Sunday, January 24, 2021

“The BDP is under threat”

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. This however is not an attempt to steal his glory after he successfully retained ruling status for his party. I do not even dispute the fact that he went an extra mile to put up a serious personal campaign. Congratulations are due to him and may he and his chosen team be blessed to take us forward in the next five years.

The purpose of this contribution is first to demonstrate that Botswana Democratic Party dominance is under serious threat than ever before, secondly President Khama contributed no magic contrary to what is being peddled around and lastly the private media, with their weaknesses and challenges have no reason to regret their coverage of President Khama.

To excitedly suggest that Khama magic worked wonders in these elections is a serious misread of the election outcome especially that the party did not attain any record popular vote, let alone the ambitious 70% it set itself. If anything this year’s elections exposed the declining power of the BDP than ever before. For the BDP, the mere increase in numbers is compromised by the voting pattern that emerged in these elections which are clearly not favouring the party.

I do not believe that an attainment of an extra seat in Parliament by BDP is a sign of strength because the seat numbers have been fluctuating for a long time anyway. Why should it be magic now when it is President Khama? For the first time in the history of Botswana elections an opposition party, largely thanks to president Khama’s leading style, Botswana Congress Party has made serious inroads in the traditional BDP homes, scooping some and breathing on the neck of the BDP in many other constituencies.

The impact of BCP’s performance this year is unprecedented in the opposition politics and differs from that enjoyed by BNF in the past elections in that it is almost spread across the country. Botswana Democratic Party came out of these elections seriously bruised than at any other time. It will therefore be suicidal for BDP to ignore this year’s statistics and bask on a false glory.

Some people argue that President Khama must celebrate the snatching of formerly Botswana National Front stronghold constituencies, in particular Gaborone. Of course, any victory is worth some ceremony but the truth is that this was somehow a pyrrhic one considering what BDP gave in return for these areas.

I want to submit that snatching these urban areas by BDP is not as sweet as BCP’s penetration into the former’s traditional home. BDP’ s victory in these areas perhaps except for Gaborone South, is also not solely attributable to some magic of President Khama. President Khama might have added some value in the campaign but the biggest contributor was the disarray that is the Botswana National Front.

The results of the BCP/BAM partnership has demonstrated that the politics of ‘all or nothing’ by the opposition parties, especially the BNF has delayed the change of power in this country or at least reduction of one party dominance.

This must send a chilling message to the BDP which only holds the popular vote by a whisker hence my submission that the party must be having some sleepless nights because it is very clear that the next elections are a do or die for them.

The prospects of BCP/BNF merger are real and if this becomes reality the partnership will be very deadly considering that BCP has gradually attracted new areas outside the traditional BNF constituencies. It appears that despite winning the elections the BDP leader is not carried away by the flatters he is suddenly getting from unexpected quarters who continue to give him bloated God status.

He is already taking some steps (wrong ones though) to strategise his way forward. By taking the state media under his arm pits the president is acknowledging that, if it was not for the state media and other state resources he could have suffered a serious embarrassment.

This is one area that Titus Mbuya in his “Khama is what the doctors ordered” fails to pick up. The issue is not the private media’s coverage of the president but that of the state media. Although very vibrant, the private media runs only in the brims of the urban areas and mainly influences the elites in Gaborone Central while the state media penetrates deeper into the remote areas and poor urban dwellings where a loaf of bread out-competes a piece of printed paper.

The BDP government has made sure that Batswana who are outside the private media reach do not get the right information about their country. However it must also be noted that despite having all these resources, especially the state media, BDP only manages a paltry increase of 1.73% of popular vote.

This may be interpreted to mean that given balanced information and campaign platform, Batswana would find an alternative to the BDP. With the state media in their hands the BDP could be performing much better but despite that, almost half the voting population have rejected the BDP. This to me defeats the analysis of a landslide victory.

That BDP is running scared, but putting on a brave face will become very clear in the not so far a future. Batswana must brace themselves for tried and tested tactics that could include unnecessary delimitation of constituencies and the infusion of campaign messages in state interaction with people. President Khama’s ‘bon fire’ democracy will be intensified across the country and more bicycle stunts are on the way.

The truth is Gaborone is in a transition period and the BDP is holding forte while the opposition is still sorting itself out. The statistics registered for BCP in Gaborone West North and Gaborone North could be an indication that the BDP is not there for long. President Khama’s populist tendencies will of course play a critical role but these are not sustainable and will be diluted by his other dictatorial impulses which are his in most cases hid downfall.

While this letter is not a direct response to Mr Mbuya’s article I want to register my surprise though, that while rightly identifying populist tendencies in President Khama he frowns at the description of President Khama as a dictator. Populism in most cases is a symptom of dictatorship. But with President Khama it is not just about symptoms, the man has successfully proved right the diagnosis made on him in just 14 months or so. While some things may not be directly attributed to him they however make a reflection of him.

Here I am thinking of the ever increasing cases of torture and extra judicial killings, the increasing number of the use of ‘insult’ laws where foreigners are arraigned before the courts for having supposedly insulted the president. Add to this the adoption of draconian laws and regulations such as the traffic law, alcohol regulations, Media practitioners Act and many others that came during his short stay at the President Drive.

All these can not be said to be the creation of editors’ minds. The media did not invent the above; they did not originate the threats hurled at university students that they will be blacklisted in Government employment if they participated in strikes. The media did not fire Hon Pono Moatlhodi from standing for parliament, although later withdrawn due to public pressure.

The media did not force Hon Botsalo Ntuane to erase the ink that compared our state of affairs to Saudi Arabia. That President Khama’s party has won the elections does not mean that these debates were some imagination of some President Khama’s obsessed critics. They were and still remain real. The media must therefore credit itself for refusing to ignore these real issues.

I honestly do not understand what it is that Mr Mbuya wants the media to feel guilty of. At some point he says they should not have been obsessed with President Khama, suggesting that they ignored other important issues. While one might want to accept this as fair criticism it is however over expressed. This is even made worse by Mr Mbuya’s assertion that by voting for BDP the people have belied the media’s exposure on President Khama.

To him, by voting for President Khama, the people have made the media eat humble pie. What for? It is the peoples’ choice to decide if they want to make the media issues determine their votes and in fact this is not unique to Botswana but is identifiable with vulnerable voters who are easily swayed by some populist antics.

The poor vulnerable people only realise when it is too late that their leaders are mere mortals like them and do make mistakes. I agree with Mr Mbuya that the media needs to be very careful not to over sensationalise issues but this must not translate into self censorship that he is seemingly promoting.

Let me end by emphasising that there was no Khama magic in these elections. The results are very instructing that although Khama is given the opportunity to lead us in the next 5 years, he is not invincible.

For the first time we have such a big number of constituencies where the BDP needs to work extra hard in the next elections. The past presidential candidates left the BDP very much intact in many areas but because of Khama’s leadership style we are now convinced such areas, even with the help of state power, could go anywhere, come 2014. The future has never been this promising.

We understand the precarious situation that the private media exist in. With placement of advertising moved to the Office of President and state media fully under the President’s control hard times are yet to come.

I am tempted to think that this explains the sudden weird way in which the Managing Director of Mmegi looks at things and God forbid that this does not become contagious.

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