Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Poor sound quality mars Koma’s CDs

On account of what was most certainly a limited budget, the “Dr. Koma Speaks” set of CDs was greatly compromised on quality of sound, graphic design, jewel case and booklet as well as on final appearance. The design elements on the booklet, as those on the printing side of the discs, are pretty basic; the verb in the title overshadows the name of the subject; ‘speaks’ is awkwardly contrasted with Koma’s zipped lips; the arm of some CDs rotates past the 180 degrees point; and, while the inside of the booklets is empty, little information beyond the title and copyright statement is provided.

The skips, hisses and other sound quality imperfections on some of the copies interfere with Koma’s narrative and leave many information gaps to be filled. A good example is Koma’s famed story about how he used voodoo to return to Botswana after years of study in Europe and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

His story is that he was banned in all countries around Botswana presenting him with the immediate challenge of how he would get home. In Tanzania, he met a man (“I’m not sure who it was ÔÇô was it [Jonas] Savimbi?” he says almost to himself) who gave him a piece of tree bark. The stranger instructed Koma to bite off small bits, chew on and spit them in different directions when he came to any kind of checkpoint. He did as he was told, he says, and miraculously ended up being reunited with part of his family in Mahalapye.┬á
These shortcomings notwithstanding, the audio recordings provide a history lesson you cannot get anywhere else and would be a worthwhile investment.

Of the three volumes, none gives as much insight into Koma’s person as the first one – “Matshelo a Motho.” At one point in the interview with Radio Botswana’s Mogorosi Baatweng and Samuel Mbaiwa, Koma says that he characteristically takes a very long time to warm up to an idea and, after he has, doesn’t reverse his position easily.

Koma’s legendary crisp wit shines through when on Volume 2, 10 days before the Gaborone South bye-election in 1984, he faced off with Vice President Peter Mmusi on Radio Botswana’s Round Table. He fields questions from Andrew Sesinyi and Mogomotsi Kaboyamodimo with ease. Using very eloquent Setswana as well and applying the most impressive and sophisticated style of lateral thinking, he pokes holes in each and every argument that Mmusi advances.

Content of all the three volumes was recorded by Radio Botswana (“We thank Radio Botswana”, says a footnote on the back card of each CD) and the party struck a deal to mass reproduce it. Embracing technology and commerce this way in order to disseminate speeches by the father of Botswana opposition politics seems a good thing but there is a level at which this choice of speeches is itself eloquent evidence of escapism.

The three volumes are a nostalgic throwback to the scandal-free pre-Palapye, pre-Kanye, pre-NDF days when Koma was a political demi-god. Palapye was when party members fought physically at what should have been a national congress. The result was that some members broke away to form what is now the Botswana Congress Party. Kanye was when, at another national congress, Koma’s faction was trounced and left out in the cold. Thereafter, Koma’s faction formed the New Democratic Front, which now has a working relationship with its older sibling, the BCP.

It is unlikely that speeches Koma gave after Palapye, Kanye and the formation of the NDF would have been as potent and riveting because by then the old man’s star was on the wane. That explains the choice of content for “Dr Koma Speaks.”

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.