The election fever is over and all that is left is for political analysts to do their work in their area of specialty in order to bring to the public to light as to what exactly happened and answer the many whys.
Indeed, the last national election was quite infectious and full of very many interesting aspects of political interest. One of these is how the predictions were made. None of these foretellers ever entertained the thought that Daniel Kwelagobe and Nehemiah Modubule could wake up with the voter’s egg on their faces.
The reason why such predictabilities were never entertained, even by the political parties themselves, shows the archaic manner in which political polls are still done in Botswana. The University of Botswana through its Department of Sociology and Political Science must come to the party and get actively involved in our democracy. They must run opinion polls, literally, on every constituency in this country. This will help the candidates to adjust their campaigns and tow with what the polls seem to suggest. In the early 90’s there was a parliamentary by-election in Ngwaketse West and the university got involved in running an opinion poll as part of the training of their students. They did a commendable job because the results came as expected and within the acceptable margin of error. The BNF won the by-election and the ruling BDP blamed the university for bias influence on the electorates.
In this year’s election, there have been several attempts to do opinion polls, particularly by media houses. I really envied their enthusiasm for wanting to give the electorates a picture of things to come but unfortunately they were off the mark in terms of professionalism. When social scientists apply their science, particularly on election polls, they have to confine themselves within certain strict parameters. There has to be a minimum number of people who participate in the poll in order to validate its results. They cast their net so wide that the results are representative of the public view.
This has not been the case with the opinion polls carried by the news media. For instance, The Voice newspaper has on a couple of occasions done surveys in the Mogoditshane constituency. Their predictions had always not counted the UDC as the front runner in this election. This happened to an extent that when they did their survey they did not even account for a Mokoko who was in the running and had significant support in the area. This Mokoko had significant influence in the two wards where he originates and also had leverage within the military camp because of his past association with this establishment. Most of his followers could therefore not participate in the polling exercise for two reasons: Since the survey was conducted through Facebook, his followers who were mainly low income earners working for Namolaleuba, were left clueless on this matter. Soldiers by the nature of their work are not as active on Facebook, the social media tool used in the exercise and thus their views could not be accounted for in the poll. So in as far as the poll was concerned, the Mokoko’s was irrelevant in this year’s election in that constituency. It was through the advice of the social scientists that this Mokoko finally succumbed and joined UDC to bolster their chances of winning the constituency, something which they achieved. Should we in this case blame the newspapers for a bad job.?The answer is a big NO! But rather it is the University of Botswana that went to sleep on this past election. The papers were just attempting to fill an existing gap which the university was failing to address. In other mature democracies, opinion polls are taken very seriously and there is no election that can go ahead without being informed by this science. Opinion polls help political parties to adjust based on the information they provide. The reason why some political parties sleepwalked into this
Some parties have always hinged their campaign on the incumbency and this can, more often, mislead. This is why parties suffer what is often referred to as crushing defeats because they had lacked scientifically accurate forecasts. In hindsight, the party would regret why they were not able to notice certain negative attributes of their own fold. It is always acceptable for parties to estimate their expected outcome on any election but it is important to heed the opinion poll views because they are done by professionals who are trained in data processing and interrogation.
Several factors in the run up to an election within a social and political environment are often ignored by political parties until very late. In the final lap to elections, it is primetime to win the hearts and minds of the electorates. It is on this last lap that the university would also do its final run at opinion polls to further enhance our democracy. Universities have a critical role to play in every society and we need them to strengthen our democratic ideals and institutions. Otherwise for many of us outside of the academia, we can only view their work as abstract and out of touch with life as we live it. As a writer who is informed by political science, sociology, religion and military science, I would certainly say that the absence and the lack of participation by UB in this past election has helped the ruling party in retaining power. Opinion polls help to expose propaganda programmes directed at the voter. And for political purposes, I would like to define propaganda as any form of communication in support of objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes and behaviour of any group. The UDC in their propaganda exercise attacked freebies given by government such as radios, blankets and labour intensive works in the villages. They galvanised the support of the civil service including the police and the military. Because of the absence of scientific polling to gauge voter perceptions, the UDC went to sleep over this matter while the BDP went around the same subject and coined it differently to make the same things appealing. The BDP has largely won the rural constituencies because of the issues surrounding labour intensive works or Namolaleuba. Through their propaganda tool, they informed the electorates that if they voted UDC into power, they would literally lose their jobs in this programme.
The University of Botswana has failed to exercise its role in an election and by extension disadvantaging the opposition in UDC. The BDP as a ruling party has the financial muscle to run studies, research, and investigations of all sorts in order to be ahead of the opposition. The current president is a result of one such study by Christie which was conducted to address the declining popularity of the party. The study recommended that the party should rope in an individual who was popular in all respects and General Khama was fitting the description at the time. Until there is political party funding in Botswana, the opposition will always suffer because they lack resources to conduct studies. And we all know that studies are the role of universities.
Rev Richard Moleofe
*Richard Moleofe is a Retired Military Officer