“I see too much parroting, too much regurgitation of half-digested radical rhetoric…Revolutions are betrayal just as much as stupidity, incompetence, impatience, and precipitate actions as by doing nothing at all.”
Ikem, Anthills of the Savannah, Chinua Achebe
Stories allow us to share information in a way that connects emotionally. It is an art. It gives a deeper understanding of other peoples’ experiences. It also helps to take the lessons they have learnt to apply them. It goes beyond entertainment, important as the latter is. It preserves history and almost freezes time in a similar manner as a photograph. Facts and analysis are great.
Statistics are important. A shared story, however is essential. Political stories are a tool for the shaping and of fact and has an impact on our understandings of reality. By wielding the power of storytelling, and creating compelling narratives, storytellers can help build empathy as well as understanding between all peoples from various walks of life.
On World Book Day, on April 23, it is political fiction that most occupied my curiosity. From Margaret Atwood’s the Handmaid’s Tale centred around the downfall of civilisation and the complete nullification of women’s rights when a government takes absolute control over the reproductive lives of civilians; to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a symbolic look at Soviet communism and government power allegorised through farm animals who have to change over night to survive; to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in which a group of boys stranded on an island, unsuccessfully attempt to come up with a way of governance, eventually devolving into the most primal and animalistic versions of themselves, free from the rules and laws which would normally be used to control them; to Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe, a depiction of a post-colonial West African country, a political satire which explores government corruption and the ways in which absolute power corrupts absolutely, To Donald Molosi’s Blue, Black and White containing the realisitic explorations of Seretse and Ruth Khama’s relationship and its impact on the culmination of the Botswana society; to Teto Mokaila’s Tiyapo, about the life and rejections of Gobe Matenge, we know and have witnessed the importance and vitality of political storytelling.
As in many African countries, with post-colonial governments attempting to move beyond their predecessor’s successes into a place of stability, Botswana often finds itself in the tension of perception vs reality, playing itself out in numerous ways. The ways in which the elites are completely oblivious of the extents of poverty in the nation, is one such example. Another is the reality that a middle class realistically does not exist as many people believed to be in the said middle class are an unpaid salary away from dropping below the poverty line.
The pervasiveness of corruption and
Reality is often a fiction story away from impacting a society, or unearthing the realities of the impacts of political governance decisions. Of course we are not all about politics.
However this World Book Day, I found myself wondering what a fictional book about Botswana today, would be. I found myself interested in the themes that would need to be explored very deeply for it to closely depict the current realities. Themes such as government corruption, violence against the marginalised, rape, the effects of COVID-19 on livelihoods, influencers and urban Botswana, and the pervasiveness of social media come to mind. The most important one, I think, would be our decisive blindness and our failure to see a way out of the ruts.
There is a great deal to celebrate in our country. There is a lot we can legitimately be concerned about. However, there is even more that we should take responsibility for. In criticising the ruling party for all their flaws, and knowing that we are not so confident that the opposition would serve us in the ways we need, we scapegoat the situation and pretend there are no other options; as if we are here out of a lack of choice.
We are comfortable in complaining and in defending leaders who have gone rogue on us, right before our own eyes. Satirically, forgetting that it is our votes that are entertaining us in this way, we pretend we don’t know why things are the way they are. This is the story which will be told about our time and our generation: that we stood by and watched; that we gaslight ourselves into a belief that we are helpless in this current reality; that we live in perception, despite the realities.
Mostly, we will be remembered for our failures to tell the stories of our time; for leaving them disjointedly on tweets and Facebook posts. Our revolution remains very personal. The success of this in governance is yet to be seen in our time. Governance is about the people. Stories are about people’s people. I find myself wondering how we will attain the changes we so sorely seek, at this rate.