Friday, 10 April 2009


By Gershom Ndhlovu


Admittedly, I understand very little of politics in neighbouring Botswana, but there is one feature in that country’s body politic that I and, I am sure many others, admire there which is the concept of the kgotla where citizens in cities, towns, villages or kwamasimu and cattle posts meet to thrash out contentious issues among them.

In fact, Wikipedia, the free internet encyclopaedia describes a kgotla as a public meeting, community council or traditional law court of a Botswana village.

“It is usually headed by the village chief or headman, and community decisions are always arrived at by consensus. Anyone at all is allowed to speak, and no one may interrupt while someone is "having their say". In fact there is a Setswana saying that the highest form of war is dialogue (ntwa kgolo ke ya molomo). Because of this tradition, Botswana claims to be one of the world's oldest democracies.

“The custom of allowing everyone their full say is carried over into meetings of all kinds, from discussing a bill to a staff briefing, and can mean meetings last many hours.

Kgotla can also refer to the place where such meetings are held. This can range from a few chairs under a shade canopy to a permanent ground with covered seating,” states Wikipedia.

One good thing about these kgotlas is that even sitting presidents—Botswana has had four from Seretse Khama, to Ketumile Masire, to Festus Mogae to Seretse Khama’s son, Seretse Khama Ian Khama—appear before them around Botswana when and were their presence is required. A Motswana who has anything to say against the Tautona, the chief lion, or the head of state will say it without fear or favour.

This is the beauty of the Botswana political system which has been in existence since time immemorial but more so from 1966 when the country was granted political independence by Britain and it has endured as the foremost democracy in Africa over four decades when other countries experimented with one-party and other less desirable political systems.

Whether by coincidence or otherwise, Botswana has one of the strongest economies on the African continent which perhaps can be attributed to the fact that all Batswana are allowed their say through kgotla meetings without the fear of being victimized by anyone even if they are having a go at the president appearing before sechaba or residents of a city, town, village or cattle post.

Contrast this to countries, Zambia being one of them, where criticizing the head of state is a mortal sin that in some cases can lead someone to, if not losing their life, at least losing their livelihood because they will not be able to do business with government and other players as they are treated as political lepers.

This has been the case from the days of President Kaunda when in the late 1960s up to the early 1990s, all dissent was brutally suppressed as the president’s voice was supreme in all matters of the government and economics. Under President Chiluba, dissenters were treated a bit more subtly than President Kaunda’s regime did, but a few political scalps were claimed, notably those of the 22 MMD members who opposed the second president’s ill-conceived third term attempt.

Incidentally, it was no much different with the late President Levy Mwanawasa who himself differed with a lot of MMD members as well as those from the opposition. It was only later in his presidency that he reconciled with one of his bitter political enemies, Patriotic Front president Michael Sata only because the former facilitated his evacuation to South Africa after he fell ill with a life-threatening condition.

President Rupiah Banda has not fared very well in the last five months or so of both his republican as well as MMD presidency as he seems to have differed with quite a number of people and the highlight of his political differences being the dismissal of two deputy ministers Lameck Chibombamilimo and Jonas Shakafuswa who initially campaigned for the presidential candidature of former Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande after the demise of President Mwanawasa.

The national ‘indaba’ called by the Banda administration which was going to serve as a form of national kgotla appears to have been discredited right from the beginning as delegates were instructed not to discuss “politics” while major opposition parties of the United Party for National Development, PF and General Miyanda’s Heritage Party have all boycotted it along with the Catholic Church and other groups such as the Transparency International Zambia.

While Presidents Chiluba and Mwanawasa were relatively tolerant of divergent views as the MMD was founded on the principle of “transparency and tolerance” it appears that Zambia is regressing into the one-party political mode where the national leader is above criticism. President Banda definitely needs to go back to the MMD basics where he is open to public and private scrutiny if democracy has to be entrenched in the country.


Zambia bailing out Zimbabwe economically? Someone must be having a laugh. I thought we learnt our lesson as a country in the 1960s, 70s and 80s when we funded the liberation struggles of other countries particularly Zimbabwe and South Africa.

What have Zambians benefited from such benevolence if not outright scorn and arrogance from Zimbabweans and South Africans and other countries we helped gain independence? Who does not know how Zimbabweans used to laugh at us when we crossed over at Chirundu, Kariba or Victoria Falls to drink a bottle or two of coca-cola or even a bottle of castle when there were shortages of clear beer in our country?

It would be better if the Zambian government directed the money it wants to channel to Zimbabwe under the aegis of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), itself a questionable body which tolerates one means of power usurpation such as happened in Zimbabwe where a military junta hijacked an election to others such as the change of government by means of people power in Madagascar, to internal needs such as road repairs or buying drugs for our hospitals.

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