Saturday, September 19, 2020

Khama’s detractors biased

Senior lecturer at the University of Botswana, Dr Zibane Maundeni, has thrown the gauntlet challenging researchers (political scientists, economists, sociologists, legal scholars, journalists and many others), to provide a missing link in objectively gauging whether President Khama is taking Botswana into authoritarian politics or whether he is adding a new orientation to enrich the country’s politics.

Interestingly, Dr Maundeni rightfully places Professor Kenneth Good as an unbalanced writer who cannot be relied upon to unearth Khama’s positivity.
He goes further: “Afrobarometer surveys and the general elections are proof that the majority of Batswana voters like Khama. This points to the fact that there must be something positive about him that is not coming out clearly in Good’s writings”.

Dr Maundeni faults Prof Kenneth Good for being biased, firstly due to “Good’s over glorification of participatory democracy and his overuse of negative theories (particularly elite theories)”. Secondly that he harbours resentment against the country after having been deported.

According to Hammersley and Gomm ‘bias’ refers to “a tendency on the part of researchers to collect data, and/or to interpret and present them, in such a way as to favour false results that are in line with their prejudgments and political or practical commitments”. They continue: “The most commonly recognized source is commitments that are external to the research process, such as political attitudes, which discourage the discovery of uncomfortable facts and/or encourage the presentation of spurious ‘findings”.

MISA Botswana Head, Thapelo Ndlovu, comes to mind when he discovered ‘uncomfortable facts and presented spurious findings’ after the 2009 general elections. In an article published in the Sunday Standard subsequent to the results, he contends that “the biggest loser in these past elections, besides Botswana National Front, was Lt Gen Seretse Khama Ian Khama, the president of both the ruling party and the state”. For MISA Head to make such a biased and subjective pronouncement is telling that some of the private media have a clearly biased agenda against Khama.

In the said general elections, the BDP, under President Khama, increased its popular vote by a significant 1.73% which in terms of votes was an increase by around 77 184 new votes. In terms of the Parliamentary seats won, the BDP increased by 1 seat from the previous 44, whilst the BCP increased its representation from 1 to 5.

The BNF on the other hand went into the general elections with 12 seats, and thereafter remains with only 6. Again this is despite the fact that the BDP captured 4 of the 5 Gaborone constituencies, which were regarded as the mainstay of the opposition.

In an interview with one of the Radio Stations, Pamela Dube, then an Editor of one of the local Newspapers wondered why it is an issue if a Newspaper endorses a particular Party as was the case when Mmegi then ran a cover page ‘Vote Moupo’ in the Gaborone West North bye election. She argued that this was normal practice in the UK.

What Pamela Dube ‘conveniently’ failed to tell the nation is that some of our private newspapers do not come out in the open that they support a particular political party as happens in the UK.
Spencer Mogapi in the Watchdog column assets as follows: “Ours is a de facto one-party state. One way of breaking BDP’s grip on power would, naturally, be to break the BDP itself. What better way to do that than take away some of the people who over the years had become a part of the brand BDP”.

As a strategy, therefore, Spencer Mogapi’s open bias is in line with his prejudgments and political or practical commitments.

Much as Dr Maundeni has identified Kenneth Good as being biased against Khama, we have also been able to establish that some of our media houses are also biased against Khama.

President Khama has not exhibited anything that could be viewed or interpreted as being authoritarian. He is exercising ‘leadership’. Leadership, as per Olsen (1998) definition, is “the process that ensures the firm is constantly moving forward through the continuous assessment of its business environment, seeking new opportunities to lead the industry”.

In the process to seek new opportunities, a leader will come across different interest groups who would wish to shape and determine its claims over others. This is natural because in any given society, there will always be groupings trying to drive their agenda.
David B. Truman, holds that “Men, wherever they are observed, are creatures participating in those established patterns of interaction that we call groups. Excepting perhaps the most casual and transitory, these continuing interactions, like all such interpersonal relationships, involve power.

This power is exhibited in two closely interdependent ways. In the first place, the group exerts power over its members; an individual’s group affiliations largely determine his attitudes, values, and the frames of reference in terms of which he interprets his experiences. For a measure of conformity to the norms of the group is the price of acceptance within it. . . . In the second place, the group, if it is or becomes an interest group, which any group in society may be, exerts power over other groups in the society when it successfully imposes claims upon them”.

Driven by the need to continuously assess the business environment and seeking new opportunities for the country and for Batswana, and considering that in every democratic dispensation, interest groups seek to exert power over others and impose their claims as stated above, the President would undoubtedly make decisions that would not necessarily enjoy support from all. As a leader, one cannot run away from taking tough decisions and taking tough decisions should not be confused with authoritarianism.

For this reason, and taking into consideration the above case studies detailing elements of ‘bias’ by some in our media, I would wish to humbly submit in honouring Dr Zibane Maundeni’s thought provoking challenge, that the ‘Khama presidency is not taking Botswana into authoritarian politics, but rather adding a new orientation to enrich the country’s politics. I rest my case.

*Dr Dingalo is Director of Research and Policy Development (BGCIS)

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