ICT put to good use in Botswana elections

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

This year’s general elections which saw voters going to the polls on the 24th of October has been interesting in more ways than one. First of all, the number of presidential candidates is higher than in ten past elections. In addition to that, social media as well as other ICT channels have been put to innovative use by all the three political parties and some independent candidates as well.

Voters and and the youths have gone a step further in using the social media for both good and bad motives this election time. Facebook, for instance is awash with the political party dialogue, colours and related emblems including the recently purchased campaign buses and helicopters. Party slogans have been emblazoned on the home pages of most people’s Facebook accounts. In the era of technology where just anyone can take their own pictures through the use of mobile phones, social sites are littered with both the BCP and UDC buses on their campaign trails.

“This on its own has been able to help the course of the opposition, as even those who had missed the buses in their constituencies were able to access the social sites and get the updates on their parties,” observed one media commentator.

As the results are being released, the Electoral Independent Commission (IEC), has set up a Media Information Centre where giant TV screens are beaming a live interactive map of the country using GIS technology. According to the spokesperson at IEC, Osupile Maroba, “This is an ICT initiative that shows some information on the distribution of the polls and candidates throughout the country.”

The contesting political parties’ performance in this election is shown on the IEC map in the party colours. The colours are coded differently depending on the preferences of the different parties. If one clicks on any colour, it will automatically show you the figures for that party. However, the IEC said it will only put this interactive information on the website after verifying the final details of the results later.

Radio stations on the other hand have made concerted efforts to reach to the listeners in a different and innovative way this time. All stations in the country have dedicated a larger part of their programming time to election news. Radio Botswana 2, Duma FM, YaronaFM and GabzFM have all gone the extra mile in this year’s election coverage.

For its part, the GabzFM has devoted other platform at its disposal to reach ot to the listeners. You have the privilege of listening online, via www.gazfm.com/listenlive for a minute by minute coverage of the results as they are announced by the IEC. GabzFM is running a 36 hour live broadcast coverage specifically for these elections. This is in addition to the live political debates that the station and others have been running through the election campaign period.  

A lot of activities on the social media has also been discernible. The results are being shared and released as they come. There is no need to wait as was the case some years past, during elections.  

A University of Botswana (UB) political commentator, Professor Emmanuel Botlhale, acknowledges that political campaigns have been evolving with time. “What happened some 10 years has been changed as campaign methods were never meant to be static and will continue to change with time,” Botlhale analyses.

The UB academic describes the new approach to 2014 general elections as an 'inevitable means of reaching out to the voters'.

He acknowledges to the press that opposition using branded buses and having access to both print and electronic media, including the use of the social media, will definitely have an appeal to the voter.

“The opposition has joined the bandwagon in branding itself and they are definitely reacting to the situation of need. They are bound to fight with anything at their disposal than in any other elections before.

All the three presidential candidates have created Facebook accounts to get an extra reach. The incumbent, Ian Khama, who is 61 years this year did not let social media pass him by as well. President Khama’s Facebook page made headlines especially his first status update according to one follower Thalefang Charles. He wrote, “welcome to my official Facebook page, where I look forward to interacting with you as we share experiences and more importantly ways through which we can move our country forward. I will from time to time be available for live chats with you. Looking forward to engaging debates with you.”

And as the people become impatient for results, some get into altercations and in one incident, even fistfights. In anther incident, a policeman was injured. Such occurrences quickly go viral and shared in a way through twitter, Facebook and-emails like never before, all courtesy of new media.

Bothale comments “The political game today is totally different from any other experienced before. They (opposition) may not match the BDP (ruling party) pound for pound in terms of their evolving campaigns, but they are doing anything they can do.  What is happening to the opposition parties now is that they are receiving a stimuli from the environment and they are reacting to the needs of their voters,” he says.

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