Former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana Professor Thabo Fako, Botswana Motor Vehicle Accident Fund (MVA) Chief Executive Officer, Cross Kgosidiile, head of Motswedi Securities Group, Martin Makgatlhe, and former Debswana Group Secretary, Joe Matome, are among surprise faces in the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) new think tank that has been set up to draw the party media game plan and clean up its image.
Minister of Education and Skills Development, Pelonomi Venson ÔÇô Moitoi who is masterminding the BDP new media strategy, has roped in “friends of the BDP”, among them parastatal leaders, academics, business people and Public Relations agents to help come up with a strategy to fight the negative publicity that has been generated by the breaking away of some party members who formed the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD).
The BDP admits that the BMD breakaway has highlighted major flaws in the party media strategy and this has sparked calls for radical reforms. Minister Venson-Moitoi recently presented a 20-page paper to president Khama, which has become a blue print for the BDP new media strategy.
Venson-Moitoi has made it clear that her entire political career rests on the success of the strategy she has hatched.
President Khama has given her a long rope to implement the strategy and made it clear to her that a failure will come at a personal price to her career.
Among the not so surprising members of the BDP new media think tank is University of Botswana Economics lecturer, Dr Oupa Tsheko. The UB lecturer has recently been writing opinion letters in the media in defence of President Khama and against BMD.
Masquerading as a dispassionate economist, Dr Tsheko recently wrote an opinion piece under the headline “Khama’s economic policies are good for our times” in which he slammed BMD.
“Khama is very popular in this country; call him populist and continue building your party on insults and vitriolic attacks, come 2014, Batswana are going to reject you. A party based on insults, and a misguided sense of self-importance, is stillborn,” wrote Tsheko against BMD.
Another not so surprising member of the new think tank is Managing Director of the Botswana ÔÇô University of Pennsylvania, Dr Zein Kebonang, who also features regularly in newspaper opinion pages in defence of President Khama. Dr Kebonang once wrote that, “There is a great danger in the Media thinking that it is sacral. Journalism is not a calling and journalists must avoid the temptation of presenting themselves as messiahs. They must also be weary of self-serving advice from experts. Rather than being positional, media owners must encourage a change in attitude. Whilst the anti-Khama rhetoric has been endemic, for the media to continue to sanction and fuel animosity from contrived set of facts is alarming.”
Other “friends of the BDP” who are part of the media think tank are Thuto Mokgwathi, Executive Director of Elements – an advertising agency that a few years ago cut itself a niche though creative design and strategy formulation.
There is also Thapelo Pabalinga of Leapfrog Advertising agency, a rising star who heads another of the most promising advertising agencies that has lately been getting a lion’s share of business from government owned companies and parastatals.
Pabalinga also publishes the BDP mouthpiece, Therisanyo.
The BDP is understood to have engaged Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi’s son Kabelo Binns of Hotwire Public Relations and Communications agency to coach members of the think tank on how best to handle and deal with the media.
Members of the BDP publicity committee who are reported to have been effectively gagged are unhappy that the new party media think tank is being surreptitiously levered into key positions of publicity influence under the new BDP media strategy will render them obsolete.
BDP activists who are also part of the new think tank are party lawyer and Khama’s confidante Parks Tafa, former party youth leader Lesang Magang and BDP executive Secretary, Comma Serema.
The Sunday Standard can confirm that, unhappy with Venson-Moitoi’s strategy, some members of the party publicity committee convened a meeting after the BDP new media think tank inaugural meeting at Maharaj Restaurant on Friday, and expressed their concern that the new formation will usurp their power.
Some went as far as to question Venson-Moitoi’s motives, saying she does not only want to raise her political stock but that it should be remembered that she has a soft spot for Barata Phathi faction which has since become BMD.
BDP Public Relations Manager, Segaetsho Gaarekwe, confirmed to The Sunday Standard that the new media strategy was personally sanctioned by President Khama after it was proposed by minister Venson-Moitoi.
Commenting on the inaugural meeting of the BDP new think tank, Gaarekwe said it was a meeting of “friends of the BDP to share ideas and strategies. We wanted to tap into their expertise” he said.
While Garekwe denied that the new strategy was prompted by BMD, an insider said even Garekwe was himself now worried for his job as it can no longer be guaranteed.
“Both Dr Serema and Garekwe are unhappy with the haste with which Venson-Moitoi’s plan is now taking the centre stage.”
The next meeting of the BDP new think tank is billed for next week Sunday where the group will start discussing strategies. In the meantime BDP functionaries are under strict instructions to stay put and avoid eye-catching comments in the media.
Curiously, it has also emerged that the BDP feels strongly that hogging the state media and excluding opposition has produced a backlash as it has for most of the time attracted bad publicity.
Another member of the think tank said the strategy will not succeed “unless there was a change of guard at BTV (Botswana Television).”
Under the new media strategy, the party think tank will help open up the state media to opposition political parties.
Courting the private media will also become a key initiative.
After previous botched efforts, it is hoped the BDP new media campaign will be a much slicker operation, with functionaries marching in unison and not talking in turns as has been the case to date.