Min­is­ters lost the plot on so­cial me­dia

Lesotho Times - - Guest Column -

LAST Fri­day evening I (and later dis­cov­ered many other Ba­sotho) watched an un­be­liev­able bulletin on SABC news. The first episode of the drama was per­formed by a cer­tain Du­misani Dlangamandla, Swazi­land’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter. This was at a fo­rum held in Maseru for SADC com­mu­ni­ca­tion min­is­ters. Two main fea­tures of his speech stood out. Firstly the man­ner of his pre­sen­ta­tion and se­condly, the state­ments he ut­tered.

Mr Dlangamandla and his coun­ter­parts were par­tic­u­larly be­rat­ing cit­i­zens of their coun­tries for us­ing so­cial me­dia to sow con­fu­sion and in­sta­bil­ity and ex­ag­ger­at­ing the prob­lems in the re­gion, and re­cent de­vel­op­ments in Le­sotho came into sharp fo­cus. The man from Swazi­land spoke an­i­mat­edly about how they had been made to be­lieve there was chaos in Le­sotho, yet he had since dis­cov­ered there is peace in the coun­try and that none of the neg­a­tiv­ity por­trayed seemed to ex­ist. He spoke as pas­sion­ately as a man try­ing to save his cousin from ex­e­cu­tion by fir­ing squad.

You would bet he had the big­gest stake in Le­sotho is­sues and knew the coun­try like a pro de­spite spend­ing just a few days in a plush ho­tel and hardly ever meet­ing the cit­i­zens whose necks are break­ing un­der the yoke of bla­tant im­punity and sick­en­ing dic­ta­to­rial ten­den­cies. In his mis­guided opin­ion, the silent emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma this na­tion has ex­pe­ri­enced at the hands of a na­tional army was of zero sig­nif­i­cance.

As far as he was con­cerned, it is ac­cept­able for tax pay­ers to fi­nance (mostly un­nec­es­sary) op­er­a­tions of an in­sti­tu­tion that can­not even be re­garded as a na­tional as­set but a long-time tor­men­tor of its own peo­ple. We are talk­ing here of an LDF that has never brought vic­tory home against even small na­tional armies like Swazi­land and Cape Verde.

The Swazi min­is­ter’s tirade was not sur­pris­ing par­tic­u­larly in view of the coun­try he hails from. His is a coun­try that cer­tainly can­not be re­ferred to as a model of democ­racy. Their King Mswati III has sweep­ing pow­ers and bears the no­to­ri­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­ing known as Africa’s last ab­so­lute monarch and their so­called elec­tions are just a ruse. So, a min­is­ter from Swazi­land would not be the best preacher of what democ­racy and civil lib­er­ties are all about. I am not sure if any­one told min­is­ter Dlangamandla that Ba­sotho first learned of a hit list that in­cluded the names of busi­ness­man Thabiso Tšosane and Lt. Gen­eral Maa­parankoe Ma­hao from so­cial me­dia and that the two even­tu­ally got elim­i­nated.

Why should Ba­sotho there­fore not trust so­cial me­dia? Our na­tional ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions never pro­vided this in­for­ma­tion and would not even dare con­sid­er­ing that those with evil and mur­der­ous in­ten­tions would want to keep it se­cret. And, by the way, both our ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions have never been known as news-break­ers. Their man­date is un­der­stood even by my five-year old son.

And if the Swazi min­is­ter some­how learned about the hit list I won­der if he ad­vised the Le­sotho govern­ment to look deeper into the va­lid­ity of the threats and take ap­pro­pri­ate mea­sures to pro­tect those who had been threat­ened with death. But all of a sud­den he takes to the podium and froths with pas­sion about the ‘peace’ that pre­vails in Le­sotho. If he were to lose his wife, brother, sis­ter or close rel­a­tive to a bru­tal state, he would know ex­actly what it means to live un­der the yoke of the type of dic­ta­tor­ship he was try­ing to shield. And more im­por­tantly, if he saw no ac­tion taken by the state against those who mur­dered his close rel­a­tives – the same way it hap­pened with Mo­hau Qo­bete, Mokhe­seng Ramahloko and Maa­parankoe Ma­hao – then he would learn with a bleed­ing heart how help­less it feels when the state it­self fla­grantly re­fuses to set the wheels of jus­tice in mo­tion. For such cruel states, pro­tec­tion of mur­der­ers takes prece­dence over pro­tec­tion of peo­ple’s lib­er­ties in­clud­ing speech and free as­so­ci­a­tion. Did Swazi­land and other African states ut­ter a word of open crit­i­cism against Le­sotho when the Le­sotho De­fence Force tor­tured and dis­fig­ured sol­diers and de­fied court or­ders to re­lease those il­le­gally de­tained? No, they kept quiet be­cause they have nor­mal­ized un­demo­cratic and despotic be­hav­iour by their club of pals.

The se­cond episode of last Fri­day’s SABC news drama was per- formed by none other than Le­sotho’s Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Khotso Let­satsi. He al­luded to the fact that govern­ment is work­ing on a pol­icy to con­trol the seem­ingly lim­it­less use of so­cial me­dia. When pressed fur­ther to give high­lights of this pol­icy, he cau­tioned it was un­wise to do so as the en­emy or op­po­nent would be privy to the de­tails of what was be­ing con­cocted. I could not be­lieve this!

Per­haps the min­is­ter needs to ex­plain ex­actly who he refers to as the en­emy or op­po­nent. Was he speak­ing as a govern­ment min­is­ter or as a mem­ber of a political party? In my opin­ion (and that of many other stunned Ba­sotho) he was speak­ing as the lat­ter. A govern­ment min­is­ter should never re­fer to any ci­ti­zen as an en­emy or op­po­nent. They are ac­count­able even to the pigs and hye­nas that live in this coun­try.

Ti­tles like min­is­ter and deputy min­is­ter some­how tend to blot the real mean­ing at­tached to them. Th­ese peo­ple are pub­lic ser­vants and should al­ways dis­play readi­ness to serve and set the same ex­am­ple as that of new Tan­za­nian Pres­i­dent John Magu­fuli who has hu­man­ized and pri­or­i­tized the needs of his peo­ple with a fresh brand of self­less and ser­vant lead­er­ship. He has made huge cuts in travel and mean­ing­less cel­e­bra­tions for ex­am­ple and in­stead pri­or­i­tized the sup­ply of more hos­pi­tal beds and other so­cial ser­vices.

He is cur­rently the new dar­ling of Face­book com­men­ta­tors; the same me­dia that some gov­ern­ments (like ours) fight like it’s a guerilla ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion. In a con­text like ours where the “per diem in­dus­try” (as one fa­mous NUL pro­fes­sor once called it) reigns supreme and is a thriv­ing gold­field, this Tan­za­nian pres­i­dent would be most wel­come.

And why should a govern­ment be se­cre­tive about a pol­icy that is meant to im­prove (as­sum­ing that’s the goal) the wel­fare of the cit­i­zens? Se­cre­tive states hardly bear the hall­marks of true democ­ra­cies. They are usu­ally bru­tal regimes whose main goal is to si­lence as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble and crush dis­sent at all costs. Good-per­form­ing gov­ern­ments have no rea­son to panic ev­ery time cit­i­zens raise their voices on an is­sue of na­tional sig­nif­i­cance. In fact, self-re­spect­ing gov­ern­ments pay at­ten­tion and do their best to ad­dress na­tional griev­ances with­out la­belling cit­i­zens en­e­mies or op­po­nents. En­act­ment of poli­cies and laws is usu­ally a con­sul­ta­tive process. Those that are kept out of pub­lic discourse are nor­mally dra­co­nian.

Per­haps th­ese SADC min­is­ters could learn from other more civ­i­lized gov­ern­ments how so­cial me­dia can be used as an ef­fec­tive in­ter­ac­tive tool to en­gage cit­i­zens in their re­spec­tive coun­tries. Some world lead­ers like Barack Obama use so­cial me­dia to re­spond di­rectly to ques­tions and com­ments from the gen­eral pub­lic. He hardly fears any­thing be­cause he knows for sure he can­not please ev­ery US ci­ti­zen and neg­a­tive (even some­times in­sult­ing) com­ments are likely to be posted.

SADC lead­ers should rather fo­cus on im­prov­ing their ap­palling style of gov­er­nance in­stead of wast­ing re­sources chas­ing af­ter the pub­lic that ends up find­ing so­cial me­dia as their main out­let of pent-up frus­tra­tions re­sult­ing from this bad lead­er­ship. Af­ter all, who would hon­estly con­sider a govern­ment mouth­piece like Le­sotho Tele­vi­sion and Ra­dio Le­sotho as au­then­tic sources of in­for­ma­tion?

Ma­hao Ma­hao is a lec­turer in the Fac­ulty of Education at the Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.