Sunday, September 20, 2020

Is it a War of Ideas or that of Coercion and Deception?

I read with great interest and delight an article entitled “ROY SESANA AND THE ART OF WAR” which appeared in the Sunday Standard of January 3-9, 2008. The article was contributed by Lediretse Molake.

At the risk of spoiling the well-presented argument (and ideas), I want to add a few more perspectives and experiences to underscore the general observation that Molake makes, namely that our leaders in Botswana (and indeed the rest of Africa) have a tendency to opt for the war of coercion and/or deception rather than the war of ideas, in order to maintain power and control over their fellow citizens. The concept of leadership here is not confined only to political leadership, but cuts across the rest of the government machinery, the Civil Service, as well as the parastatals. I do not have any personal experience in the Private Sector but I imagine that to some degree the problem of coercion and deception is found there too.

In fact, I have observed that in addition to the more active deception and coercion strategy, our leadership has often times employed the more subtle and yet very effective strategy of information and knowledge deprivation. Once again please note that the concept of leadership here refers to the exertion of vested authority at all levels of the political and Civil Service structures, and not just to political leadership. The coercive-deceptive style of leadership is not only antithetical to the war of ideas, but also creates an ideal platform upon which deception, coercion and bullying of the led (by leadership) can be exercised at will. The more ignorant the citizen, the more easily he can be deceived and coerced.

Consequently the more dependent such person continues to be on such a leader or officer, whatever the case may be.
Thus the citizen gets caught up in a vicious cycle of ignorance, deception, fear and dependency, while the one in the position of authority and power is guaranteed that the ignorant can be easily deceived into fearfully assuring him of his allegiance, either directly (as in voting) or indirectly by not holding the leader/officer accountable. In party politics this kind of situation has the effect of entrenching a culture of an obscene pseudo-symbiosis, whereby whereas the politician actually needs the votes of the deceived and coerced voter, the poor voter only thinks that his wants and needs can be met only through that particular politician/leader.

When we were growing up our parents used to be averse to certain political parties because it was “known” that if they were to be voted in to administer the affairs of the country, they would communalize everything; right from Mr. Gumbo’s Toyota Stout and his MF tractor to Mr. Diane’s beautiful Brahman cattle. No one would ever own anything for themselves. Everything would be communal. Some of these parties, we were told (and much to our horror), would create a country that was a paradise for sluggards but a living hell for the hard-working citizens.
Some even went to the extent of insisting that at the instance of these kinds of evil parties, families would break up because the institution of marriage would be reduced to a communal affair. The thought of losing their wives to a communal pool must have struck fear in the hearts of even the poor who had, hitherto cherished the thought of having a share in the wealth of the likes of Rre-Gumbo and Rre-Diane, thanks to the Great Equalizer called Communism.

Silly as this may sound, it is an example of how morally decrepit political leaders can use fear to push forward even the most ludicrous of ideas, and thus psychologically coerce ignorant masses to vote in their favor. Most tactics are more subtle. But to effectively instill this fear in the people, it is necessary that the people should be ignorant. That way, they can be more easily deceived into fear of the unknown, and thus into intellectual dependency.

It is common knowledge that during election years many parliamentary hopefuls have used lies and deception to win the votes of the people. For example some promise voters that they will build schools, bridges and roads for them if voted into power. They make these promises fully aware that the success of such projects in any given constituency is in part a function of countrywide priorities as determined by the relevant ministries from time to time, and therefore that they could not deliver on such promises to the people. In order for such a politician to be successful in this lying and deception game, he (and of late increasingly also “she”) requires the people’s ignorance (and therefore gullibility) as a pre-condition.

It also happens quite commonly that politicians, in their bid and eagerness to be elected into office (most of the time for their own sake), will threaten ignorant and vulnerable voters that if they vote or don’t vote for so-and-so, they would not receive government assistance. Thus some socially beneficial government policies that apply to all citizens equally, regardless of whom they vote into office, are modified by some politicians to threaten our gullible compatriots to vote in the way desired by such politicians.

(Another ploy that has worked very successfully for some self-seeking politicians and public officers is to play around with the concept of “government” to keep the majority of our fellow citizens hazy or outright confused about what or who goromente is. This is a topic for a full discussion on its own. I would like us to interrogate it another time.)

Thus by and large, our leaders in Africa (both political and civic) use the ignorance of the masses as exploitable capital. In Botswana, though we may be guilty to a lesser degree than others in the continent, there are many examples that one can give, all of which strongly point to the doctrine of “Ignorance as Political Capital”. One sometimes can’t help but wonder whether the slow development and empowerment of the people through knowledge and understanding of the issues that really matter to them may be an intentional policy to ensure easy manipulation of people’s minds.

In our continent politicians also routinely capitalize on the ignorance of the masses to foment tribally-based violence in order to further their own political agendas. Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, Liberia, DRC and lately Kenya are but just some of the cases where to varying degrees of intensity, this ignorance and ethnocentrisms of the masses have been exploited to further the interests of a few and at great expense to the majority of the citizenry.

As I am writing this, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning is reading the budget speech. This morning between 1 am and 2 am there was a call-in program on Radio Botswana in which the presenter was asking Batswana what they “wish and hope” the minister would include in his budget speech.
While I listened to my fellow citizens calling in, it became evident to me that the people were indeed simply listing wishes about what should be in the budget speech. What I thought was rather cruel was that as my fellow Batswana were expressing their wishes the budget had already been made and the speech ready for delivery.

Curious to know about the purpose of the program, I called in to ask whether the call-in was just for entertainment or whether I was missing something more profound about it. The presenter was not hesitant to use his anchor power wherewith he insisted that I was not addressing the “question” posed to Batswana, and that I should therefore do so. I decided that it was futile engaging him as he was clearly bent on getting from us a list of wishes of what should be in the budget speech, regardless of whether or not there was any clear purpose in Batswana sharing their wish lists at this late hour.
To me, this was a clear example of somebody using their (and state’s) power to coerce the listeners (who are effectively his employers by the way) into compliance with what he had decided was the question to be answered.
All of us were to fall in line re be re latela tema e re e segetsweng. When another caller tried to pursue the same dialogue that I had attempted to initiate, the presenter firmly insisted that the caller was out of line and proceeded to cut him off air summarily.

After that he then made a remark that could, in my view, be a classic illustration of condescending arrogance, patronizing manipulation that clearly demonstrated an amazingly low opinion of the listeners’ intelligence, on the part of the presenter. He said something to the effect that Batswana are intelligent, and would not be fooled by people who think that they understand issues better than everyone.
Here was a presenter on National Radio coercing citizens to engage in a trivial conversation about wishful thinking, while at the same time flatly blocking any attempts to engage in a little bit of critical inquiry. Meanwhile he attempted to portray those of us who were not towing his line, as condescending over and spiteful of Batswana. Cruel manipulation of the minds of the innocent and gullible! A ntwa kgolo ga e satlhole e le ya molomo? A mafoko a kgotla ga a sa tlhole a le mantle otlhe? Ga go atwe mualebe o a bo a bua la gagwe? A molemo wa kgang e santse e le go buiwa kana e setse e le go e nniwa ka marago? It occurred to me that this gentleman was opting for what Molake called the war of deception and coercion rather than the more superior war of ideas.

In his article Molake also points out that the war of deception and coercion is easy to fight when you have state resources at your disposal. In the case of the presenter in question, this was undoubtedly true. He was using our National Radio and the position that we are paying him to occupy, to deny us a platform upon which we could exchange ideas with one another. A sad and dramatic irony.

May God Bless Botswana.

*Dr Nnyepi is a Lecturer at the University of Botswana


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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.