona, private citizen, former commander and businessman have been allowed to become so intertwined by his administration that “we” (The Business Weekly and Review, Botswana Gazette and Sunday Standard) appreciate the candour in which Government has finally illustrated the duplicity of its position. However, as far as this mainane goes, we are starting our folktale midstream.
“We”, is a tale in and of itself. “We”, as any linguist and historian will tell, is used by Royalty when addressing his vassals, a Royal “we” is the king speaking as the voice of God. Royalty was once considered divine but least we, the mere masses forget, live in a democratic republic where our leaders are elected into office to serve us and not imposed by divine right. In serving us, our leaders are beholden to not only our constitution but to our democratic values, and this really is where the mainane starts.
We are not vassals.
“We” the media are criticised and condemned as unpatriotic, irresponsible and incompetent, but ours is a murky world where the light of knowledge is obscured by government mist and obfuscation. Our folktale starts in a land where secrecy has become the norm, where we strive to expose the truth against a government that has forgotten that it serves us and not that we serve them.
So let us examine the narrative once again. “This Office” and “the Private Office”? Khama’s statement is a private one, if it was official then it would have been issued by the presidential spokesperson, yet he speaks of the Presidential office. The office of the President is a public office, not a strange mixture of the two. The President’s office can never be private. If Khama wishes to issue a private statement he is entitled to do so and lose what constitutional protections are availed to him in his public capacity, we are happy to engage on that level. However, Khama’s private statement deliberately misleads the public by once again merging his public and private roles.
Our sources avail information and when we seek clarity from government, we get bold denials, our questions do not get answered and we get general statements in response to specific questions. The statement “wishes to underscore that in the public interest, it might prove judicious that stories should be informed by appropriately sourced facts, taking into consideration that we should be principled in this light.” Being “principled in this light” must start with the office that holds information, the pubic office, not a private one that has no constitutional basis. Being “principled” requires a respect for our democratic values, freedom of expression, respect for the rule of law and transparency in government.
Our tale continues, lest we forget this is a folk story; Khama’s Government has repeatedly rejected passing legislation allowing for access to information, declaration of assets and legislation that promotes transparency within government circles. The Late Maine, the former Ombudsman recommended that such legislation be tabled, it was, on at least 2 occasions by opposition members and promptly rejected, opposed by the government of the day in parliament.
Instead of promoting transparency, in accordance with our status as “Africa’s Diamond of Democracy”, government has passed legislation that criminalises Whistle-Blowers, has consolidated Executive control over key oversight institutions such as the DCEC, DISS, Attorney General and Directorate of Public Prosecution by placing them under the office of the President.
Institutions that are intended to avail public records have become sealed from public scrutiny, the Deeds Registry will not release information on any property belonging to certain politicians (they can remain nameless, but let the public try obtain the title documents for certain plots in Mosu), the Registrar of Companies prohibits access to public company records on such companies as Seleka Springs and Silver Shadows, The High Court refuses to avail records of cases involving select matters of public importance. And Khama publically denounces the media as unpatriotic and determined to undermine the constitution.
This is where our mainane begins to unfold, the lack of legislation governing access to information is not the fault of the media, on the contrary the Constitution provides that we are entitled to it and by extension the public is entitled to have access to information as a one of the pillars of a democratic society. When public office bearers refuse to answer questions posed by the media, when they refuse to hold press conferences on arms purchases that affect the public and are matters of national importance, it is they that breach and undermine the constitution.
Yet, despite all the impediments we continue to strive for the truth, undaunted by bare denials and obfuscations. The media broke to the public that Seleka Springs was involved in arms procurement, a company owned by the Khama family. Despite denials for over 10 years and a Minister being forced to retract his similar denial in Parliament, the same minister subsequently admitted to the company having been involved in military purchases since 1989. The media broke stories on arms purchases, all denied by government and subsequently revealed to be true. The media revealed to the public the use of BDF equipment, personnel and financial resources on the president’s private property. Despite various misleading statements, government eventually confirmed that the airstrip at Mosu, registered in the president’s private name was developed using taxpayers’ money. When the media sought clarification on the legal provisions that allow for taxpayers money to be used on a private airstrip, the questions remained unanswered. The media revealed to the public critical issues of public importance and national security as to the head of Intelligence and Security Services. Government denied them. When sources revealed the Investigation diary and its contents were published, government went to court to stop the publication. The interdict failed as the media continued to publish and fulfil its role of holding public figures accountable. The media revealed the behind the scenes Presidential Directive on Air Botswana, this too was initially denied and only to be subsequently admitted by a vaguely attempted justification. And these are not the totality of media exposés.
Sedition laws have been invoked, journalists arrested, their offices raided, their lawyers detained, we are served with legal demands marked “SECRET” by the Attorney General purportedly acting on behalf of the President in both his official and private capacity in violation of that offices constitutional mandate, and yet we are said to tell folktales? The folktale emanates from public figures that publically say they value democracy and all that comes with it, but hide behind a veil of secrecy and undermine the very foundation of the Constitution; freedom of information and expression.
We, The Business Weekly and Review, the Botswana Gazette and Sunday Standard, do not deny that articles may at times be incorrect, and when they are, we own up to it and retract. Has government ever done so? Nonsensical catch phrases that criticism of Khama does not “bode well for a mirror representation of local journalism” implies that the private media should abdicate its oversight role and conform to government narrative; We are not BTv and we are not Radio Botswana, whose editorial content is dictated by political office. We will continue to speak, write and expose the truth.
We (in the plural) can do no better than to remind politicians that they have made politics their profession and “It is our considered view that they should have some moral values that are in consonance with ethical code of this noble profession.”
“Mainane” plays a rich part in our cultural heritage, tall tales with moral undertones, battles between good and evil; representations of the triumph of good, truth and integrity. Khama (he has opted to issue a private statement in his personal capacity) should not forget that folklore, as passed down from generation to generation is important to the oral traditions and customs of all African people.
Tricksters and animals play a common role in our folklore; Mainane are not only entertaining but serve to teach a lesson as well, sometimes of a moral value and other times of survival.
Yes, the Media is also a noble profession and yet in our nobility we do not claim omnipotence. We strive to be the voice of the voiceless, and as such extend our gratitude to the public for their continued support. We extend the same gratitude to Khama for “One who causes others misfortune also teaches them wisdom,” (African proverb) while remembering “The wise create proverbs for fools to learn, not to repeat” (another African proverb).
Our mainane is not finished, nor will it ever. Our folktale will unfold throughout the annals of history as only freedom of expression can. The media will always remain to tell its tale, while governments come and go.