PAIC campaign seeks higher ground
by Kali Muluzi
It’s a quiet afternoon in the offices of The Telegraph newspaper. The man seated across the table speaks in measured, resolute tones about his aim to make the western media take a more flattering view of Africa. An unenviable task, but Billy Kokorwe approaches it with gusto.
For years, the western media’s negativity about Africa has been fed by the continent’s endless stream of wars, coups, and grimy images of parched countries ravaged by famine. Kokorwe is vying to change all this. “Some 80 percent of their stories on Africa are negative,” he says.
The campaign to hew a more sunny image of Africa comes on the heels of Kokorwe’s other pursuits. As one of Botswana’s prime filmmakers, Kokorwe at times appears relatively peerless, especially in the art of crafting documentaries. It is, however, his crusade to reshape the western media’s negativity on Africa that sees him more in the news these days.
He heads the decidedly ambitious Positive Africa Image Campaign (PAIC). Given that bad news is often the stuff of the best-selling journalism, there are those who believe that what PAIC aims to achieve is essentially a tall order. But Kokorwe believes it is doable.
Africa has been perennially demonised, sometimes as a hopeless case. For example, The Shackled Continent, a provocative book by Robert Guest, The Economist’s Business Editor, tries to detail why Africa is so poor and how it can entangle itself from dire poverty. “An excellent book – timely, provocative and written throughout with a passion for Africa and Africans,” says Bob Geldof, organiser of the legendary Live Aid concert of 1985, which raised millions of dollars for famine relief in Africa.
Anthony Sampson, writer of the authorised biography of Nelson Mandela, says The Shackled Continent describes “in a breezy no-nonsense style, the horrors and miseries of Africans in the interior: the grinding poverty, the brigands at road-blocks, the vengeful massacres.”
Sampson reviews how Guest “portrays, with humour and some compassion, how nothing really works in most African countries… He describes how Africans are shackled by corrupt officials, predatory rulers and ‘vampire governments’ determined to impose statism and suppress individual enterprise”.
It is an unflattering view of a land mass that is desperately trying to shed its tag of ‘the dark continent’. And it is against this backdrop that Kokorwe is setting his campaign to rein in the excesses of the western media into higher gear. Since February last year, his globe-trotting has seen him in the world’s major capitals – from London, to Paris, to Washington. In all, the PAIC has breezed through five European countries and the United States. The feedback he has received has persuaded him to focus his energies on Botswana, the homeland.
“Botswana lately has had a bad run in the international media,” says Kokorwe, in explaining his shift of focus to Botswana. The PAIC’s spotlight on Botswana is due to run its course in September. Kokorwe says the campaign’s focus will dwell on five areas – governance, maturity of the opposition, the impact of civil society, and the watch dog role of the media. In all the five areas, Botswana rates lowly on the Kokorwe scorecard.
He says a recent PAIC video survey in five different places in Botswana drew motley views about Botswana’s governance issue. Some respondents believed the constitution gives the presidency too much power.
Kokorwe says he is non-confrontational in his views on Botswana’s governance, but believes President Ian Khama appears detached from society. “I don’t think Khama is necessarily an evil man,” he says. “Maybe it’s because his ministers don’t advise him, in which case the fault is not his alone.”
To improve on governance, the PAIC founder says Khama’s administration should depart from the tendency of running government through directives, rather than by consultation. Kokorwe reckons that rule by directives confuses, undermines and demoralizes government and the civil service.
He calls for government to minimize its constant Kgotla meetings, “which do not involve even a fraction of the population nor address country's pressing socio economic problems”. These, he insists, are a time-consuming side show that encourages government dependency syndrome.
One of the PAIC areas of lobbying, he says, will be to dissuade the presidency from the televised handing out of blankets, food and houses to the needy. “This overly frequent exercise does not only go against PAIC's advocacy for the projection of a better image of Africa, but also creates a terrible image for the president,” says Kokorwe. “It is a blatant abuse of the human rights and of the so-called needy people, taking advantage of their ignorance and vulnerability.”
Kokorwe says he has since written recommendations to the president, based on the responses on the PAIC video survey. Further, his discussions with key Africa-focused NGOs and human rights in the UK show that Botswana’s diminishing international image is diminishing.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to continue citing it as one of Africa’s success stories, encouraging better portrayal of Africa in the western media,” says Kokorwe. “The campaign found an urgent need to intensify its advocacy for the revitalization of a currently stagnant and regressive state of the nation.”
PAIC also speaks out on what it calls “the evident lack of political maturity and self serving attitudes within opposition parties which continue to make a mockery of African politics”. He points to infighting among the opposition, and says PAIC will lobby opposition parties “to put their houses in order and show more respect to the electorate by placing its wishes before their own organizational or personal political ambitions”.
He says given the disunity among the opposition, a sense of disillusionment and despair has crept in, with Many Batswana feeling they live in a de-facto one party state. “This does not bode well for the development of democracy and indeed the development of the country,” Kokorwe says. “PAIC calls for a more of mature and selfless approach to politics from all opposition parties.”
On this score, he says, PAIC fears that Botswana is morphing into an increasingly silent, fearful and complacent nation.
Among other things, the PAIC crusade on Botswana will question what Kokorwe terms the diminishing role of civil society and the media as the nation’s watchdog. On that score, he aims to hold consultative meetings with the state president, presidents of opposition parties, civil society and the media for presentations and discussions.
“The president and his government should be seen to embrace freedom of the press by holding press conferences involving all members of the media and allowing for the privatization of Radio Botswana and Botswana television. This would enhance our democracy,” says Kokorwe.
He says recommendations to the president will include request for the establishment of a task force that will examine the need for a referendum on constitutional review. “Government should start talking with instead of talking at Basarwa of CKGR,” he adds.
Other PAIC concerns are that Botswana’s civil society, especially human rights groups, has become less responsive to issues of national concern. “PAIC seeks to establish the reasons behind this disturbing development. Organizations such as Ditswanelo will be engaged in constructive dialogue.
Some press organizations have also lost their zeal and seem to have abandoned their role of watchdog. Commercial gain seems to the overriding factor for some of these publications. The overall result of this is a situation whereby the country finds itself with weak opposition political parties, silent civil society and a weak press. PAIC will seek some remedies for this pathetic situation and make recommendations accordingly.”
The PAIC’s focus on Botswana will run till September. Kokorwe says a documentary, comprising interviews with prominent world figures on African issues, will then be released.