You could have been confused, anybody would have been. Perhaps it was Friday the 13th or April 1st, but it wasn't. It was last Friday, the 21st of August. I was driving home from the shops listening to Gabz FM, my preferred radio station when I can get it, and I get an SMS from my husband in Gaborone- "Radio Botswana- Emergency Speech by the President". So I quickly change the station and enter mid-speech. The first thing I realised was the person speaking spoke in first person but the person was not the President of Botswana. Later I realised it was the new director of broadcasting services, the boss of BTV, Daily News, and Radio Botswana, Mr. Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo, a civil servant. He was standing in as the president. That alone was bizarre. One would think if the president has something so urgent to tell the nation he might have taken time out of his schedule to do just that- tell the nation. Instead he chose to pull the new director down into the quagmire and compromise his integrity too.
The speech was about the personal beef between President Ian Khama (of the "A Team") and Gomolemo Motswaledi (from the Barataphati Faction) both members of the Botswana Democratic Party. The factions have been wrestling each other for power in a dirty, public battle. So the President felt it was suitable to tell his side of the story on the public owned media, for he didn't just use the civil servant to read his political message on Radio Botswana, he did the same on BTV and he did it numerous times throughout the day.
To compound all of this we are coming up on a national election. Besides the fact that the President used public assets for his own personal agenda, a case can be made that the address was a form of advertisement for the BDP.
In yesterday's Mmegi, Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, the ministry that controls the state media, Ms Pelonomi Venson- Moitoi had nothing to say. What did anyone expect given her heavy handed, barely hidden attempt to regulate the press with the recent Media Bill, now law, that requires journalists to get permission to operate from a council set up by politicians?
Friday happened and as the editorial in the same issue of Mmegi portends, "Friday was a new low in government media abuse by BDP". Watching the BTV version of the speech after the 9pm news on Friday, I couldn't quite believe the audacity of the whole thing. Botswana has never experienced such blatant disrespect for the electorate. I felt very sad and for the first time, scared. We are in for some rough times ahead I'm afraid.