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Mistrusted institutions cause for concern

Publishing Date : 08 October, 2018

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Scholars have repeatedly expressed concern about the consequences low levels of political trust might have for the stability of the democratic political systems. There is no doubt that in Botswana most people believe that leaders of political parties are more concerned with serving their own political ambitions, compared to serving the people. The Afrobarometer survey has established this over the years.


From conversations that are influenced by the political shenanigans happening around us it is clear that the trust Batswana have on most oversight institutions is going down. But of particular concern is the growing picture of a total mistrust of politicians, the very same people who make our laws, make policies and pronounce our destiny as a country. This should call for self-introspection especially by those with political ambition.


In terms of trust, we continue to learn that Batswana trust is highest in traditional leaders, followed by the Presidency and with reducing number trusting parliament, the ruling party, opposition parties, and local government. From these observations one should quickly note another disturbing trend where citizens tend to trust certain individual as compared to monumental institutions like the National Assembly. Those who are participants in these institutions need to re-think their approach and profile themselves better.


The bickering at the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and the likely of a tussle over the name of the political party ahead of elections in 2019 will further damage the trust that Batswana have on the political system. The ruling party’s factions which are evidently shaping up catalysed by an epic cold war between the current President and former President will further dampen people’s will to participate in the democratic dispensation.


This is particularly hurtful to our democracy because this is the time when we expect people to register to vote. Surely the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is expected to release very low numbers at the time when the registration process completes. Given the lack of resources to push the registration process at IEC, the mistrust of politicians is not helping the situation at all.


Traditionally, the dominant view is that democracies need high levels of political trust as a form of diffuse support from the citizenry. Diffuse political trust can be considered as an essential resource to govern a society effectively. But where are we going as a country if political leaders, who are stuck with, have no support at the base? They are seen as untrustworthy, deceitful etc…


Trusting citizens are more likely to perceive political decisions as legitimate than distrusting citizens even if these decisions are unfavourable to their own particular interests (Rudolph & Evans 2005). Distrusting citizens, on the other hand, are more likely to calculate the costs and benefits of compliance and this might lead to free riding practices. We urge our politicians to carefully analyse the Afrobarometer study and take remedial actions. This has to be done at individual level, politically party level and at a national level.


The current manifestations in Botswana connect well with the Edelman’s 2014 trust barometer which reveals a continued lack of public trust in government. We cannot fool ourselves here, governments are led by politicians through appointees, most whom are political appointees. According to Edelman’s 2014  analysis, “Trust in government fell globally 4 points to an historic low (44 percent) making it the least trusted institution for the third consecutive year.”


Nineteen countries — including Sweden, India, the U.K., China, Ireland and Mexico — experienced declines in government trust over the last year. In a 2013 survey, government dysfunction surpassed the economy as the problem Americans are most likely to list as the country’s most serious.


We agree with those who are of the view that for people to regain confidence in our institutions, alternatives to traditional, top-down governance models that require more engagement and collaboration from ordinary citizens and grass-roots organisations should be tested. It is also suggested that government should partner with private companies and nonprofit groups to develop better ways to provide basic services.


It should also establish opportunities for citizens to be meaningfully involved in public decision-making, community building and civic life. Botswana is among the countries that has been accused repeatedly inward and outward for its top down decisions where government decides and citizens oblige.

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