Mmegi Blogs :: How political parties used propaganda in the last elections
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How political parties used propaganda in the last elections

The last elections were undeniably the most infectious and interesting since independence. For a student of political science like me, what caught my eye was the manner in which political parties applied propaganda in their quest to gain votes. It was a sport of seesaw because the pendulum kept tilting this way and that way until the day of elections.
By Richard Moleofe Fri 05 Dec 2014, 08:36 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: How political parties used propaganda in the last elections








I grew up in the era of the Cold War where propaganda use was the order of the day. Before I go too deep into many details, allow me to explain what propaganda is and is not. The word propaganda is a Latin word which in a literal translation means “propagation”.

 In fact the genesis of the word is of a religious order were evangelism was referred to by the Catholics as propaganda. In the era of the Cold War, propaganda was often considered to be lies from the opposing side. This view has persisted to this very day.

In the Cold War era, the objective of each opposing side being the communists and the capitalists was to discredit each other on the world stage. The Cold War is a perfect example to give in order that the reader grasps the concept of the use of propaganda. Propaganda has played a significant role in shaping the global political agenda.

 When the Capitalist used propaganda, they called it information and education and the communists perceived it as propaganda. It entirely depends on who is using this information.

Propaganda is not impartial and it is used primarily to influence and further a given agenda often by presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis. These are often skewed facts.

I earlier said propaganda is not lies as many may perceive but may cautiously say it is lying by omission. Propaganda desk officers are often referred to as government liars.

I remember the time when Jeff Ramsey left the media fraternity to be the government spokesman; he was labelled by others as the man who lies for the president. Propaganda uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information presented. A case in point in our national setting is Namolaleuba (public works).

In a healthy political setting, every form of propaganda would always receive a reply from the opposing side. This attracts such response because it is a one sided message through a controlled medium of transmission.

One area where the BDP has used propaganda to tilt the scales of economy politically speaking is the issue of infrastructure development by the UDC.

They have always asked a begging question on where the opposition would get money to finance such development projects. The rural voter seems to have bought this propaganda message and swallowed it wholesale. For an opposition party to dissuade the population from believing this biased message, it will need to dig deep into its pocket.

I must mention that some political parties used propaganda unintended and could not fit it within its strict definition. In short, they did something they did not attach a name to or define and hence could not effectively defend in the public political space.

The medium of transmission is of critical importance particularly in a third world country like ours.

The BDP has made sure that they have a complete grip on all government media facilities which they deliberately used as their preferred conduit of their propaganda and at the same time making sure that they keep the same out of bounds for opposition political parties. This practice has really frustrated government media personnel as they have not been allowed to publish or broadcast whatever they deem necessary for public consumption. This in turn killed their professional ethic as some stood back and only watched while others kept being elevated as a reward for their bootlicking tendencies.

Propagandists often use arguments that while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid. As I have earlier mentioned, Namolaleuba has been effectively used as a propaganda tool by all the three parties that contested the past general elections.

The UDC whipped the

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BDP severely on the issue of Namolaleuba telling the electorates that they would take it off the menu if they happen to stumble into government. They told the electorates that Namolaleuba did not fall under any category of employment and evidence to that is the fact that they would never accrue any leave days nor pension.

What UDC failed to spell out very clearly was how they would augment this lose of income for the thousands that benefit from this scheme. Let’s face it, this public works programme puts bread on the table for many families albeit through meagre chances.

The BDP attacked the UDC’s proposed plan of scraping off this programme. The same message that came in a negative light from their opponents in UDC was transmitted in a different fashion and perceived from a different light by the same target audience. The BDP told the electorates that if they voted for UDC they would be doomed as they were going to lose their only source of income.

I must say that UDC went into this election as a united front but unprepared in a lot of ways. From a campaign perspective, it seems they didn’t coordinate their messages. In my last days at BDF, I had the privilege of coordinating an HIV campaign codenamed SEKWATA.

When I retired, I had set a record on HIV voluntary testing and my success was hinged on messaging.

When you intend to transmit a certain message to your target group, it is mandatory to test the message before it is published. In the case of our political landscape in Botswana, it shows that the UDC had not tested their messages before public consumption. If you do not test your message, which is your propaganda tool, you are therefore leaving yourself open to counter attacks by your opponents. The fact of the matter is, you need resources to campaign and that includes the testing of messages.

When I was running the BDF HIV programme, unlike UDC, I had a bottomless leverage of spending because our programme was directly sponsored by the US Department of Defence.

Like the BDP which has an endless source of income (thanks to their underwriters at home and abroad), my sponsors urged me in one of the meetings to plan and spend big. You can imagine my excitement the moment I got that from a US Army Colonel.

 The 20th century as earlier mentioned was dominated by almost 50 years of a war which was never fought, the Cold War.

In the same regard, it was also characterised by three developments of great political importance. 1. The growth of democracy, 2. The growth of corporate power and 3. The growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.

Not a single one of us goes through the day without getting bombarded by commercials through the different mediums of advertising. When Judah my son was four years old, he remarked this way one day, “Daddy I love Milk Stout.”

This was after receiving persistent messaging from television on the goodness of the product which is simply propaganda.

We have been turned into tools of consumerism by the same corporate world and it will take some lengthy education to counter balance this kind of propaganda that has been fed through our throats.

There are several models of propaganda and there is never sufficient print space to deal with a subject such as the one I discussed. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky argue about systematic biases in their broad discussion on the subject of propaganda. They both emphasise the fact that propaganda is simply rebutted biasness.

*Richard Moleofe is a Retired Military Officer

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