Botswana in 2008 is increasingly beginning to look like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. You can no longer make a call on your cell phone without worrying that big brother is listening.
The government of Botswana last year invited bids from companies to supply the Botswana Police service with technology that would help them eavesdrop on our cell phone conversations. There are fears that the system was secretly installed while the rest of us were looking the other way.
You can no longer walk the streets at night without looking over your shoulder for gun toting Botswana Defence Force officers to stop you and ask what you are doing on the street at that ungodly hour. There are even indications that the new administration intends to set up a database of journalists’ information under the proposed Media Practitioners Bill.
And now with the new administration’s four Ds and the criminalization of media work under the proposed Media Practitioners Bill, it looks like the new administration is bent on using the politics of fear to keep you in your place.
All these, however, are not the biggest Orwellian strain in our contemporary society. It is not the intelligence guys eavesdropping on your cell phone conversations or the military officers stopping you on the street at night or the criminalization of media work ÔÇô rather, it is the new administration’s taste for intruding into your personal life.
The most terrifying thing about the dystopia of Nineteen Eighty-Four was the Party’s management of people’s relationships with each other, and its attempts to replace the human emotions of spontaneity and passion with conformity to a soulless etiquette.
Something similar is happening in Botswana 2008 – yet this very real Orwellian outburst is ignored by those who bang the drum for liberty.
Orwell depicted a world in which personal relationships were smashed apart and reconstituted as relationships between the individual and the state. The new administration seems set to institute a similar tyranny with its plethora of legislation.
The new media bill seeks to dismantle the media as the Fourth Estate independent from the executive and reconstitute it as an appendage of the executive at the back and call of the Minister of Information and Technology.
And in true Orwellian style, the media’s relationship with its readership will be replaced by a relationship managed by the state. It will no longer be the people’s agenda that decides what goes on which page of the newspaper, there will be times when content will be dictated by a body constituted by the proposed bill. The registration of journalists under the proposed bill will also transform what are currently relaxed relationships between journalists and publishers into relationships managed and monitored by the state. It will no longer be enough for a journalist to meet the qualification standards set by their employers, but they will also have to submit to registration, accreditation and probable background check by a committee appointed by the Minister.
The proposed bill casts doubt on the new administration’s commitment to the two Ds of Democracy and Development. As we have stated in the past ÔÇô during the Stone Age, communities that had access to stone developed faster than those that did not have access to stone.
During the Iron Age, communities that had access to iron developed faster that those that did not have access to iron. Similarly, in this information age, nations that have access to information will develop faster than those that do not have access to information. The bill, however, is not only an affront to democracy, but also an impediment to development as it seeks to obstruct the flow of information. Besides, Politicians who do not practice what they preach are an affront to democratic sensibilities, because they seem to be setting themselves apart from the rest of us, obeying their own private rules.
The new administration’s unwavering bid to cripple the liquor industry on the other hand gives an Orwellian shade to their understanding of the two other Ds for Discipline and Dignity.
In Orwell’s dystopia, the Party implores everyone to keep fit. Winston Smith always wakes to a “grim” reality: he has to “join in compulsory exercises following the instructions given by a woman from the telescreen”. The new administration is, likewise, obsessed with telling us what to eat, whether we should smoke or drink.
The new administration’s plethora of legislation on the media, the civil service, and cell phone use and liquor trade now brings everything we do and say under the watchful eye of the state. And the four Ds will dictate what we can say to each other and even what tone of voice we should use.
It is time to stop government from getting inside you.