Masisi warned to take Discontent seriously

While most may attribute growing anti-Masisi sentiment to the President’s failure to implement his election promises, some regard it as abuse of freedom of speech that Masisi has restored after years of withdrawal of civil liberties by his predecessor. Staff Writer SESUPO RANTSIMAKO reports

Political commentators have warned President Mokgweetsi Masisi to expect more public protests when the State of Emergency (SOE) ends in the difficult situation of the COVID-19 pandemic and his failed 2019 election promises.

The warning comes against the background of mounting discontent and online protests calling for the President resignation. Two motions of no confidence tabled by opposition
MPs have failed, as did a united artists’ protest against the closure of the entertainment industry last year.

Popular musician ATI also once violated COVID-19 rules and regulations and went around the capital city protesting against what he called Masisi’s misrule. His arrest sparked public demonstrations in Gaborone’s Main Mall and forced his release. Hip-hop artist Ozzy F Teddy recently released a controversial diss track that castigates government. The song, which was widely circulated on digital platforms, landed him in brief detention from which he was released following intervention by the present of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Duma Boko, who is a renowned lawyer.

Soon after the shock diss rap song, revered Pastor Thuso Tiego said he was giving President Masisi seven days to resign. A petition circulating online to compel Masisi to resign attracted 15 000 signatures last week. It is mounted by Tumisang Letlakana, who was a parliamentary candidate of the Alliance for Progressives for Goodhope/Mabule in the 2019 elections.

Professor Zibani Maundeni of the University of Botswana’s (UB) Faculty of Social Science and Political Administration says these protests mean that Batswana are not happy with the Masisi administration because their lives have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted life in all aspects. In an interview with The Botswana Gazette, Dr Maundeni said the situation is exacerbated by lack of an open-door policy like that Masisi’s predecessor had.

“While the nation appreciates efforts to fight this pandemic, people are not convinced by the way he handled it,” he said. “They feel that unlike other countries, he was not proactive. While other countries long secured COVID-19 vaccines through procurement platforms, Masisi started late, sparking frustration and anger. This has negatively disrupted the lives of many Batswana, hence the growing protests. Therefore, we should expect more public protest when the SoE is lifted because people are hurt.”

Political commentator Lesole Machacha attributes the growing public outcry to failure by the Masisi administration to fulfil most of his election promises. In Machacha’s view, what hurts the public the most is “lack of the patriotism element in the President”. He says the President must take the discontent seriously. “Defending Masisi by some of his allies is one thing that disturbs the public because people feel disregarded by the person whom they gave the mandate to lead the country,” he said in an interview. “This is what ignites these growing protests. Rather than listening to his allies who are making things worse, Masisi should take these protests seriously and address the grievances because
they might backfire on him.”

On the contrary, another political commentator, Leonard Sesa, says the growing protests are an indication that Masisi’s administration has given Batswana freedom of speech that was not there under the previous administration. Sesa’s concern is that although freedom of speech is a factor of democracy, Batswana are now abusing it, citing the public protests on social media platforms. “President Masisi has given the nation the freedom that it long yearned for,” he said. “The main problem is that people are now abusing it. I believe the time has arrived for correctional services like the police to act to bring order.”

The Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Kabo Morwaeng, recently addressed himself to the protestors in his official Facebook page, saying the President will serve constitutionally granted five-year term handed to him by popular vote in the 2019 general elections.

“While I respect the right of every Motswana to petition and to show displeasure as enshrined in the constitution of Botswana, I encourage that this should be exercised responsibly at all times,” Minister Morwaeng wrote. “I therefore, urge Batswana not to tolerate any sentiments that could incite violence.

Government continues to facilitate the enjoyment of the right to free speech but also has the responsibility to ensure that the rule of law is in place.”