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Botswana is approximately four months away from a general election that is expected to be held in October 2019 on a date yet to be specified. For political parties, their message to their candidates is that there is limited time remaining to convince and/or crook the voters to go and place a cross next to their names on the day of the polls.
The reality that time is running out; that the day of reckoning is drawing nigh and that the day cannot be postponed by roaring at the microphone like a leopard that has been ensnared by a vengeful farmer, is likely to spur contestants to roar at full throttle.
Yet, for many of us who are already experiencing electioneering burnout, four months seem like having to brace ourselves for another decade of irrelevant, deceptive, vitriolic and brainless teasing comments from political activists.
Every general election brings a lot of politics wherein voters are expected to go and hear out campaign messages and make decisions based on such messages only to be entertained with raunchy gossip and sly innuendo. All the while the real problems afflicting the nation are left attended.
Over the years, political campaigns in Botswana have come to be known for showing the worst side of our neighbours; their unethical behaviours, dirty tricks and the brutality of our erstwhile colleagues whose intention is often to dehumanize opponents, their families and all those that are guilty by association.
This dirty politicking is often spearheaded by our leaders, the honourables and elder statesmen and women. While it is undoubtedly shocking, the audience seems to enjoy every moment and actually can’t wait for the next rally where abuse would be revisited, amplified and even picturized by posing with malnourished and orphaned kids to raise the bar of cheap politics and deception to new heights.
In an era where the possibility of a change in government seems more realistic than ever, campaigns are likely to be pregnant with worst forms of dehumanization as opposition party candidates smell blood and seek to deliver the final blow while ruling party candidates attempt to prolong their stay.
For both, the consequence of failure at the polls, especially after spending their family fortunes, would be worse than the consequence of being accused of inciting violence and making politics an exclusive club of copyrighted imbeciles.
In the short term this heightened rancour in our political competition is likely to increase political polarization and push voters further away from engaging with politics.
Already the IEC have had a difficult time convincing eligible voters to register to vote and will have an even more daunting task to convince those who registered to actually hassle and go out to the polls because most of the candidates are petty, cold blooded fraudsters and perfected liars that promise good things and deliver disaster.
In the longer term, the vile, abusive and dirty campaigns will further erode the already abysmal public trust in the law makers and the government of the day.
More disastrously, the foul-mouthed campaigns spiced with inflammatory comments wherein people are reduced to the level of dogs and lice would discourage honest people to run for political office. When this happens as already is, we will have certified zombies in charge of the legislature and the executive branch of government and the Botswana economy will collapse.
When such dirty politics is propagated by senior citizens and leaders who are our torch bearers, it certainly would become a way of life and the few politicians who opt for clean politics would be characterized as cheese boys who should be rejected because they are out of step with reality.
One of the central goals of the IEC is to facilitate the creation of a climate in which political parties can freely communicate messages to the electorate to enable the electorate to make informed choices. The current political climate is acidic, corrupt and extremely violent as to permit ethical campaigning and this under the watch of the acclaimed IEC.
Thus, it is amazing that the IEC has not taken any action against candidates and activists who have elected to take us back to the animal kingdom by polluting our political atmosphere with hard lies and corrupted messages.
The truth is that such negative campaigning that characterizes competitors as toxic creatures that deserve to be exterminated like skunks and other carriers of rabies runs parallel to democratic practice which is why the IEC has got to intervene and decisively deal with those whose politicking bears no relevance to our push for economic and socio-political progress.
Public office is a noble calling and the process of becoming a people’s representative and a law maker must be noble. We cannot afford to be presented by people whose personal existence and engagement with voters is anchored on scripted lies and deception.
The amount of vitriol, abuse and the display of unethical behaviour of the highest level freely dispensed by those who wish to be made law makers would convince an international visitor to believe that that such a primer on how to craft a campaign message was organized and facilitated for the candidates by the country’s electoral commission.
By turning a blind eye towards negative and unethical campaigning by prospective law makers and/or a display of lack of role clarity or lack of capacity, the IEC is inevitably endorsing dirty politics and must be demonized for sleeping on the job while the nation is being polarized by senseless politicking.
The IEC has not been established to oversee comic politics and enjoy crude banter from some pretenders who seem to have skipped a crucial stage of human evolution. It has been established to among others, facilitate ethical conduct in the conduct of party politics and to ensure fairness and integrity of the process of electing representatives.
The amount of negative, unfiltered political material shared on social media to lampoon political rivals and the vicious spinning of facts to deceive voters while the IEC looks on in delight is polluting national politics for it actually goads party thugs to commit violence and abuse in the name of politics.
The abuse of free speech by some activists on social media platforms is defiling the quality of discourse and rendering electioneering a divine calling for rebellious adolescents who delight in demonstrating to the whole world that indeed they have balls of steel. All the while the IEC repeats playing and sharing the vulgar video clips for their comic relief.
The IEC must therefore recalibrate, specifically by taking a critical look at their performance in relation to set objectives. The will enable them to address their superficiality with a view to re-positioning themselves to effectively manage elections and the electoral process and ultimately reconstruct our national politics.
Indeed our politics can and should be better but this can only be possible if the IEC stops sponsoring political comedy and start recognizing their critical role in Botswana’s political development.