Spouses of local politicians painfully remind me of the old Soviet era spouses of Soviet leaders.
From Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev to Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, their spouses were hardly seen in public until Raina Gorbachev burst out of the iron curtains to be seen in public around the world as she accompanied her outgoing husband Mikhail Gorbachev.
It seems Botswana caught the Soviet bug of keeping spouses of prominent politicians hidden in the background as if they are not making contributions to their constituencies or the nation in general.
Spouses of local political leaders are deliberately moored to the back-benches of public life but their luminary husbands deny that they are responsible for their wives’ absence from the public view.
People generally think that Members of Parliament and aspiring political candidates are not very comfortable with their spouses to be in the public eye either for fear of being upstaged or being a bit embarrassed by their wives’ social or economic backgrounds.
Local politicians are being accused of hiding their husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends from the limelight for whatever reason.
The first time the public learns about from their leaders’ partners is when they attend social events outside politics or when appearing on the newspaper front pages but all for the wrong reasons.
Member of Parliament for Okavango, Bagalatia Arone, blames the absence of spouses from public view to the media environment, which he believes concentrates efforts in the events occurring in urban areas.
“The local media is far different from the developed countries, such the United States of America and European countries,” Arone said, adding that in the run-up to the previous national elections, he campaigned side by side with his wife but she did not get any coverage.
“Recently, we made house to house campaigns and she even profiled my campaign strategies,” he said, “but she was hardly noticed even in the media.”
He added: “As we speak, she is busy with the campaign teams in the area but that’s where it all ends.”
Arone scoffed at the local media for such omissions.
“I walk side by side with my wife attending even official Kgotla meetings,” he said, “but it’s like she is not even there.”
The first Black American President, Barrack Obama, made history in 2009 and his wife was right by his side before, during and after the elections, often tearing away from her husband to do some campaigning on her own for her husband’s programmes or drumming up support and sponsorship for her own projects.
“The other reason is that European and American spouses are well looked after as are their partner politicians who are financially backed,” argued Arone. “We should not be blamed as some of these things are not as traditional as our societies would welcome.”
Arone cited MPs’ social and economic backgrounds which hardly affords them simple transport to ferry a family to campaign rallies.
“These are some of the conditions which need to be confronted,” he declared, adding that their desire is to see their spouses taking part in open politics because they have a lot to give.
“So to say we deliberately relegate them to the backyards is untrue.”
Aspirant Tati West candidate Richard Gudu sees the problem as lying with the Public Service Act.
“My wife is working for a parastatal and, as such, cannot participate,” he said.
The same sentiments were also raised by Mosaraela Goya and BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi.
Goya is puzzled by some leaders whose spouses are not bound by the Public Service Act but still do not dare show up at their partners’ rallies and campaigns.
“Their intervention could enhance both the aspirants or MPs credibility and integrity instead of the current mudslinging we (politicians) have to go through,” he noted.
Goya’s wife, a teacher by profession, had the opportunity and honour to be invited by her husband to his victory celebrations at which he thanked voters for the trust they bestowed upon him to be their representative.
“She never wore the party colours but attended the ceremony to the applause and cheers of the audience,” the Palapye MP revealed.
Unhindered by working conditions as a private sector employee, Balopi’s wife does not have problems attending party celebrations and, on numerous occasions, is clad in full party colours.
“We should also take into account our traditional set at which women have been culturally assigned to take responsibility of the family chores as their husbands somehow fend for the family by putting food on the table,” Balopi said.