Recent trends suggest that Batswana respond more to certain trends that lend themselves to populist approaches to politics, particularly in election year in the last few weeks.
Populism is essentially a political approach that appeals to the general population, or ordinary people who often feel that their concerns are disregarded by the leaders. The focus in populism is the idea of “the people” as juxtaposed to “the elite”, who are often the political, economic, cultural or media establishment, frequently understood as one entity.
Most populists do not self-identify or self-designate as populist. In fact, it is usually those who study or observe politics, who identify a leadership style as populist, having observed their behaviour or interaction with the population of the country.
Populism differs, of course, from nationalism, liberalism, and socialism. The truth is that populism is often shunned, or rejected as it is frequently phrased as something to be feared. It is associated with breaching democracy. It’s use, therefore is usually pejorative. It’s acceptance robs the population of their perceived egalitarianism.
Many of us have seen and criticised populism, in both private and public. Particularly, it was a lot more apparent during the reign…oh excuse me presidency of Ian Khama.
The general discussion on populism was in an earlier Mmegi publication, in an article by Bakang Ntshingane, in which he reflects on populism in the newly established Botswana Patriotic Front.
The party was founded by Botswana’s previous president who was well known, amongst the elderly, for his blanket and food donations. Ntshingane observes that there is a conducive environment for populism with the ever-growing inequality and the high unemployment rate in the country.
The political thought leader opines that one of the characteristics of populism in Botswana in present day, is the promise of jobs, by politicians in the country.
Thinking back to the year of previous elections, the same could be said to have been true. Duma Boko’s friend, Rick Yune was denied entry into Botswana, and was listed amongst individuals who would need visas to enter the country.
This of course, infuriated many of the opposition leaders and members, with some reported to have accused the then president of treating the country as if it is his farm, over which he reserves right to entry. The purpose of Yune’s visit, was to attend the Umbrella for Democratic Change launch.
Last week, our darling country was paid a visit by Broderick Stephen Harvey (I added the first name for dramatic effect), popularly known as Steve Harvey, and now appropriated the name, Mothusi, with the understanding that his visit would help young Batswana, in need of jobs, in the creative industry.
He is reported to have brainstormed a “face beat” of sorts to one of the studios at the Mass Media Complex, with the apparent promise that with a few tweaks, two producers, two Hollywood directors, and two of his own shows, jobs will be created, and content that is finally satisfactory for Botswana Television (Btv), would be produced.
I must precursor the rest of my opinion with this: I am a performing artist. In the years that I have practised art in this country, I have had the honour of meeting and interacting with hundreds of other artists.
I am certain that none of us like to struggle. We dislike the struggle to the extent that many of us have had to take other jobs in other industries or sectors, which we knew would pay more immediately.
We still hone our dream of a Botswana in which others such as ourselves, like Vee Mampeezy, will speak money language (queue the rev of a Range Rover). So when we hear that selfmade millionaire comedian, talk show host, author, and personality is coming to Botswana, we register.
I know I did! I have my confirmation in my email. It appealed to me. As a person who believes in being led by influence, myself, I absolutely love to hear testimonies of those who will make my own dreams and aspirations, that much more attainable. I was almost convinced to even leave my work for a few hours to drink from the wisdom of a man who actually seems to have made it. But…
The day before Harvey’s town hall address, while watching the news on Btv, I noticed two things: firstly that the advert on the town hall meeting ran about five times, and I could not understand why Steve wanted to “sprinkle Hollywood dust” on Botswana.
I still don’t understand. Why that dust? The second thing was that the news that day was all about the ruling party’s Members of Parliament delivering chairs to the kgotlas in their areas, or the Vice President addressing a kgotla meeting in Boteti. This peaked my suspicion. What are we buying?
Upon reflection, I realised that of course Steve Harvey coming to Botswana is a political move. I will not make assumptions of how his family holiday…pardon me…how his visit to Africa was funded. This is neither here nor there.
The fact is that our politicians deal us dreams. And we are always so ready to buy them. Whether they be blankets and pots of soup that will go down the throats of elders and soften their gullets so they fix their lips to protect an oppressive ‘leader’, or whether they be of an apparently inspirational speaker who, even when he was poor had a car to sleep in (American poverty can be a bit suspicious) – we buy dreams! That is not to say Harvey and our right now beloved Sisi-Boy will not deliver! No! It is to say, we need to be more critical in where we hang our hope in the next few months.
If Harvey had come in December, I would likely have tucked away my suspicions and went to the meeting. Right now though, and until I see the actual results, I will be one of the doubting Thomases that is just not biting that carrot!