George B.N. Ayittey, Ph.D., Distinguished Economist, American University, Washington, DC, finds fault with the govt. of Botswana. The representative of the government is cc for a response.
I am a Ghanaian and I am appalled, bitterly disappointed at the handling
of the case of Professor Kenneth Good, an Australian, by the Government
of Botswana. He has been declared a "prohibited immigrant" and placed on
deportation order for writing an article critical of the ruling Botswana
Democratic Party (BDP). His case is being reviewed by the Supreme Court.
I have always held Botswana in very high esteem, describing it as "The
Shining Black Economic Star" or a role model for Africa in my books.
Botswana has registered an impressive rate of economic advance,
astonishing by any standard. In a little less than two decades (1966 to
1986), Botswana's rate of economic growth averaged an astounding 8
percent per annum while the South African economy was limping along at a
miserable 1.5 percent per annum between 1965 and 1985. Back in 1983,
real GPD growth rate was a dizzying 26.3 percent and GDP per capita
exploded from P755 in 1982 to P2145 in 1986. By 1991, GDP per capita had
reached P5,950 ($2439) and today, it is at $8,000 and described by the
World Bank as a "Middle Income country."
Botswana's economic performance has not been matched anywhere on the
African continent in the post-colonial period. Under aging leaders and
unrepentant despots, Africa's post-colonial economic performance has
been unmitigated disaster. Whole states have collapsed. Twenty-four of
the world's thirty-six poorest nations are in black Africa (or
sub-Saharan Africa). Apart from Botswana, exceptions to the general
economic atrophy in sub-Saharan Africa have been pitifully few:
Mauritius and possibly Uganda -- out of the 45 countries that inhabit
the sub-Saharan region. Across black Africa, Botswana remains a shining
star, while black Africa's income per capita fell consistently.
The Botswana government pursued judicious macroeconomic policies of
saving windfalls and avoiding excessive government spending during
export boom years. These savings provided the cushion to ride out the
lean years. By contrast, when sharply rising oil prices boosted exports
from $4 billion in 1975 to $26 billion in 1980, Nigeria went on an
import binge. It splurged on prestigious projects, including a $23
billion new capital at Abuja, while vampire politicians transferred as
much as $15 million a day illegally out of the country. Nigeria even
neglected agriculture, preferring to use cheap oil dollars to import
food. Today, Nigeria, like the rest of Africa, can't feed itself and
spends $3 billion a year on food imports. To help feed itself, Nigeria
is bringing white farmers from Zimbabwe, who have been victims of
Mugabe's violent land seizures. Rising public expenditures fueled by oil
revenues shifted production from agriculture to services. When the price
of oil collapsed, so did Nigeria's export receipts. By 1986, they were
down to $6 billion, while external debt rose from $5 billion in 1980 to
$25 billion in 1986. Between 1970 and 2001, more than $350 billion in
oil revenue flowed into Nigerian government coffers. Nigerians are still
asking "What happened to the oil money?"
The booms in coffee, cocoa, copper prices in the 1970s elicited similar
extravagant spending by governments in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Uganda
and Zaire. Other Third World countries such Mexico, Brazil, Colombia
acted similarly, squandering windfall profits from exports booms only to
find themselves in a debt crisis when markets collapsed.
However, the fact that Botswana has been a success story does not mean
it does not have any problems. Even rich countries such as the U.S. and
Japan have their own internal problems. So too does Botswana, which
Professor Good attempted to highlight and discuss in his piece: control
of the flow of opinion, centralization of power in the presidency,
authoritarian tendencies, elite politics and factionalism within the
ruling BDP, "automatic succession," unlevel political playing field, de
facto control of the Electoral Commission by the president, and so on.
There are also other problems not mentioned by Professor Good:
inequities in income distribution, concentration of wealth among cattle
breeders, and the AIDS pandemic.
The first step in solving a societal problem is to expose it. "He who
conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured," says an Ethiopian
proverb. Exposing society's problems is the business of media
practitioners, politicians, professors, writers, poets, musicians, and
so on. They perform vital service to society in this regard and to
perform this service, they need freedom of expression. In fact,
societies that advance are those that guarantee their people and
subjects this freedom. The most economically backward countries in
Africa are often those where this freedom is brutally suppressed.
Only 8 African countries have a free press. Despotic governments have
systematically cracked down on the independent press and journalists,
who dared to tackle taboo subjects, are routinely threatened. Various
weapons are used by governments to silence the press: Advertising
boycotts, criminal libel suits imposing heavy court fines against
private newspapers. Outgoing President Sam Nujoma of Namibia forbad all
government offices from buying The Namibian, which he considered to be
too critical of his policies. In a May 31, 2001 memo to ministers and
top government officials, Mr. Nujoma ordered them to stop buying the
daily with state funds.
In Eritrea, all the private media outlets have been shut down and
journalists thrown into jail. The rest have fled the country. "What is
free press? There is no free press anywhere. It's not in England; it's
not in the United States. We'd like to know what free press is in the
first place" said President Isaiah Afwerki in a BBC interview (September
11, 2004; web posted).
Zimbabwe's former Minister of Information, Jonathan Moyo, once declared:
"Freedom of the press is an outmoded right" (interview with BBC on April
5, 2001). Indeed, private newspapers critical of government policies
have been shut down. There's absolutely no freedom of the press in
Zimbabwe," said Diggs Dube, editor of The Weekly Times, an independent
newspaper which was shut down on Feb 26 - the third newspaper shuttered
in the past 18 months under the country's strict media laws (The
Washington Post, Feb 27, 2005; p.A24). The country's three daily
newspapers are state-owned. "Freedom of expression
Botswana does not belong to a class of intellectually backward and
repressive African countries. Even in the so-called "primitive and
backward" traditional African societies, criticisms of chiefs are
tolerated and nobody was expelled from the village for doing so. The
action the Government of Botswana is taking against Professor Good is
not only raising consternation among its admirers but also reinforcing
the image of Africa as an intellectually dark continent.
Professor Good's case is not a racial issue; it is a defense of a
principle or a right - freedom of expression. Other African nationals -
Ghanaians, Nigerians, etc. - have served as judges on the bench in
Botswana. Would they too be deported if they wrote something mildly
critical of the government? And would a Botswana citizen end up in jail
if he or she had written exactly what Professor Good wrote?
This is not to suggest that this writer agrees in toto with Professor
Good's article, which has many structural flaws. It could be viewed as
"slanted", partisan, or condescending. In such cases, rebuttals would be
sufficient, rather than the heavy-handed government response of
deportation. This will send a chill throughout academia and all African
professors should protest vehemently against this action because, as the
Fanti of Ghana say, "The stick used to beat Kweku (Professor Good) is
the same stick which will be used to beat Kofi (you) too." Or they
should remember Pastor Nimbohlor, who before he died recorded in a
confession as follows: "First they came for the Jews, but because I was
not a Jew I did not speak out. Then they came for the gypsies, but
because I was not a gypsy I did not speak out. Then they came for the
trade unionists, but because I was not a trade unionist, I did not speak
out. And then they came for me. But by then, there was no one left to
speak for me." (The original version is attributed to Martin
Niemoeller). African professors should not keep quiet because they are
not Professor Good.
The most serious flaw in Professor Good's article, in my view, is its
lack of historical context. This might have helped explain Botswana's
"peculiar" democratic system or the "authoritarian tendencies" Professor
Good complained about. Landlocked, Botswana is dependent on neighboring
countries for the transshipment of exports and imports. Throughout its
post colonial history, Botswana's neighbors have been anything but
friendly. Nestled between Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Botswana's
development efforts have more often than not been pre-empted and held
hostage by extra-territorial occurrences.
At independence in 1966, Botswana was a little more than a "captive
country," flanked by hostile South Africa (which also held Namibia
illegally) and Rhodesia, then ruled by Ian Smith. Liberation struggles
in these neighboring countries placed Botswana in a precarious
geopolitical position. It was sympathetic and supportive of the
aspirations for self-determination by black African nationalists. But
like Zambia, it was heavily dependent upon South African infrastructure
over which some 83 percent of its imports were drawn. Its options in
this geopolitical tight-box were further reduced by the bullying tactics
of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
After the ignominious Sharpeville massacre (June 1976), thousands of
students fled South Africa to seek refuge in Botswana. Soon afterwards,
a new wave of refugees from Rhodesia swelled the numbers encamped in
Botswana from 3,000 to 21,000 by mid-1979, placing severe strains on
budgetary resources and social facilities.
The provision of sanctuary for these refugees made Botswana the target
of economic blackmail, intimidation and sabotage by neighboring white
supremacist and Marxist regimes. In particular, it earned Botswana the
ire of Ian Smith, Botha of South Africa and strained relations with
Zimbabwe when it gained its independence in 1980. President Robert
Mugabe, the new president of Zimbabwe, accused Botswana of sheltering
former ZAPU guerrillas -- supporters of Joshua Nkomo who himself
temporarily sought refuge in March 1983.
For its part, South Africa accused Botswana of harboring guerrillas of
the then banned African National Congress (ANC). As punishment, South
Africa reserved for itself the right of conducting "hot pursuits" of ANC
guerrillas based in Botswana. Despite assurances by Foreign Minister
Mrs. Gaositwe Chiepe in February 1985 that Botswana was not being used
"for planning or executions of acts of sabotage or terrorism," South
African security forces launched with a vengeance destructive
In the same month of 1985, a bomb wrecked the house of two South African
refugees in Botswana and in May 1985, a bomb exploded, killing Vernon
Nkadimeng, the son of the General Secretary of the banned South African
Congress of Trade Unions. Subsequently on June 14, 1985, South African
commandos staged a 45-minute pre-dawn raid on 10 houses in various parts
of Gaborone, the capital. At least 15 people were killed, including a
6-year old child, a social worker and other innocents.
International condemnation did not deter another attack. In February
1986, after two weeks of talks, Botswana reached another accord with
South Africa, agreeing to prevent "ANC rebels from using Botswana as a
transit territory." But hardly did the ink on that agreement dry before
South Africa launched a dawn raid on May 19, 1986, destroying several
houses in Gaborone and killing some innocent Batswana. In 1988 came a
particularly gruesome raid in which three Batswana women and a South
African refugee were killed and their corpses multilated by burning.
Botswana had had to craft its political system and economic policies in
full cognizance of those realities. Obviously, there were limits to how
much freedom the Botswana Government could give its citizens in the face
of unrelenting hostility from its neighbors. Botswana had had to protect
its own national security and imposed curbs on the flow of information.
It could not permit its government employees to talk freely to anybody,
who might be agents from South Africa or Rhodesia. At the same time,
Botswana recognized its dependence on its neighbors and had to perform
an extremely delicate balancing act. On the one hand, it engineered an
astonishing economic miracle and, on the other, supported liberation
movements in neighboring countries at an extremely high cost. For
pulling this off, Botswana, in my view, earns the highest accolade.
Success, however, bred complacency, inertia and arrogance.
After Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa became liberated from white
minority rule, a new geo-political environment was created. Botswana's
peculiar democratic system, crafted to deal with the exigencies of an
earlier era, needed to be reformed. Laws that placed curbs on individual
freedoms needed to be repealed and so on. But then, a party such as the
BDP that has dominated the political scene is the least likely to
implement constitutional or political reform that will chip away at its
dominance. Hence, Professor Good's complaint but expressed without the
historical context. Such oversight, however, can be corrected by a
rebuttal by another professor.
In going after Professor Good, the Government of Botswana is more likely
to shoot itself in the foot. Such heavy-handed government action always
always backfires. In fact, it may well end up transforming Professor
Good into a martyr. Time and time again, this simple lesson is lost on
many governments worldwide: Persecution of a person or thing by a
government never achieves its objective. Rather, it transforms the
victim into a martyr or hero: Lech Walesa of Poland, Wole Soyinka of
Nigeria, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Prof. Adu Boahene of Ghana, to
mention a few examples.
This has been the experience of post colonial Africa. Always afraid that
their tenuous hold on power might be challenged and that their gory
misdeeds (naked plunder and repression) might be exposed, Africa's
tyrants go to extraordinary length to squash dissent and crush political
challengers. They censor or ban newspapers, arrest, jail or assassinate
opposition leaders. But the irony is that banning an organization and
arresting or harassing its leaders does not achieve the intended
objective. In fact, such acts achieve precisely the opposite result.
If a government bans a book, that's precisely what the public would want
to read because they would suspect the book contains some "truth" that
government wants to hide. The ban merely piques their curiosity. In
addition, the ban tends to draw more attention to the victim or the
author. Nigerian writer Peter Ezeh averred:
There is one basic truth governments which stifle the press need to
know, and that is that only good work on the part of the government,
inspired by the sincere desire to satisfy the great majority of the
governed, can effectively frustrate a bad press where such actually
exists. People are intelligent enough to be a good judge. To paraphrase
de Rivarol, "In the long run, one always loses when one attacks ideas
with bullets. Only ideas can successfully attack ideas." Censorship
leaves the impression that the censor has something to hide (Index on
Censorship, Aug 1988; p. 18).
It is not the business of a government to ban publications. If a
publication has nothing to offer, the people will reject it. Nor is it
the business of governments to ban organizations. These have various
viewpoints to propagate in the marketplace for ideas. If viewpoints have
no merits, again the public will reject them. By banning newspapers or
organizations, an "evil" government sanctifies their ideas or agenda.
These ideas, by themselves may not necessarily be sacrosanct. But the
very fact that they have been banned enhances their value and status.
The ANC of South Africa, UNITA of Angola, Mwakenya of Kenya, and many
other groups and newspapers have been banned. But they did not die.
One such miscalculation was made by President Kenneth Kaunda, whose
socialist United National Independence Party, the sole legal party, was
in power for 27 years. In July 1990 he released several key members of
the Movement Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) (Goodwin Mumba, Edward
Shamwana, and Christon Tembo) from jail. They were immediately hailed as
heroes. A perplexed Kaunda fumed, "I release the criminals and now they
are called heroes" (African Letter, May 1-15, 1991; p. 1). In 1991, MMD,
led by Frederick Chiluba, DEFEATED Kaunda at the polls in October.
As another example, the Kenya government of Daniel arap Moi persecuted
and repeatedly jailed Gitobu Imanyara, editor of the Nairobi Law
Monthly. His offence was to publish in 1990 a series of articles on
constitutional reform and to advocate multi-party democracy. He was
thrown into jail and his magazine retroactively banned. Pressure by
international human rights groups forced his release. He was immediately
given the "Golden Pen of Freedom" award (by International PEN) in the
United States. On his return to Kenya, he was re-arrested, despite his
failing medical condition. What happened to his magazine after all this
persecution? According to Africa Report:
His magazine has enormously increased on last year's readership of
5,000 and now sells over 15,000 copies. Just after the ban was
overturned, a taxi driver buying The Law Monthly said it had become the
most popular magazine in Nairobi -- "because the editor is a brave man."
This is despite the fact that some of its issues are virtually
impenetrable to the layman in its legalistic style of scholarly and
The magazine has, above all, become important as a symbol of defiance
and progress. More recently, however, the government inadvertently
popularized it -- and politicized it -- by linking its fate with the
poorest section of the population, the hawkers and vendors (because) the
Special Branch had harassed and threatened the street sellers,
confiscating thousands of issues in a city sweep on Feb 29, 1991
(May-June, 1991; p. 52).
When military coconut-head, General Robert Guie, grabbed power in
December 1999 in Ivory Coast, he said he was not really interested in
power and had simply come to "sweep the house clean." "Once we know that
the house is clean and the politicians can dance without slipping," the
general had said, "we will withdraw, after holding transparent
elections" (The New York Times, Sept 17, 2000; p.A10). But over the
months, he discovered that "power sweet."
He became less interested in giving up power. He maneuvered to eliminate
his political and military rivals. He had accused the toppled president,
Henri Konan Bedie, of looting the country but "soon his own wife was
spotted on shopping trips to Paris" (The New York Times, Sept 17, 2000;p
p.A10). He then asked the very party of Henri Konan Bedie, which he had
overthrown and accused of corruption, to nominate him as its candidate
in the presidential election scheduled for October 22, 2000. When he was
rejected, he nonetheless declared himself a candidate "of the people"
and "above the parties."
Ivory Coast's reggae singer, Tiken Jan Fakoly, then came out with a
recording, "Chameleon." "Keep you honor," he sang in the recording.
"Sweep the house clean and return to your village, just as you promised.
You promised us. Remember." The reaction of the military regime was to
yank "Chameleon" off the airwaves, Soviet-style. And the results?
The record album was the top seller in record stores in Treichville. At
Oke Records, Salaou Nadjim, 17, said from behind the counter that he was
selling about 30 cassettes or CD's of `Chameleon' a day, despite its
price tag of $5.
"If the authorities try to prevent record stores from selling it," Mr.
Nadjim said, "it will find its way to the city's black market. He told
the truth in it. No one can stop it now" (The New York Times, Sept 17,
In Ghana, K. Danso-Boafo, wrote: "By preventing the Movement for Freedom
and Justice (MFJ) from using the premises of the Teachers' Hall for a
symposium, and holding and questioning its deputy national secretary Mr.
Kwesi Pratt, (Ghana's) ruling PNDC functionaries are making `political
martyrs' out of the MFJ and its leadership -- something any astute
politician would want to avoid. The political history of Africa is
replete with such political miscalculations" (West Africa, June 3-9,
1991; p. 892).
The lesson is even more poignant following President Rawlings' barbarous
attacks on the private newspapers in Ghana. In 1993, security agents
splattered human excreta all over the offices of The Ghanaian
Chronicle. The paper's circulation soared. Then on May 12, 1994,
"persons believed to be agents of [ruling] P\NDC sneaked into the
premises of The Free Press and littered the whole place with human
excrement" (The Free Press, June 10-16, 1994; p.7). Mr. Totobi Kwakyi
(the Minister of Information) and Mr. Kwamena Ahwoi (Minister of Local
Government) defended this depraved act. But the Free Press became one of
Ghana's most popular newspaper. Did the Rawlings regime learn anything?
In September, a reporter of The Crusading Guide began investigating an
alleged clash between the Deputy Minister of Defense, Dr. Tony Aidoo,
and a private security guard. The Deputy Minister was known to be
short-tempered and given to inflammatory remarks. Offended by the
investigations, the Deputy Minister led armed military policemen to
arrest the reporter. On October 2, 2000, the offices of the newspaper
were splashed with human excreta.
In an interview with JOY FM, the editor of the paper, Mr Kweku Baako,
said he discovered the mess when he reported for work at about six a.m.
He added that while the intruders splashed the excreta all over the
frontage of the office, they could however not gain access into the
inner offices of the newspaper. Mr Baako added that although he does
not know who might have committed the crime, it is possible that the
newspaper's investigative reports and hard stance attitude in uncovering
falsehood and corruption might have slighted the culprits. In the past,
two other private papers noted for their hard hitting reports against
the government, the Free Press and The Ghanaian Chronicle, have also had
their offices defaced with human excreta.
The editor of The Crusading Guide, Kweku Baako, was named as Ghana's top
Journalist of the year. For the award, Mr Baako, was granted a
residential Advance Journalism Training Course in April 2001 at the
prestigious Thomson Foundation in Cardiff, Wales under the sponsorship
of Unilever Ghana Limited. As part of a 54 million cedis package by
Unilever, Mr Baako received a personal computer, a return air-ticket to
Cardiff and a full paid per diem during the course. Freedom Forum, an
American non-governmental organization also sponsored him to the CNN
African Journalist of the year awards at the CNN Headquarters in Atlanta
Similarly, the government of Robert Mugabe of Zimababwe has been waging
a brutal campaign of harassment and intimidation against the The Daily
News and its editor, Geoff Nyarota, for critical investigative
reporting. In 2000, its main office was fire-bombed by Mugabe's thugs.
In March 2001, its printing plant was destroyed by a bomb. "In many
parts of the country, its reporters are routinely harassed by ruling
party loyalists. Its editors have repeatedly been detained and
questioned by police" (The New York Times, Nov 9, 2001; p.A13).
"The United States-based Committee to Protect Journalists will honor Mr.
Nyarota in November 2001 in New York with one of the committee's
international press freedom awards" (The New York Times, Nov 9, 2001;
There is a popular saying: "The wise learn from the mistakes of others,
while fools repeat them. But idiots repeat their own stupid mistakes."
The Botswana Government should not repeat the mistakes of others by
deporting Professor Good. His deportation would attract more public
interest and curiosity about the very issues he raised, which the
government did not want the people to talk about.