A University of Botswana scholar has argued in an academic paper that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) should have raised its voice when, in August 2009, the then Director of Broadcasting Services, Mogomotsi Kaboyamodimo, read a political statement on behalf of President Ian Khama on state radio and television. Khama was making this statement as leader of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).┬á
“It is interesting to note that during this whole saga, the IEC, as the institution charged with the responsibility of promoting and supporting democracy in Botswana, was conspicuous by its silence, and was reduced to the level of a spectator and could not act as a key player, revealing its powerlessness or impotence in levelling the electoral playing field,” Professor Monageng Mogalakwe writes in “An Assessment of Botswana’s Electoral Management Body to Deliver Fair Elections” which has just been published by the Journal of Contemporary African Studies in the United Kingdom.
With just two months before the general election, Khama’s faction had just been trounced at the BDP’s national elective congress and the message read on his behalf addressed the factional fighting in the BDP. When it weighed it on the issue and following public outcry over this incident, the National Broadcasting Board (NBB) determined that the message was a party political broadcast that violated its code of conduct. It subsequently ordered Radio Botswana and Botswana Television to correct this violation by affording the opposition parties the opportunity to also make similar party political broadcasts and address the nation on their internal conflicts during prime time. In response, Kaboyamodimo, who has now been promoted to Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, stated that the message was not a party political broadcast, but a statement issued by the state president that was a matter of interest and concern to the nation at large. He quoted the Public Service Act and General Orders which both state that it shall be the duty of every public officer to aid and assist the government, and to carry out and obey all its lawful orders. That was about as far as the issue went and opposition parties never got to make the broadcasts recommended by the NBB.
Mogalakwe says that it is interesting to note that after the 2009 elections, the Botswana public media houses were moved from the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology and placed directly under the Office of the President and that three years later, the Broadcasting Act, which gave the NBB power to license broadcasters in the country, was repealed and replaced by the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority Act (BOCRA).
“Section 31(2) of the new Act states that the state broadcasters shall not require a license to operate, effectively placing these media outside the jurisdiction of the BOCRA and its Code of Conduct. The implications of this exemption are obvious: these media outlets will be reduced to the broadcasting wing of the ruling party. It is submitted here that this monopolisation of publicly owned media by the ruling party, especially during elections, constitutes an act of unfairness, but the country’s [Electoral Management Body] does not have the power to deal with. This is further evidence that elections in Botswana, though free, cannot also be considered fair,” he argues.
The last sentence encapsulates the central point that he makes in his paper.