Botswana president: We are the country of the ‘Marmite crowd’

Written by Staff Writer by Vikram Patil, CNN Botswana

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi delivered a bold address on his inauguration as leader of the southern African country on Thursday, closing out a lengthy speech that eloquently spoke against the culture of banning on all fronts.

“In a time when technology takes away even the time we put in writing to write a song or to write a novel, it seems that everything is becoming banal,” he said in front of an enthusiastic crowd of more than 50,000 in the stadium.

This comment is in stark contrast to the ban on first lady Seretse Khama in 2015 for reportedly telling a crowd that they should “hunt the gays.” The royal was said to have berated members of the crowd for “trying to help gays get married.”

Such bans on women, LGBT people and journalists makes it more difficult for people to “hold themselves together,” said Masisi, and makes Botswana more like other Africa countries, such as Eritrea and Sudan, with an oppressive and restrictive legislative framework.

Botswana: ‘an amazingly diverse country’

Masisi also spoke out against censorship, which he said was a tool of oppression to divide the nation.

“The freedom of expression is not a fetish for people with whom you disagree. It is the freedom of everybody — even those who think different from you.”

Making a reference to Britain’s famous Barmy Army football fans, Masisi added: “The fans here in this country are more fond of Marmite than ketchup.”

“They cheer a bad football team and might as well cheer a tin of black and white paint. But the rules of a game should apply to everyone.”

Masisi stressed that freedom of speech should not be used to the detriment of the public interest.

“We have seen this in the recent cases of WhatsApp and Facebook banning certain messages,” he said, adding that new legislation, national and international, was necessary to ensure a level playing field for all citizens.

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