Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Learning Bad Habits Early: UB Student Elections

Recently we had student elections here on campus.  It was quite an interesting experience for me as an outside observer.

Before I get into the elections let me mention something about corruption in Africa.  I know I’ve talked about bribes and questionable behavior previously on my blog and mentioned that Botswana has a reputation of being largely immune to these problems.  But if you ask a local about corruption in Botswana they would say it is rampant.  I found out not long ago that country rankings for corruption is based in part on actual corruption, but even more so on publicity about corruption.  In other words, South Africa is considered highly corrupt.  Well, the reason for this is because there is so much discussion in the national and international media about SA’s lack of ethics.  But no one in the media talks about corruption in Botswana.  Botswana just isn’t that interesting.  So it appears there is no corruption, but the truth is that no one cares enough to talk about it.

The student elections last week gave me some serious insight into corruption in Botswana.

Student elections are a subset of actual politics here in Botswana.  Student candidates are sponsored and supported by national political parties.  I’m sure that sounds totally foreign to everyone reading this.  Can you imagine the Republican Party paying for advertisements for the 20-year-old kid running for President of Student Council at Texas Tech? Yeah, me neither.  But here that is exactly what happens.  Part of the reason there is backing for student candidates by political parties is because most of these student politicians will actually end up going into government positions and becoming Ministers or members of Parliament in the future.  In a way, this sounds like a good idea, right?  Basically these kids are getting practice for their future careers.  But it’s not quite as nice as it sounds.  They are getting practice all right.  But they are also getting exposed to all the ugliest aspects of politics early on.

Last week the political party supporting one candidate paid thugs to beat up the opposing candidate and his supporters.  And then they stuffed the ballot boxes so that their candidate won.  Everyone knows this happened.  This is common knowledge.  Remember the 2000 elections and the recount that took place in Florida?  At least that was a situation where the outcome truly was unsure.  Well, here in Botswana everyone KNOWS the ballot boxes were stuffed by hired hands.  Yet the results of the election are still being honored.  If that isn’t blatant corruption then I don’t know what is.  And what is even worse is the fact that these kids are being taught horrible habits before they actually become REAL politicians.  Will this type of behavior become heightened when they run for actual office in a few years?  If it’s ok to beat someone up today will be it ok to kill someone in a few years in order to win an election?

As I’ve said before I really don’t like politics or politicians.  I think a lot of U.S. politicians engage in plenty of questionable behaviors, but at least they aren’t making it blatantly obvious and then bragging about it. 

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