This column recently decried what it described as drab politics in Botswana further lambasting the opposition UDC for getting carried away by Facebook revolutions. The column commented that the UDC is a brand with some of the finest brains Botswana ever produced and that such distinguished people should not be as desperate as to glorify haphazard protest activities that mainly attract truants.
However, the column acknowledged that youth protests reveal the huge potential of the power in young people to shake the ruling establishment but that in electoral democracies protests are like preliminary events before the headline event- the [general] election.
In this regard, a protest should never be an end in itself. It is also worth noting that glorifying irregular and individualized protests risks distracting from honest engagement in party politics.
Indeed, protests are very effective at raising the level of consciousness and mobilizing support especially among the youth but giving them prominence over globally accepted, tried and tested forms of political activity is like living in a world of pure fantasy.
Without any doubt, there is power in the youth but such power must be harnessed judiciously by mobilizing the youth to see politics as a way of life not a part-time activity for releasing their frustrations and confirming that indeed they are a lost generation that is continuously misused by the political elite. If the youth genuinely aspires for change which would improve their lives, they ought to see themselves as torchbearers of social change with the duty to free the country from bondage.
Globally, young people are regarded as the vanguard of social change and the last hope for a better future. This is no small honor that demand the youth to recognize their special place in society. In effect, young people ought to rise beyond the confines of chanting and booing if they want to be taken seriously. As former US president Barack Obama would say, the youth must not only boo but must importantly participate in elections by voting.
Protests that seem like attention-seeking gimmicks wherein the youth want to test and showcase their bravery, valor and/or ill-breeding may have the unintended effect of turning youth activists into celebrity thugs and suicide bombers.
When young people skip political rallies and other party activities in preference for street protests where they tote offensive banners and make provocative chants with everyone pushing to be in the front row for television cameras, it reveals that theirs is not about effecting social change but more about making names for themselves and creating their own identities.
Engaging in spontaneous street protests and participating in protests movements is a welcome initiative for mobilizing young people but these protests movements should never overshadow party activities even as we know that most of these parties are symbols of failure and age-old stories of disappointmet.
Protests movements are normally short-lived and narrow in orientation for they usually mobilize support and create awareness of a particular issue usually led by people whose main goal is to create an exclusive identity and image of sophistication for themselves.
In effect, while protest movements and spontaneous street protests may raise the level of consciousness, particularly for the uninitiated, they also have the potential to distract from the broader goal of regime change.
This is because a good number of youth activists simply derive momentary pleasure from chanting abusive slogans and throwing bowels of expletives without facilitating social change.
After repeatedly taking part in protest activities without seeing any tangible changes, the youth become fatigued, disoriented and indignant at being tricked by the organizers who sought to cultivate their own power.
The reality is that booing and chanting vulgar slogans would have the required impact if an equal portion of the protesters’ energy is channeled towards intelligent voting at the polls.
Essentially, protests should be rehearsals for general elections to enable young protesters translate their anger into a meaningful act of voting out those who make our lives miserable.
In this context, while chanting slogans, provoking those in power and dancing like creepers is good for beginners, protesting youth who genuinely aspire for real change have an obligation to up the ante, graduate from obsession with being seen as the embodiment of extreme vulgarity to becoming party activists and habitual voters.
The core of this argument is that protest movements and street protests that certainly appeal to the youth should never be regarded as alternatives to political parties even as we acknowledge that for the most part political parties are a conveyor belt for the political elite, their families and associates to reach the honey pot via popular sentiments.
While youth protests are ideal in complementing party activities, the reality is that there is a huge gap between passion for participating in incoherent protest marches and the passion for participating in general elections.
This gap is demonstrated by the fact that the majority of voters are generally older persons while protesters are usually young people. This seems to suggest that young people invest more and are attracted to protest marching for reasons other than the desire for social change.
In this regard, political parties need to figure out how they can integrate the youth with their militant credentials while pursuing the goal of regime change through the ballot box.
In liberal democracies with a conservative political culture such as ours, political parties are readily recognized as legitimate organs of power and opposition parties are lawful bodies with the constitutional privilege to challenge for state power.
Anything else such as social movements would likely make our conservative voters jittery. Voters would somewhat be wary of the real intentions of people who are indifference towards political parties considered as the legitimate, official organs to use for struggle against misrule.
Thus, the youth need to be mindful that their radical tactics would achieve nothing if they are not integrated into party politics. They can try some weird tactics to topple the government or arrogates to themselves space traditionally reserved for political parties but as long as they bypass political parties, their efforts just carry a significant risk of miscarriage.
In conclusion, it is worth reminding young people that courage is not seen in attempts to launch one’s political life in the most bizarre way or disregarding political parties as legitimate institutions to use to effect social change. Rather, courage is found in the resolve to re-invent political parties so that they become relevant and reposition them to address the plight of the ordinary citizen.
As you plan your next protest parade, remember the wise words of Barack Obama – ‘don’t boo, vote’.