Deinstitutionalise Tribalism

It has been eighteen years since the Balopi commission was sanctioned by the then President His Excellency Festus Mogae. For all his flaws, I still consider him a great statesman. The Presidential Commission was set up at the height of Tribal tensions as a result of the institutionalized tribalism which underpins our country. The fallacy of a mono-ethnic nation which has been perpetuated by the ruling party since independence still continues. We are fortunate that our “tribal cleansing” has not come in the form of the Rwandan genocide and the recent Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.


In preparation to penning this article in came across an op-ed by Mmegi Newspaper on 7 June 2006 in reaction to utterances made by one Kgosikgolo in relation to the Balopi Commission recommendations. I herein reproduce a portion of the foregoing op-ed:

“As in the case of the consultation process that was carried out by the Balopi Commission into Sections 77, 78 and 79 of the Constitution, some interested parties in the matter question the viability of the exercise in dealing with perceived tribal discriminations. On another level, this serves to expose the extent to which both government and the presenter of the issue to Dikgosi, Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Minister, Phandu Skelemani misguided the consultation process aimed at solving the problem of tribal inequality in Botswana. The nation accepted the Balopi Commission consultation process and thought that government was going to solve the problem.”


The Balopi Commission was, for all intents and purposes, meant to come up with recommendations that would bring deinstitutionalize tribalism. The first thing would have been, under the constitution, to create equality between all tribes. At the end, one would have expected that all hallmarks of tribal superiority would be deleted from our legislative framework. However, methinks, this was not achieved. As can be deduced from the above, our expectations and the reality of what came to be are galaxies apart. Political considerations and expediency gave way to common sense and our democratic and or constitutional morality. A band-aid approach was taken leaving posterity to bear the brunt of government’s failure.


The legacy of the Mogae-Skelemani band aid approach came to the fore when government decided to recognise Basubiya and Bayei tribes signals the failures of government to live to the expectations of the nation of the Balopi Commission as rightly pointed across above. Of all things this, to me, was the biggest failure of the Mogae presidency. To date, the ruling BDP fails to rise up to the occasion but chooses to continue engendering tribalism into the fabric of the nation. It continues to push for political domination on the back of the toxicity of tribalism; reducing some people to sub-citizen status whose tribal affiliation has to be subjected to political consideration for determination. Where one of the tens of indigenous languages is recognized. Where the government would rather advocate you learn Mandarin or French but is vehemently opposed to having other indigenous languages to be taught in schools.


A simple reading of the old Section 77-79 of Botswana constitution and the current reveals nothing but the lax way in which the issues that led to the Balopi Commission. A semantic band-aid solution was adopted. There is no reason in a democratic society why the Bamangwato royal house should dictate and endorse who becomes the Kgosi for all tribes in the central district while those people are tribes on their own right. The tribal prejudices that were Championed by Tshekedi Khama during the pre-independence era with support of the British colonialists. Those who dare to speak against this form of discrimination, which flies in the face of Section 15 of the Constitution, is labelled ‘divisive’. The Rwandan genocide is and has been cited as the reason for only having Setswana recognized as the official language. Anyone with a brain should equally ask why hasn’t the same happened in South Africa where more than 10 indigenous languages are recognized and made official languages. Reserve the context matters comment for someone without a brain not me.


I therefore challenge the Masisi Administration and any administration that may come hereafter to deinstitutionalize tribalism. The outrage surrounding the recognition of the Basubiya and Bayei in 2016 should have been the first warning bell for impending complications that may come. In the age of racialized or tribalized demagoguery, we need our leaders to be brave. I accept that it is not always the easiest thing to do the right thing but your conscience should be your guide not political exigencies. The current text of Section 77-79 of the constitution do not live up to the ideals of equality before the law. Changing the law is the first step to changing the nation. These changes should also cover the Tribal Lands Act and the Ntlo-ya-Dikgosi Act.


It is appalling that for a nation that has been lauded as the beacon for democracy in Africa and indeed the world we still shun diversity. This here is just one example of structural and institutional impediments to attaining equality all routed in prejudice and privilege attached thereto. How can we be proud as a nation when we are not viewed as equals before the law?


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