There are two things that we are agreed upon; two things that have gained national universal agreement: first we want to choose our leaders and second, we don’t want anybody to rule us forever. This is because as our constitution states “Botswana is a sovereign Republic” and not a monarchy. It has an elected President as its Head of state who is elected into office in accordance with section 32 of the Botswana Constitution. We value the second point so highly that we have had to limit the term of office for the President during the presidency of Sir Ketumile Masire to a period not exceeding 10 years as captured in Section 34 of the Constitution which reads: “The President shall, subject to the provisions of this section, hold office for an aggregate period not exceeding 10 years beginning from the date of his or her first assumption of office of President after the commencement of this Act.” The right to choose one’s leaders is a central and necessary element of any democracy. It is so fundamental to democracy that to claim any democratic credentials without election of leaders is a farce. The very word democracy is of Greek etymology. It is from the Greek word demokratia constituted by demos meaning the people and kratia meaning power or rule. Democracy is purely about the people’s power or rule. Power lies in demos – the people themselves. They, the people have the power to rule or govern. Demos must govern. The people make decisions about what they want to do with power. Through an election they entrust their power to a group of chosen leaders. In this way elections become only one way of facilitating democracy. Democracy must always be about demos-power and not leaders-power. Power must consistently remain with the people. Through an election, the people can take power away from one leader and pass it to the next leader. This democratic necessity insulates the people against a leader who may want to take power from the people and rule forever. Second, it ensures the power to choose one’s leaders remains with the people. These modern democratic principles are a direct opposite of segosi.
The monarchy, such as the institution of bogosi as practised by Batswana, is principally hereditary; it bestows leadership on men or women, who are not elected, who have not earned any legitimacy from the people they govern. The dikgosi are the unchosen leaders who through an old system of leadership inheritance, find themselves with unmerited power and influence. Men become rulers of principalities, not because of merit, not because they are the fiercest warriors, not because they have the swiftest feet, not because they are fairer than the rest, not because they are the most intelligent, not because they are the most cultured, but simply because of an accident of birth. This system of assumption of power is most unkind, discriminatory and unfair. By definition bogosi is undemocratic. Contrary to popular belief bogosi is not an epitome of democracy. It is in fact a perfect example of how an undemocratic system functions. It limits leadership opportunity of a morafe not only to a single family but also to the eldest son of the senior wife. Power is limited to a family because all the children of a sitting kgosi are automatically dikgosi, though the eldest son becomes kgosikgolo. I am aware that bogosi is an important part of our culture, but it is that part of our culture, which though highly celebrated and defended by some, is most unfair and undemocratic. This is why I was appalled when the dikgosi recently demanded more powers and pay. At a later article I will try and demonstrate why modern dikgosi must not be mistaken for the dikgosi of old such as Seepapitso III, Khama the great or the great Sechele of the Bakwena. Botswana does not need the current Ntlo ya dikgosi. It is neither a house of experts nor elected leaders. It is a group of principally men who have attained a right to the house on account of who their fathers were. They are neither qualified leaders nor talented individuals. There is no other government leadership position which is hereditary. We don’t allow such a state to exist because it would rob us of two important elements of democracy: the power to choose a leader of our choice & second, the power to change leaders through an election. With bogosi one can become a kgosi for life: we cannot vote him out even if we wished because he was born a kgosi and not elected.
Botswana needs something equivalent to a House of Lords in the United Kingdom whose membership would be drawn from distinguished members of the society from the various fields of Arts, Culture, Science, Technology, Business, Management, Finance, Law, Education amongst others. These would be eminent members of Botswana’s society who can lend Botswana parliament and society in general, professional leadership and advice. Am I here arguing for the dismantling of bogosi? Not at all; at least not now. There is still room for dikgosi in modern Botswana. Dikgosi are still important in community development and cultural preservation. They are critical in instilling discipline, preserving and promoting the various cultures of their merafe. They also have a role within their merafe to lead community projects such as the building of dams, halls, gardens, schools and parks to improve the quality of life in the morafe. Central government must always be constituted of elected individuals and in the case of appointed individuals, it must be because of merit.
Most of the modern dikgosi are lettered. They have earned degrees in various fields such as law and education. They can therefore compete with every other citizen for a decent job, just as they competed as students for academic credentials. In their academic pursuit they were not favoured in any way. Neither their family name nor their community status had any bearing in the attainment of grades at school or degrees at a tertiary institution. They received their qualification purely on merit. They should therefore not be entitled to any leadership position on account of their birth. They should compete for any leadership position that may arise in the community, including political office.