Batswana’s worst enemy is state media – panelist

Mogapi
Mogapi

Whilst politicians and other civil rights activists see the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Service (DISS) as their worst enemy, the chairman of Editors Forum, Spencer Mogapi, was adamant Batswana’s biggest enemy was the state media.

During a panel discussion organised by the University of Botswana (UB) Democracy Research Project on Wednesday, Mogapi said the state media gave Batswana a one-sided story, something he argued was worse than spy agents.

The theme of the debate was ‘The state of democracy and the level of economic development in Botswana: Progress or regression?’

While the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) were invited, the parties did not send representatives, leaving the panel with only four panellists, Prof. Balefi Tsie of UB, Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), Johannes Tshukudu, Mogapi representing the media, and Lawrence Ookeditse from Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).


Mogapi said for the first four decades of independence, Botswana was doing well economically and politically, but now the country was regressing. “Youth unemployment has reached shocking levels because the country’s immigration policy  locked out potential investors and skilled expatriates while the private sector was at its weakest in history.  Anger has taken over,” he cautioned.

“If you drive in the streets, the anger that is displayed by our youth is palpable. The expatriates have left the country. There are empty houses all over the city because people built those houses with the hope that they will get occupants, including foreign occupants. They got loans from banks, and may find it difficult to repay.”

However, Ookeditse countered, arguing that there was no fear of the DISS because Batswana continued to enjoy their freedoms.

“The media is free in this country,” he said. “There is this radio station that when you switch it on every morning, it is the BDP that is getting the bashing,” Ookeditse said.

He said the opposition parties did not worry the BDP as the same threat occurred in 1994 but, power did not change hands. He added that the UDC would not last long because it was driven by hatred. Besides, the BDP government has survived adversities like droughts, HIV/AIDS and the global economic recession of 2008. Ookeditse said because Botswana was a welfare state, many Batswana graduated out of poverty, with the government providing social amenities. “The government opted not to comply with demands by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to cut civil service to reduce the wage bill,” he argued.

Tshukudu, however countered, dismissing the BDP position as a clear demonstration that the ruling party has no ideas on creating jobs, and that it had no plans to empower the private sector.  He said Botswana was regressing and the government had declared war on trade unions.

Tshukudu accused BDP leaders for intolerance because, “they took criticism personally and held grudges.” He said it was the duty of every citizen to hold the government to account.

However, Ookeditse counter-accused BOFEPUSU for having lost its mandate of representing the interests of the workers, saying that it has fully joined politics in its affiliation with UDC. Nevertheless, Tshukudu argued that BOFEPUSU had no permanent political friends.

“We just work with a party that listens and makes efforts to address the plight of workers,” he said. “If you change your policies and attitude towards workers, we can think about working with you.”

For his part, Tsie noted that Botswana was among top five most unequal societies in the world because of government’s failure to distribute resources equitably. Another challenge was that the BDP had for many years refused to implement political reforms and that Parliament was the weakest of the three arms of government, “even weaker than the Independent Electoral Commission”.

He attributed the problem to the system where cabinet ministers were drawn from Members of Parliament, hence making it difficult to hold the executive accountable. He said the government’s appetite to control flow of information, especially through the state media, was worrisome.

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