Thursday, June 20, 2024

How parliament operates like a nightclub

Officially Botswana has two houses of parliament: Ntlo ya Dikgosi, the lower house and the upper house which for some reason is just called “Parliament.” Unofficially and realistically though, there are three houses of parliament.

The third is the lowest and truth be told, this one is often more interesting that the two upper houses. Describing it would be tricky but try thinking of it within the context of an extra-legislative ecosystem ÔÇô say a boutique (exclusive) nightclub where the Speaker is the deejay, the frontbench (which includes the Leader of the Opposition) is the VIP section, the backbench is made up of the general revelry, the serjeant-at-arms is the bouncer and the public gallery is where those who couldn’t get in hang out to look on. Considering that the chamber (the dance-floor as it were) is called the “house” reinforces the appropriateness of this comparison because house music is the current nightclub staple. With regard to the latter, one might just add that just like a nightclub, the chamber is cavernous. Fridays are typically the busiest days for both nightclubs and our parliament. Then the club (and parley) is poppin’.

Remember the first day of the winter session last year? In terms of nightclub protocol, when a reveller won’t obey the rules, the DJ instructs the bouncer to eject him. On the day in question, Gaborone Central MP, Dr. Phenyo Butale, wouldn’t play by the rules and Deputy Speaker, Kagiso Molatlhegi, instructed the serjeant-at-arms to eject him from the house. Let’s see how far we can go with this comparison.

The Speaker as DJ

Perhaps the first and most obvious thing to say about these two is that both preside from a booth at the front of the house. The next would that they both have a tortured relationship with a very simple English word that pupils in Botswana schools learn in Standard One ÔÇô “Yes”. Speaker: “As many as are of that opinion say “Aye!” Likewise, you will never hear a DJ say “Yes”; what you get instead is “Yeah” growled out at one second intervals twice or thrice into the microphone. Both have a clinical obsession with pomp and ceremony. As happens with a guest DJ, whose short walk to the DJ booth has to be announced by a resident DJ with “Put your hands up for DJ ESPPPP!”, the arrival of the Speaker at the chamber as he makes his way to his own booth (the Speaker’s Chair) is announced with a full-throated “Mr. Speaker Sir” by the serjeant-at-arms. Whereas the Speaker brings the house to order with the actual verbalisation of the word (“Order! Order!”), in one respect a result of a disrupted journey up the academic ladder, the DJ resorts to the corrupted form of “Yes” to bring his own house of house junkies to order.

As nightclub protocol, parliament protocol imposes duty on the Speaker to refer to those in the house with honorifics: whereas revellers are “niggas” or “dawgs” to the DJ, the Speaker addresses MPs as “Honourable Members”.

Like the DJ, the Speaker has an unhealthy obsession with fake, white people’s hair. More than 95 percent of the DJs in Botswana have peroxide blonde hair while the Speaker of the Botswana parliament wears a white wig made from horse hair. The ceremonial dress of the Speaker takes the form of a mostly black, Botswana-colours robe while that of the DJ is made up of a leprosy of tattoos and skinny jeans sagged disgustingly low enough to reveal check-print boxer briefs.

Part of the pomp and ceremony includes an entourage and in as far as this aspect goes, the only difference between the Speaker and the DJ is the formation of the entourage. When he walks into a nightclub, a DJ is attended by a retinue of hangers-on who get the usual nightclub fringe benefits (wink, wink) of literally being in such privileged position. In like manner, the Speaker doesn’t roll alone because from his own chamber in the National Assembly’s administrative suite to his booth in the house, s/he is accompanied by two clerks. Whereas the DJ and his entourage walk abreast, the Speaker and his/hers walk in a single file with the former in the middle. It is not unusual to hear a Speaker or a DJ who doesn’t hold a doctoral degree being referred to as “Dr”. What subjects did Dr. Margaret Nasha and Dr. Vom tackle in their doctoral theses? (On another note, why are Nasha and President Ian Khama sniping at each other when they both hold a similar doctorate?)

DJs play recorded music and that is what the speakers may currently be doing. It has been alleged that after five years of an assertive speakership in the last parliament, the executive wanted people who would do and say what it wants. That would mean that on highly controversial issues, the current speakership merely memorises instructions from the executive and performs them in parliament. This gives the head of the executive a status that is a lot similar to that of a nightclub owner.

President as nightclub owner

The nightclub owner drops in once in a while using a special entrance and sitting in the VVIP section. Typically, the bouncers watch him like a hawk in the sky in case their services are needed on an emergency basis. That is a lot like what happens in parliament where the president calls once in a while using a special entrance and sitting in the presidential chair as two bodyguards stay close by.

Parliament as a nightclub

The type of music played at Talking Heads Nightclub is not similar to that played at Fashion Lounge Nightclub or Sky Lounge Nightclub or Lizard Lounge Nightclub. The sort of issues debated at Ntlo ya Dikgosi or the various district councils around the country are different from those debated at Parliament. The point here is that just like nightclubs, deliberative houses focus on a particular genre or sound for branding effect. Parliament focuses on politics while nightclubs mainly focus on house for branding effects.

If you pop up at the door of Sky Lounge wearing a sleeveless Poverty Eradication jacket, an ESP panama hat and heavy-duty government-issue boots, you will certainly not be allowed inside. Similarly, if an MP (like a former Gaborone MP who wore a jacket that, to use the words of the then Speaker, didn’t cover his buttocks) the Speaker will have him thrown out. Parliament, like all boutique nightclubs, enforces a dress code in order to ensure that only a certain type of clientele is in attendance. The two bodies also have a very strict entrance policy: one must be aged at least 18 years to be allowed into a nightclub and 21 to be allowed inside parliament. The one other comparative aspect is that some days of the week have a special theme. In the case of parliament, Wednesday is Caucus Day, when parliamentary parties meet separately to caucus among themselves and Friday is Private Members Day when MPs table motions. In the case of nightclubs, Monday is Ribs’ Night, Wednesday is Ladies Night and Sunday is Jazz Night. In the western world (United States, Canada, Australia and western Europe) there has lately been a trend of DJs adding videos to the paraphernalia of their craft. VJs (“video jockeys”) mix video content in a similar manner that DJs mix audio content, creating a visual experience that is intended to complement the music. Botswana nightclubs have been left behind in this respect but through a closed-circuit television in the house, the Speaker has incorporated the veejaying into his/her routine. Some two or so decades ago, politics was for the elderly but that has changed. Botswana parliament, like all the country’s nightclubs, now has an early adulthood clientele.

MPs as nightclub revellers

And in what ways are MPs similar to nightclub revellers? For starters, each group constitutes separately a voter constituency. When an election happens in parliament, the Speaker plays the role of election officer and when it happens in a nightclub, such role is played by the DJ. The ballot is in the form of a corrupted “Yes”. When presiding over a voice vote in parliament, the Speaker invites MPs to indicate agreement with a motion by saying “Aye!” In a nightclub context, the DJ asks revellers to “say yeah!”

On really bad days, proceedings of both parliament and the nightclubs operate on an either no-rules or prison-rules basis. When something jumps up in a nightclub, there is a 98 percent chance that you will hear an American term of non-endearment that rhymes with “mother-father” being tossed back and forth between the combatants. Not too long ago in parliament, a ruling party MP – who has referred to the Deputy Speaker as a “blue liar”, called an opposition MP a “stupid pastor”. In nightclubs across the world ÔÇô including Botswana’s, recreational drugs are used to enhance the experience of revelry. The “Members Lounge” (that means bar) at parliament is currently undergoing renovation and once it reopens, MPs will have an opportunity to enhance the experience of law-making with recreational drugs from the Lounge.




1. MR. SUNDAY STANDARD REPORTER. (FOURTH ESTATE): To ask the Minister for Education and Skills Development to explain the rationale of busing schoolchildren from places where there are nightclubs to undertake educational tours of the National Assembly in Gaborone when they can acquire the requisite knowledge at nightclubs in their own towns and villages.


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