Reflections on Botswana’s 43rd Independence Anniversary: The Youth Must Take the Center Stage of Political Leadership!

This is a guest post by Basetsana Maposa. She is a former graduate student of Ohio University

Botswana celebrated the 43rd Anniversary of its independence as a sovereign Republic on September 30, 2009.  Since independence, Botswana has flourished from a poor, undeveloped country with virtually no paved roads, no local wage labor, and an annual per capita income of less that P60 ($12) to a middle-income country. Botswana is one of the few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that has enjoyed a relatively stable political environment since gaining its independence. The country has managed to establish a liberal multi-party system for decades even through ‘dark’ periods where most African countries were tormented by dictatorships or single-party rule. Botswana is hailed as a good example of good governance in Africa. Just recently, ex President Mogae became the second recipient of the Mo Ibrahim Prize of Governance.

Independence means different things to different people at different times. To some, it means attending an Independence Day function, singing the national Anthem or even spending some time with family and friends. Others simply mark the day as another holiday in their calendar. Independence to me includes these celebrations and continues to mean much more; it is about reflecting on a nation’s past accomplishments and the challenges of the future. This year’s independence is particularly significant for me because it is the first time in 10 years that I am home to celebrate Independence Day with family and friends. For the last ten years I celebrated this anniversary in the Diaspora and reflections on the day were clouded by nostalgia.

This year’s anniversary is also significant because it comes when the country is bracing for its 10th national elections and for the first time, I will exercise my democratic right of voting for my candidate of choice. President Seretse Khama Ian Khama centered his independence message on the upcoming general elections and stressed the importance of participation not only in the electoral process but in other aspect such as the economy. Similarly, the elections continue to attract top front page headlines in every newspaper in the country. This year’s elections are noteworthy because a record number of Batswana have registered to vote particularly the youth and women. After years of voters’ apathy, about 723,917 people have registered to vote which is about 68% of eligible voters and increase of 15% from the 2004 elections (Mmegi Online). This number might seem insignificant compared to South Africa where about 80% of eligible voters registered. It is however important to note that despite the fact that Botswana has been able to hold peaceful multi-party elections at five year intervals since 1969, low levels of political apathy remains a dominant feature in the society especially among young people.

Although electoral participation is not the only measure of civil participation in governance, it can also provide insight into the engagement in civic and political process. Anecdotal data suggest that the Batswana youth are not participating in the political process because they feel alienated from the political system and are cynical about government. However, this does not necessary mean that young people are not interested in politics.

The diffusion of modern technology to every corner of the globe has put young people at the center of communication and development paradigm. More young people are engaging modern technology applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and others to bring about social changes. During the 2008 USA presidential elections, the deployment and use of these modern technology applications made young people the hub of electoral campaigns and the engine and wheels for the change that brought President Barack Obama to power. The young people used these applications to claim leadership roles in the electoral process.  These technologies are here in Botswana and young Batswana have engaged them with the same tenacity with which their counterparts in the US and other parts of the world have done. It is imperative that we, as society, also recognize the importance of these phenomena as catalysts for social change and allow the youth to take center stage in our development process.

As we celebrate and reflect on the freedom day, it is important to remind the youth to gain faith and engage in the governance and the democratic process. Young people should also stake a claim in the leadership structures of political parties, and government. This is the surest way of pushing for a change from the status quo and transforming the leadership and political system in the country. Already young people are facing multitude challenges such as HIV/AIDS, high unemployment, alcohol use and abuse. They are also constantly blamed for all societal ills such as violence and crime. These challenges can only be overcome by including more young people in leadership positions in the country. For Botswana to fully realize the ‘promise’ of independence it should fully engage young people in policy and decision making processes. Instead of relegating young people to youth wings of political parties, they should be supported and encouraged to stand for political offices. This can only begin when government and other stakeholders start seeing young people not as outsiders or mere participants but partners in the development process. Botswana need to realize that for young people to positively impact their communities and the country, they need institutional, government, financial and media support.

Independence Day has come and gone, and the future Botswana stills looks bright. But it can even become brighter if we begin to engage more young Batswana in governance and make them the hub of our development and decision making processes. Finally, young people should not be seen only as electoral voters but as players in the political process. As cliché as it may sound, young people are the future!
Bokamoso

4 Responses to Reflections on Botswana’s 43rd Independence Anniversary: The Youth Must Take the Center Stage of Political Leadership!

  1. great article Basetsana!but somehow to me it seems like talking about young people getting involved in leadership is all too familiar to the call for the same young people to go to church, yet everything inside both of these institutions says 'this is the stuff of old folks'. Yes we have generation youtube and facebook, but these networks are structured such that only the most recent and most interesting news matter! how then can a lasting constituency be built under these hyper conditions that favor all that is fresh and new? Without creating a bunch of Hollywood politicians and leaders? Gawd forbid more twittering governators such as that of California dramatically swinging a knife on screen while talking policy 😉

  2. I concur with Kazi on both points-the great article and the rhetoric of calling young people to the political arena. Nonetheless, I believe we cannot deny the fact that we as young people do need to get involved, and most importantly to bring a 'new song to the church'. We need to remember that though some of the main challenges that faced our countries at independence still exist; there is a new pile- one that requires diverse solutions.
    In the case of Botswana, Basetsana has already mentioned some of the challenges. Though the majority of these still exist and grand strives have been made, our biggest challenge in terms of economic growth is that we can no longer rely on our diamonds! Therefore as the youth we need to branch out and be innovative. Unlike our parents and grandparents, we are privileged – we have education (though not all of it is good). Let’s make sense of it!
    I am glad that you will be voting Basetsana, and I hope you encourage everyone you know to do the same.

  3. Thanks you ladies for the comments. I totally agree with you , our institutions -not only political institutions- are not youth sensitive. I think this can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as attitudes by our political or religious leaders that young people do not have sufficient knowledge to be included in the planning and decision making process. However, I think the internet is actually changing that. For instance, the internet through, social networks, is opening a new space for political interaction. Young people are able to share thoughts on important issues and connect to help push a collective political agenda. I also think the internet also simplify the political process which tends to be elitist. Further, these engagements also increase civic literacy. Kazi, I understand your concern about how these networks are structured in such a way that the most recent and interesting news matter, but I also think even mass media outlets such as TV, newspapers are also that way. My other concern is that the internet can also exacerbate class base gaps in knowledge especially here in Botswana or Africa.
    And YES! Bose the youth need to get involved in the policy formulation process for relevant and effective policies. Also youth involvement will bring fresh ideas and energy and reality to the process.

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