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Tradition Versus Modernization - An African Story

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 22, 2022 13:10

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Traditional leadership and modern society is not an easy combination. In Botswana this balance was maintained for decades, but now it seems to have come to a crisis. It is not clear how this will turn out.

Botswana, home of the last remnants of Africa, and probably the world's first nations, the San people, knows the stresses of modernization. Long guaranteed space to live their traditional lives as hunters, gatherers of fruit and medicinal plants, the San tribes are now being forced out of the Great Central Kalahari Reserve by subsistence farmers, hunting concession holders and diamond prospectors. This arid, land-locked country evaded the worst of colonialism by accepting the status of a British Protectorate under leadership of the controversial Sir Seretse Khama. Agricultural development, prudent governance and the discovery of diamonds contributed to a high living standard but also a burgeoning young population.

San children with their father. Photo Sara Atkins, Flickr. Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

Sir Seretse Khama was succeeded by a number of democratically elected Presidents, and in 2008 Ian Khama, son of Sir Seretse, became President. Khama was also hereditary Paramount Chief of the important Bamangwato ethnic group, but was able to balance modern and traditional political roles. Khama is a conservationist, and long opposed elephant hunting, even though these giants proliferate without natural enemies, and threaten crops and lives. He regularly visited the Dalai Lama, and opposed extreme politics on the African continent.

Khama supported an erstwhile confidante, Mokgweetsi Masisi, as his successor. Soon Masisi turned against many of Khama's policies. Pivoting towards China and opening Botswana to trophy hunting also of elephants put the two at odds. Soon the disagreements became public, with Khama denouncing Masisi's 'authoritarian tendencies'. A number of recent Botswana Government decisions raised concern, not least allowing eight 75 bed waterfront lodges to open in the famous Chobe reserve.

Tourist watching in Chobe, Botswana. Photo AoneMokwena Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0


Khama joined the political opposition in 2019, but played a low key role. Yet Masisi's party had lost eight out of ten recent by-elections, indicating that the 2024 election race might already be under way. Masisi had long accused Khama of a number of crimes, and allegations of massive corruption and financing of a coup d'etat has been aired and comprehensively debunked by security specialists. The amount mentioned was close to half the GDP of Botswana, yet no banks cound find a trace of such transfers.


Now he faces charges of having unlawful firearms. Khama, while claiming that these charges arise from 2016 when he was still President, that most of the weapons belonged to his security detail and the rest were lawful hunting and personal weapons, declined to appear in court, having not been served with a summons.

Kalahari lions at the kill. Photo Diego Delso Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0Caption

Khama represents the traditional political structure of Botswana: reserved, calm, conservative, perhaps somewhat British. Masisi reflects modern African politics: brash, quick to change traditional alliances and prone to favor short term benefits. 


Time will tell, but the next few years will be interesting.
 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 22, 2022 13:10

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Source: The Guardian

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