With the tone of a schoolmaster whose patience and reasonableness borders more on belligerence than diplomacy, the Botswana National Front (BNF) president, Duma Boko, sent shock waves when he accused the media of mortgaging itself to what he called ‘the demagogic irrationalities of the BCP-BDP axis’.
Reading through his speech, I imagined a hardened rebel with bloodshot-puffy eyes ready to do battle.
Boko’s take on the media has drawn out varied opinions with many clearly excited by his direct confrontational approach. The media itself appeared ambushed and somewhat insulted.
That is the nature of life. For everything we do we get both compliments and a stick. Many times individuals and organizations are very keen to ingratiate themselves with the media, especially when they are at the top of the world. They will be running to the media houses to seek coverage of their personal endeavors such as a marriage, family party and such small stuff that nevertheless give them an edge over the rest. When cracks begin to show, they would want the press boys to stay away and even accuse the media of witch hunt.
In no small measure, the BNF has become a giant in local politics due to favorable coverage it received from the private media. For many years the private press has been very kind and loving to the BNF, especially before the formation of other serious opposition parties. Naturally, the advent of other players in the opposition ranks means that the erstwhile intimate relationship between the BNF and the media is upset since the BNF has to compete with other emerging contenders or pretenders to state power. Whereas the BNF remains the father figure of opposition politics, it is no longer the darling of the opposition. It has become a mediocre party renowned for delivering breakaway formations virtually every General Election and, therefore, cannot expect to be coddled as has always been the case.
Thus, its romance with the private media can no longer be a given. In fact, it deserves the stick for playing with our hopes this long.
This, in my view, is what irked the BNF president. The BNF is irritated that its erstwhile friends in the media are now admiring another nubile. The BNF feel jilted by a longtime companion more so that it was fashionable for it to get special treatment from the private media even when some of its leaders behaved like glue-sniffing delinquents.
Still remember in 2005 when Mmegi ran a story titled ‘Vote Moupo’ in an unprecedented move that openly campaigned for Otsweletse Moupo in a by-election. The BNF seems to be reminiscing over those happy days.
All political parties have at some stage received unfavorable reportage from some sections of the media and for Boko and the BNF to accuse the media of being friends of the BCP-BDP alliance is ridiculous and trivializes his otherwise thoughtful observation.
The media is not infallible. They can and do make mistakes in the same like all of us do. Some journalists do lack training in as much as many other professionals elsewhere. Thus, skills shortage is a very common challenge to almost all organizations and to attack the media on the basis of a limitation that straddle almost all sectors of the society is an act of desperation and sign of obsession with one’s own abilities and borders on the politics of retaliation. Boko must refuse to get easily offended and must avoid the habit of extending blame to others for the blame game is never subject to reason. I still believe that what irked journalists is not criticism so much as it is the abrasiveness of Boko’s assessment. It was kind of blunt, lacked decency and rather too bullying, threatening and at the same time dismissive.
I have known Duma Boko to have passion for public debates with an overt disdain for those who have not stayed longer in institutions of learning. He comes across as an erudite theorist who has no time for school dropouts and literacy class graduates.
Reading through his speech delivered at the Mahalapye congress, one discerns the writing style of an intellectual with innate political sensibilities and strategic savvy yet visibly street-smartless. Many delegates must have struggled to grasp the message but his poetic style of presentation ensured that everyone sang along, including those who hardly understood a word.
Boko has the big challenge of leading the BNF and as such he may have to tone down his love for public debates even when his character is unfairly damaged.
Instead, he must rally the party’s foot soldiers to defend and protect him from rivals including the media rather than conduct himself like a gang leader held captive by his confrontational attitude. Before Boko took on the media, he had a brief go at some columnists and likened them to an irrational fart that has no respect for etiquette. This was after some columnists had a dig at the BNF for negotiating in bad faith. The biggest challenge for Boko is not to take on perceived adversaries but to remain focused on the party’s priorities.
Whereas it is within Boko’s right to criticize the media for being partisan, he must tread with care and ensure that he does not make himself and the BNF the black sheep of opposition politics. In fact I am of the opinion that his attack on the media will hurt the BNF more than him. Boko delivered his stinging jabs in his capacity as party president and therefore it could be said that his views represented the position of the party. Thus, any media backlash (I cannot rule it out and unfortunately, it is pretty difficult to bet them to their game) may not differentiate between Boko and the BNF. In that case, the BNF would suffer most. Boko can sufficiently defend his person citing his stint at the prestigious Harvard Law School; he is super-confident, self-assured and can also appeal to the psychology of looks and perhaps the high profile court cases concluded in his favor. These may not be that much significant but they do help. The BNF on the other hand has no such rosy CV. In fact the BNF is like a learner with a lot of potential but who lives a promiscuous life.
At the moment, I strongly feel that the BNF needs the goodwill of the media to reconstruct its image and market it more than it needs the sharp-tongued Duma Boko to fight its battles.
It is, therefore, proper to advice the BNF to seek ways to reconcile with the media without necessarily apologizing in order to put right the poisoned relations.