Uncovering the characters behind potential presidents (PART TWO)

In our first instalment of this article, we discussed the silver lining in the vexing question of character and politics and concluded that in fact there are several attributes essential to leadership in general and particularly in politics and that basic character is truly the mother of them all. In this second instalment, Staff Writer TEFO PHEAGE examines the characters behind our future presidents.

As indicated in the previous instalment of this article, the Americans are today the laughing stock of every nation for having elected into their highest and sanctified office a carefree soul and non-conformist with a defective character who bullies subordinates and ignores advisers. But what options does Botswana have and who can we gamble on?

Valuable lessons are that many people enter the political arena with a genuine commitment to civil service or a passion to change the world, but politics has always attracted a disproportionate share of individuals with a bottomless lust for power and self-aggrandizement. Political historians advise that history is littered with examples of leaders of dubious character or worse.

What options does Botswana have?

Botswana is headed for a showdown between two presidential candidates, Duma Boko and Mokgweetsi Masisi around both of wom much debate about their character and capabilities has already ensued.

A finely educated man who has never shied away from boasting about his academic credentials and his highly respected institute of leaning, Harvard University, that is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning and research, as well as developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally. Boko can effortlessly use the English Language, which does not go down well with some people who accuse him of pompous conduct. This has forced Boko to tone down in recent years to accommodate but the condescending attitude in some spheres of the society remains that Boko o rata dilo.

Boko ‘s membership of the BNF came under serious challenge when he ran for the party’s presidency. He had prior to that made a serious and injurious declaration that he had never voted in national elections in his life or registered for elections. The impression of many was that Boko only cared about politics to become the president of the country and not for emancipation of the masses as he claims.

Boko also has a murky trace of fatherhood. For several years he has been in the papers for the wrong reasons as a negligent father. He married recently and for a change not much negativity has been heard from the family. In the legal fraternity, Boko is admired by many colleagues as a former lecturer and experienced jurist. Some, however, still describe him as a swashbuckler. His management of his once revered law firm has also come under scrutiny for failing to grow to expectations despite his brilliance, connections and experience. The firm is currently in court for allegedly failing to pay some of salaries and severance pay.

Politically Boko has achieved a rare feat to manage and contain the once-bedridden BNF, a task at which many failed. He has rebuilt the BNF into a formidable force that can credibly vie for state power. He has also pieced together opposition parties to pose a serious threat to the ruling party. But the journey has been tumultuous with flying accusations of naivety and despotism. His casual approach to serious issues has also dealt Boko a credibility blow. This has led many to believe that Boko ‘s primary desire is the glamour and opulence that comes with the presidency. His penchant for the good things in life in a conservative and relatively poor society has eclipsed the little good he has rendered like his relentless fight for human rights.

Yet some believe that under Boko’s leadership the UDC poses a serious threat to the BDP. The UDC’s deputy president, Dumelang Saleshando, is arguably the most credible politician in Botswana, owing to his clean record as a political leader and laidback personality. He has remained calm in the midst of political challenges.

Is he trustworthy? Masisi has a history as a man who does not value the truth if it is inconvenient. It is believed that the country, presidency and party are today in a mess because of his empty promises to his predecessor Ian Khama who is now out for revenge. Masisi is also on record as saying the BDP deliberately lied to Gabs FM that it would take part in the presidential debates when it knew it would be at a retreat on the eleventh hour.

While the view is that Masisi’s interests come first, it adds his face to portraits of politicians as congenital liars. The type, extent and continuous nature of examples of mistrust are said to be the crucial factors in judging a person. Having worked with Khama at close range, Masisi should have known how Khama was likely to react after being duped. His sense of judgement is questionable. Since assuming the presidency, he has committed schoolboy errors trying to assert his authority by weeding out opposition instead of skilfully managing it. His poor timing has now backfired and the results are scary. But Masisi has shown a rare affection for people.

Philosopher Plato once said rulers should be picked on account of character for their honesty, reliability, probity, disinterestedness, sense of justice and willingness to keep their hands off the interns. “The community suffers nothing very terrible if its cobblers are bad and become degenerate and pretentious,” he wrote in The Republic. “But if the guardians of the laws and the state, who alone have the opportunity to bring it good government and prosperity, become a mere sham, then clearly (the community) is completely ruined.”

Author Andrew Ferguson, in one of his writings, notes that given the fragility of human nature, Aristotle had figured that the more important question would be how to build a system of government that could survive even when leaders went astray. “The aim of every political constitution,” says The Federalist Papers, “is or ought to be first to obtain for rulers, men who possess most wisdom to discern and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society.”

However, the second aim of the constitution should be “to take the most effectual precautions for keeping (the rulers) virtuous, whilst they continue to hold their public trust.”
Masisi is lauded by many for his change on the hunting ban policy and openness in dealing with media and various stakeholder institutions such as unions and NGOs. Although facing political criticism Masisi has implemented a salary increase for civil servants and has launched multi thronged investigations on some of the cases involving criminal corruption, although none has received any conviction yet.

Ndaba Gaolathe of the AP
The soft-spoken leader comes across as an educated and virtuous man who is reserved in nature. But though a wise young man with a desire to see change, his subdued manner could be his weakness and it leads some to conclude that he is better off working behind the scenes. His decision to debunk from the UDC has also come under scrutiny as many see it as miscalculated. The AP in its current state is fragile and may dissolve upon an encounter with a hostile future. The AP leader’s chances at power are close to nil.

Sydney Pilane of the BMD
A workaholic of note but his appetite for dispute as a lawyer has encroached into his political life. Shrill-voiced and thorough, this is a man who clings to his convictions, according to close associates. Pilane is a widely respected figure as a lawyer he struggles to gain popularity since expressing political ambitions. He seems to have joined politics out of loneliness and a desire to exert and exercise his vast experience of law. Like Themba Joina, Pilane is accused of degenerating to the level of a political comic hell-bent of ruining his enviable and successful legal career. At this hour, it is yet to be known whether he will run as a candidate for Gaborone North because he is insisting that the BMD is a part of the UDC, while the UDC says it is not.
Curiously, there have been bad presidents who were men and women of good character and bad characters who have made good presidents.