Unless something drastic happens and President Mokgweetsi Masisi calls early elections, we are six months away to the polls. As per the dictates of the constitution, Botswana goes to the general elections every five years, in the month of October.
So we are six months to electing the next government. Even with unsatisfactory number of registered voters, just over 700,000, we will be at the polls to elect our parliamentarians, and councillors, and thus giving them a mandate to choose the President and council chairpersons and mayors.
As with recent election years, this year had its own fair share of drama, even more so than in previous ones.
The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) returned from Kang bruised, following months of antagonistic battle for power, where in the history of the party, even the country, the president was challenged. Up until former cabinet minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, took the party to court to challenge the electoral process, and lost, and a day later withdrew from the race, Masisi looked a troubled man. In a battle for survival, in the run up to Kang, the president used the traditional yet unfair weapons - government machinery at his exposure, the state media especially.
When Masisi came to office last year April, the government media – Botswana Television (Btv), Radio Botswana 1 and 2, and the Daily News – looked set to shed off ‘His Master’s Voice’ image. Instead of daily feed of President Masisi, it was the Vice President Slumber Tsogwane who seemed the darling of government media. It looked like the days of Ian Khama’s dominance of the government airwaves and space was a thing of the past. A welcome development indeed. But Kang returned us to the recent past.
The sudden emergence of MmaMoitoi in the presidential contest of the BDP, seemed to have pressed an unwanted button. President Masisi became the main news item, daily, and followed by more about him, and his campaign team led by the party secretary general, Mpho Balopi also up there.
Granted, as a state broadcaster, not public broadcaster it should have long been, Btv especially has duty to cover the president, his cabinet and the government in general. It is a public relations tool for the government of the day. As civil servants, though among the best and highly trained journalists, government media workers have signed up to presenting government programmes, unfiltered even.
They have, as we told by Venson-Moitoi back when she was the minister of Communications, Science and Technology, that where the president goes, and his vice, the government media goes. As the political head at the time, in the late 2000s, Venson-Moitoi used this tool, government media effectively herself.
At the height of debates around the drafting of the Media Practitioners’ Act, Venson-Moitoi, abused this privilege. I recall when the Media Advisory Council (MAC), a chapter of the High Level Consultative Council, went on nationwide consultation tour, she, as the chairperson of the MAC sanctioned it, and even saw to it that the government media tagged along. But when the first Kgotla meeting, in Molepolole, endorsed the position of the private sector representatives – the team of which included yours truly as the MAC vice-chair and chairperson of the Press Council of Botswana, Modise Maphanyane representing Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Botswana) and Solomon Monyame from BOCCIM Media sector – the deal was off. On the mission, government was represented by the then deputy permanent secretary, Lucky Moahi and head of Information, Bapasi Mphusu. MmaMoitoi, felt that publicising endorsement of the civil society position – which was pushing for the enactment of the access to information law instead of one curtailing press freedom the MPA is – was not to government liking, and therefore had to be stopped. Suffice to say, even without coverage of government media, or even private one as reaching places as Maun, Tsabong and Masunga was too costly, the nationwide tour was successful as at every Kgotla, there was consensus on the need not to enact oppressive laws.
Having failed in silencing the nation, Venson-Moitoi, went against the team she sanctioned, and took to more Kgotla meetings, to sell a different agenda, with government media in toe. On return, she had radio and television debates, as a solo debater, to push her agenda. Venson-Moitoi, abused government media to push a government agenda against the national one. During her era, even some of her colleagues in Cabinet complained of not getting airtime and space in government media. Now the tables have turned.
As she stood isolated, with only a few private media giving some coverage in the fight for the BDP presidency, MmaMoitoi must have wondered what she did wrong to deserve that.
Social media, in its harsh treatment, time and again would remind her and chief campaigner, Khama, that there were getting a taste of own medicine. Some in the opposition would even say, “thomola o le utlwe…”