Botswana's President Ian Khama should reflect on the Media Practitioners' Act, which is causing such tension between media and government,  writes Misa official Rashweat Mukundu in this open letter to the president. It;s a bad law, and does Botswana's democracy great damage.

Rashweat Mukundu of Misa writes in his Open Letter to Botswana President Ian Khama:

Open to Letter to His Excellency
President Ian Khama of Botswana
State House
Gaborone, Botswana.

Dear Mr President

Hope I find you well and that your work and family are fine. As for me, work and family are fine. I am made aware that the business of running a country is taxing, nevertheless I am hoping you will have time to read my letter. It was also good to see you talk on CNN, Voices from Africa programme, a couple of months ago. I particularly liked your emphasis on your desire to be in touch with as many of Botswana’s citizens as possible so that you have first hand information on what is happening in your country. I also liked those images when you were riding what looked like a motorbike or a ‘small car’ in the forest, I don’t know the exact name of this ‘small car’. You looked so relaxed unlike some of our Presidents who strike fear in us every time they pass by or open their mouths and are always in suits and tie. I am always in jean and T-shirt as you were that day. It is my desire to try one of these ‘small cars’ when I come to Botswana one of these days. So far I have only been to Francistown to buy soap and toothpaste which I could not find in Zimbabwe. I take this time to also complain about immigration officers, especially one big woman wearing red earrings, she was really nasty to us, we slept at the border. 

I was also part of the crowd in Harare in 2008, at the signing of the Global Political Agreement between belligerent political groups in Zimbabwe. This was before I moved to Windhoek to continue the struggle that has been part of my life since 2001, fighting for press freedom in Southern Africa. It’s a struggle far from won but one which i hope to see won in my lifetime. I will be turning 32 on 2 September 2009, and God willing i have another 30 or so years to see this struggle through. The reason i write is to try to convince you to join me and many Tswana’s and people of Africa and the world in this struggle for press freedom. And also to tell you that this struggle in one that will make your people very very happy and prosperous. Oooh, going back to that time in Harare, last year,  people were very happy smiling and making all sorts of noise, singing and dancing. You might not have seen that as you were seated on the VIP table.  I was part of the noisy group that cheered you when you walked into the Harare International Conference Centre. The reason why we did so was because of your stance on Zimbabwe, my long suffering country. As you saw President Mugabe was not very pleased and at some point he addressed you personally, trying to remind you that he has been around much longer, aah we just laughed at him. You stood out against all odds to oppose a regime that has drained a promising nation of all, dare i say, anything positive, imaginable. You stood against the bulling of the old nationalist horses of the region. You were prepared to go all the way for the good of the people of Zimbabwe and i would want to think you still are.  For that i thank you.

Mr President I write to ask you to reflect on the current situation in Botswana especially the enactment of laws such as the Media Practitioners Act as well as the way the state media especially BTV is covering the coming elections. The Media Practitioners Act, Let’s call it the MPA, sounds like a computer soft ware programme, is really not necessary Your Excellency. In this day and age of internet, mobile phones, why should Botswana license journalist and media houses?. Apart from this, registering media houses and using laws to silence journalists in one way of silencing the whole community. This is so, Your Excellency, because the media are conduits, or the thermometer that you use to gauge the public mood, i am sure you don’t want a thermometer that reads 0 degrees Celsius 24/7, or to be told by those who surround you that everyone agrees with you. Now if the media are afraid, how are you to know or hear the alternative voices?. While you say you will talk to people personally, it might mean that you will hold court at state house grounds every day, as there are too many Tswanas and you won’t be able to talk to everyone. The current scenario caused by MPA is like putting a thermometer in a freezer so that you can have only one reading. I hope that despite this law having been passed, you will personally support its review especially to allow journalists to run their own Voluntary Press Council. Journalists are human beings like all Batswana, they make mistakes and can even write lies, but that does not mean that they should be thrown in jail or banned. Journalist work in a world different from Medicine and Engineering, which are far dangerous to human lives when mishandled or if we allow every Jack and Jill to say i am Doctor, that is why we can never never allow Doctors not work without a license or registration. Journalists however can be anyone, yourself, Your Excellency can even write and edit your party newsletter and are you to be registered under MPA then?. Journalists work with information, some of it hidden, sources, some who don’t want to be quoted. It is for this reason that registering journalists, is as good as licensing people to talk, can you imagine that Your Excellency, being given a certificate to talk and arrested when you say something bad, or being told you have exhausted the number of words you are allowed to speak per day. MPA is exactly doing this. Those who surround you, your Excellency, who sound intellectual, academic and analytical, did not tell you that many newspapers in the developed world are even shutting down because the ‘newspaper’ that you and i know in Africa is disappearing and that the ‘journalist’ you and i know in Africa is slowly becoming irrelevant. Someone told me yesterday your Excellency and i pass this to you, in secrecy, that there are now internet based newspapers that are published everywhere and that many people are even getting their news via the internet and also doing what is called citizen journalism. These things caused by ICTs, I don’t know where they will take us. In other words the journalists you are pursuing and newspaper you are pursuing with MPA will soon be no more. I don’t know whether by technology or by implementation of MPA. Now your Excellency, if I can read the Washington Post, The Zimbabwe Herald via internet in Gabs, are you going to license them as you are doing newspapers in Botswana?.   Your Excellence, MPA, is an archaic law that lacks foresight, what will happen to it when all Tswanas can read newspapers on line? What happens when citizens publish and write their own stories, are they to be licensed and registered under the MPA. I don’t think Dr Ramsay told you this.

MPA your Excellence reminded me of my home country Zimbabwe as well as a newspaper called Pravda, i hear it once existed in the time of a man called Joseph Stalin, then there was no internet, as it was cold physically and politically in his Kingdom of the USSR. Pravda only recorded one temperature reading, 0 Degrees Celsius, every day. Now your Excellency do you really think Botswana and Africa will go anywhere if we are still at the stage of Stalin and Pravda?. From what you told CNN you surely don’t want to be like these dinosaurs like Stalin and the other one across the border, have forgotten his name. I don’t think so. Why don’t you take us out of Egypt like Moses did President Khama, to a land of promise, of freedom, of a hundred newspapers in Gabs, of a free and democratically run BTV.

Journalist in Botswana your Excellency are aware that they make mistakes and neither are they fighting you, they are just writing stories, some read -0, some 29 Degrees Celsius, some 5 depending on the day. That is the nature of life and democracy. They have come up with the Press Council, to address concerns that you and other citizens might have on their stories. Please your Excellence support this body and remove the MPA.
Lastly your Excellency the people at BTV are causing problems, I am sure you never told them to cover you only, but they just think, out of unknown fear and unwritten rules to cover you and your party only. Please tell them to stop this and cover all parties in Botswana. In Zimbabwe they used to do that, and SADC said it was wrong in terms of the SADC Guidelines on the Conduct of Free and Fair elections, I hope I got this right. Now if SADC  condemned Zimbabwe for violating this, would you want Botswana of all places Your Excellence to be compared to Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe sure sure? No no no!. I am sure you will put an end to this right away, i mean right away. The best way to stop BTV from embarrassing you is to enact a law that separates it from you, so that those people running it don’t feel obliged to cover you only. You should see them quaking in their boots when it comes to you, Your Excellency they lick the ground you walk, it makes some of us laugh. President This, President That!. Those people at BTV are afraid of you your Excellence, they are afraid of being fired, please remove them from your care before they cause more embarrassment to you, they are not even practising journalism now, they are practising Political Public Relations, shame on them.

Lastly Your Excellence I support you when it comes to banning beer drinking, I think beer drinking is wasting too much money and causing domestic violence. I stopped drinking myself. I now drink water. 
Your Excellence I wish you all the best and hope that you will take these issues seriously. For surely as the sun rise again tomorrow the image of Botswana is on the line because of the MPA and BTV. These things are your enemies and enemies of the present and future of Botswana; please deal with them once and for all.  Give them a policy shock and awe! Surprise us for once, just once!

Sincerely,

Rashweat Mukundu
21 Johann Albrecht St
Windhoek West, Namibia
rashweat@misa.org, Mobile 00 263 81 367 5362 
Ps: What a pleasant surprise it will be, if you drop me an sms inviting me to ride that ‘small car’.