Friday, May 24, 2024

When Politicians Distract the Public

Politicians purposefully changing the discourse away from substantive national political, social and economic issues is the oldest trick in the political play-book. The wonder here is that we all still fall for it and allow party candidates and representatives to get away with it. And really, some of us might have been born in the night, but surely not last night?

It’s a form of manipulation that happens everywhere and all the time. And often the media is a knowing and willing accomplice. This campaign season though, a ray of hope appeared in the form of public political debates where communities could listen to political players and entities debate the strategies they would employ to move this country closer to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, Vision 2016, other developmental objectives as laid out in the National Development Plan and other strategies for excellence, remember those?

Despite misgivings and a certain level of skepticism, even state media came on board with regard to these political discussions and deliberations and have hosted a number of such events with some success. Public perception with regard to the ability of government owned television, radio and print press delivering on debates of substance wasn’t totally unwarranted. In the past, when national attention has been gripped by pertinent issues such as the Botswana’s seemingly loose cannon foreign policy approach, extra-judicial killings, the power crises, charges of corruption brought against office bearing political representatives and members of the ruling party; state media has been disingenuous.

Insincere and dishonest in that by not reporting on such occurrences it actively and passively participated in creating and/or perpetuating the fallacy that all is well in our land; that our leadership have matters so well in hand all that was left for them to with their time (which is for all intents and purposes our time and our dime) was sit by firesides in rural villages handing out blankets, playing soccer on national TV, opening innumerable workshops and throwing the occasional concert. In the past, state media has allowed particular partisans to create an image or argument that favors their particular interests. And in the past, the ruling party could avoid such discussions, so firm was its grip on power and so assured was it of emerging victorious come general election that they did not deign to participate in such forums. Times have since changed and political tactics with regard to manipulating civic society and the public have become more sophisticated.

It’s about the art of saying something while actually saying nothing. The application of techniques such as logical fallacy, propaganda and influence methods which more often than not involve the suppression of information or points of view by crowding them out, by inducing people or particular groups such as the youth, to stop listening to certain arguments, or by simply diverting attention elsewhere are much in evidence. Watch carefully, listen even more attentively; because when members of the BDP’s communications committee and BDP representatives come on state television and tell us that unemployment causes them pain, what in actual fact does that mean? How does it alleviate unemployment or create jobs? What does their pain over this issue (and is such pain physical, mental, spiritual or emotional) translate into with regard to tangible action and measurable results? It is all sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing. If they’re in so much pain, that they need to broadcast it, then they should go to the doctor and be relieved from duty, permanently, so that those not in discomfort and can be appointed and go about the serious business of employment creation.

And it’s not just the ruling party who are up to divergence and distraction shenanigans, the opposition is also mired in the same mud. To use Gomolemo Motswaledi’s death as an electoral tactic is nothing short of despicable. Those present at his memorial and funeral will tell you, that there were elements present who were ‘stirring’. Their fervent hope and their ardent desire was to stoke people’s passions to such a degree that violence would break-out. During the course of my last telephone conversation with Gomolemo, after certain elements had expressed a measure of unhappiness with an article I had written on the subject of corruption in Botswana, he said to me, “Chedza, I’m dubious about the existence of a hit-list, but if there is one, you are on it.” We laughed then, he and I, and it was with great merriment that I repeated what he said to family and friends.

We both considered it laugh-worthy, though yes, we have as a nation suffered through the loss of life where state actors were involved, and that in essence is the topic that should be under debate. That and why government continues to refuse to give us the answers we deserve and why members of the military shot and killed John Kalafatis and others, were then convicted of murder and then summarily pardoned without explanation. Keep your eyes on the prize people, the stakes are really high. The private media must also bear the brunt because they too have been involved in this type of duplicity. Mainly because as mainstream independent media they are profit centres ÔÇô responsible for generating their own earnings – and the scurrilous, the scandalous, the sexual, the peeks they allow us into the private lives of the politically and publically relevant sell newspapers fast; and ensures that bodies corporate will continue to pay the premiums for the advertising space that generates revenue, keeping these publications in business.

That said, the fourth estate have a sacred obligation to inform, educate and keep the real issues on the front pages. This general election let us not be distracted by who said what and do they have the right? Let’s look at the content of what they are saying. Let’s keep asking when cases of mal-administration and corruption are going to come before the courts; remember Shanghai Fengyue Glass?

Let’s keep asking why (or why not) the Director General of The Directorate of Intelligence and Security hasn’t been suspended at the very least, asked to resign or been terminated, especially when others have been fired or removed for far less. Let’s keep inquiring as to why the Kalafatis killers were pardoned? Was his killing state sanctioned? Let’s call a spade a spade, speak the truth to power and stop allowing those in power to evade giving us the answers were owed instead offering lame excuses for failure. Politicians ask us to place them in positions of authority and responsibility, this general election let’s ask them to walk the talk instead of their usual talk the walk, and lets have a national conversation that is all at once relevant, pertinent, significant and meaningful.


Read this week's paper