The police will not admit it but it doesn’t have a case against the Water Utilities Corporation employee who digitally stripped an image of President Ian Khama to a stitch of abbreviated underwear called “mankini”. The mankini image caused an uproar because most people, including the president’s political opponents, felt that the man had insulted an elder. In the early stages of the saga, a Directorate of Intelligence Services plane flew from Gaborone to Maun to pick up the suspect for interrogation. However, almost two years later, the man has not been charged and it doesn’t look like he will ever be because legally, he did nothing wrong. However, as Khama announced in his state-of-the-nation address a fortnight ago, the law is now being tightened up.
“The advent of technology and increase in the use of cell phones and computers has had a negative impact in some areas whereby technology applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter have been used to abuse others, which necessitated the need to review legislation. In this regard we will be bringing to Parliament a new Cyber and Computer Related Crimes Bill with a view of among other things, enabling the victims of such crimes to seek redress,” the president said. It would seem reasonable to suppose that the mankini culprit may have been saved by a sedition case involving Sunday Standard editor, Outsa Mokone. The case has controversially spotlighted not just the persecution of a journalist but the retention of an archaic law that has been abolished in both the land of its origin and Africa’s last absolute monarchy ÔÇô Swaziland, which is known for its autocracy. While the existing Cyber and Computer Related Crimes Act doesn’t provide criminal sanction for what the mankini culprit did, police could still have charged him under sedition laws which are as broad as to criminalise just about everything. A second sedition charge would definitely have brought more bad publicity for what much of the world believes to be one of Africa’s healthiest democracies. As an outlet for pathological behaviour, social media is at once a platform for tiresome, look-at-me vanity and an unregulated, round-the-clock insults stock exchange where, as often happens, some targets have no such odious commodity to trade back. Mankini occurred within the latter context and to an extent, the amended legislation will provide some legal fallback position for aggrieved parties.