Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Khama’s popularity should be contextualized

The views expressed by one of well-known political commentators, Lawrence Ookeditse, on the reported 70 percent popularity of President Ian Khama, calls for a serious debate around this question with a view to contextualize it.

My understanding of those who commented about the Afro Barometer results were not questioning the methodology adopted by the research team.   Many were grabbling with the question of what could have accounted for the skyrocketing popularity rating of the president.  The writer attributes the recorded popularity of president Ian Khama to the fact that he has reached out to ordinary people through borne fires, street walkabouts, riding on donkey carts and playing with motor bikes, distribution of blankets, backyard gardens and so on.

What is difficult to understand is how President Khama can be so popular when a lot is not going right in this country today. During his era the country has witnessed the worst examination results in three successive years, the longest and costly public sector strike ever, a dysfunctional health care system characterized by shortages of health worker especially medical doctors, blankets, food in hospitals, and drugs including ARVs.

Corruption and abuse of public office have reached unprecedented levels as revealed by Forensic Audit reports and the parliamentary oversight committees in some of the parastatals.┬á Under Khama we added another terminology to our vocabulary called “extra judicial killing”.

Up until the brutal murder of John Kalafatis at least one extra judicial killing took place in Botswana every month on average. Innocent citizens were hunted down and killed like wild animals often in broad day light under the watchful eye of the general public.

An army of unemployed frustrated youths roam the streets and are idling in villages across the length and breadth of the country. There is poverty in the midst of plenty. Livestock farmers have been impoverished by the chronic mismanagement of the Botswana Meat Commission ÔÇô and yes, the buck stops with the president.

One wonders how the President of Botswana can be so popular when Batswana are the unhappiest people globally.

According to the 2012 Happy Planet Index (HPI), Botswana is ranked at the bottom of the list at 151 out of 151 countries assessed, for the second time in a row. Even the poorest countries, countries emerging from conflicts and those that are involved in civil wars like Malawi, Libya, and Syria performed better than Botswana. There is a serious crisis of leadership in Botswana today.

The reason lies in that all the above mentioned problems facing Botswana are not fully appreciated by the majority of Batswana especially those who depend on the state media as their source of information. There is a serious news blackout for the majority of Batswana.

Those who speak out against these failures by the ruling party have no or little access to state media. Visitors who watch Btv and listen to RB1 may not be blamed for thinking that Botswana is a military one party state.  

Of the major events that have taken place, the public sector strike successfully unmasked all the pretentions and denials of political interference in the state media. During the strike Btv in particular operated like the South African Broadcasting Corporation of the apartheid days. The crisis that almost brought the country to its knees was kept away from Btv viewers while they were shown strikes happening in neighboring South Africa.

If Marikana ever happened in Botswana it would not be shown on Btv or broadcast over Radio Botswana.  There is a serious intolerance of alternative views under president Khama.

The other avenue that is monopolized by President Khama and his government is the Kgotla. Although President Khama has previously urged political leaders to engage Batswana at the Kgotla his government would not allow Dumelang Saleshando who was the Leader of the Opposition to have access to such an important forum. 

The president correctly described the Kgotla as a bedrock for dialogue but he will not allow opposition political leaders access to it. Consequently the majority of Batswana may be ignorant of different political leaders in Botswana to make meaningful comparisons. Even people who are relatively better informed still call me the Vice President of the Botswana Congress Party. Surely if all political leaders had equal access to both the kgotla and the state media the results would have come differently. 

What must be understood is that the level of popularity attributable to president Khama is not possible in a well functioning democracy. It is the kind of popularity score that is attained by autocratic leaders. Just show me a president with a 70 percent popularity rating I will show you a brutal dictator. Interestingly there is an unexplained mismatch between the popularity of president Khama and the Botswana Democratic Party of which he is a leader. 

Although the BDP target was to get 70 percent of the popular vote in the 2009 general elections they could only record 52 percent. Observers believe that following a major split that hit the ruling BDP and the corruption scandals that has rocked the country its popular vote is likely decline to below 50 percent in 2014 general elections.  It would not matter whether Khama records 70 percent or 90 percent of the popular vote. In mixed system of government such as ours a high popular vote of president Khama that fails to translate into an increased popular vote for the ruling BDP is empty and as good as nothing.


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