The Republic of Botswana, this is what my beloved country is formally known as across the world. It is further known is a sovereign state and above all known as a constitutional democracy. All these bring with them various presumptions. The first being that we are not ruled by any foreign power. This means that we are governed by a government that is for all intents and purposes advancing our collective interests. I am naive to ignore the facts that external pressures will always influence how sovereign governments run their business.
How then does a government come to the conclusion that what it represents is best interest of the lot or represents our collective interests and conscience? This is where the second presumption comes along which presumption is intrinsically tied to our democratic credentials. That we are all guaranteed freedom of speech and in exercising this freedom our million opinion matters can then be distilled into what forms our collective conscience. There are limitations to the exercise of rights of course and also we are always going to have those who are in disagreement with the collective conscience. That’s how democracy works.
On the evening of 18 May 2021, the Masisi Administration put out a press release condemning some people who had expressed their opinion publicly with regard to the Tibet/China saga. To admonish citizens (I assume they were citizens, even if not they are guaranteed the same right of freedom of expression as citizens) was by all means unprecedented. There are many questions that need to be answered with regard to the admonishment. Did the Chinese government bare pressure on our government to denounce its own to preserve Sino-Botswana relations. From the wording of the press release, one can only answer in the affirmative. Are we at the height of Neo-colonialism where control is exerted not by the barrel of the gun but the might of capital investments through loans and grants?
I am of the view that our government, using diplomatic channels, should have made whatever assurances to the Chinese government but not admonish its own for holding a contrary view. We are not a monolithic society where everything is uniform, where everything is a dull hue of grey. Our right to Freedom of expression means we are allowed to differ with our government even issues of diplomatic sensitivity, not because we are naive but because we need to enrich our collective conscience that will influence our government’s position. I do not believe that the people who expressed their view on the Tibet/ China issue held themselves as expressing the official position of the Republic of Botswana. What happened yesterday is but the beginning of a slippery slope.