Btv interview with Khama was a PR exercise

One thing that emerged from President Ian Khama’s recent interview with Botswana Television (BTV) is that the interviewer, Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo, lacked the basic skills and techniques to conduct a world class sit-down interview with the state president.

Kaboeamodimo’s demeanour, posture and interviewing skills exposed him as the apologetic interviewer who is afraid to take on his master. He failed to probe the president with highly critical questions that would have otherwise given the interview the spark it deserved. This glaring failure by Kaboeamodimo to be a willing participant in the whole interview is perhaps a clear sign that the whole exercise was staged by the government in the year of the general election. It is clear that the interviewer was either intimidated by the interviewee or he was just reluctant to ask his master uncomfortable questions.

Like an intimidated Grade One pupil, Kaboeamodimo sunk in his chair and kept on referring to a small note book and a laptop computer for questions. While there is nothing wrong in doing that, the amount of time he took referring to his notebook exposed Kaboeamodimo as a weak and less confident television interviewer.

In a television interview, appearance and mannerism of the interviewer matter the most. In this instance Kaboaemodimo was at best extremely apologetic. This is not to say that he should have been disrespectful of the president, but he should have been in control of the interview. Neither am I saying that Kaboeamodimo should have adopted the more combative interview style of Stephen Tucker or Tim Sebastian or even our own Reginald Richardson (though there is nothing wrong with that), but he should have taken a cue from the great broadcast journalists such as Larry King and Barbara Walters.

Surely in our case the interviewer appeared to have chosen to act more like a facilitator than an interviewer. He preferred the infamous Dali Tambo-Robert Mugabe kind of interview. For the better part of the interview, Kaboeamodimo adopted a more unfamiliar kind of questioning. He would ask a question and then allow the president to go on and on without attempting to challenge some of the statements the president made. A few follow-up questions were asked. As a result the interview was unnecessarily too long. The president was asked to address issues such as health, agriculture, education, foreign policy and many others. To those who watched the interview with a critical eye the whole thing was a huge torture. More than 80 percent of the interview was the repeat of the 2013 or even 2012 State of The Nation Address. The issues were not new.

The interviewer also failed to take the president to task when he addressed the issue of the Mosu compound. When he raised the Mosu question, Kaboeamodimo was hesitant and extremely apologetic: “I want to conclude by something very personal to you, if you allow me…” Great interviewers won’t allow themselves to be apologetic in their line of questioning. What for? Again, Kaboeamodimo only asked the president about the Mosu compound and left questions about the Mosu airstrip.

The president’s answer regarding Mosu was filled with holes. Was the Mosu compound a residential place or a lodge? The land board awarded the land to the president to start a commercial lodge. Is the airstrip on private or public land?  Who are his friends who are said to have been part of the Mosu compound? These are some of the critical questions that Kaboeamodimo ought to have asked.Kaboeamodimo also failed to challenge president Khama to produce evidence on allegations that some journalists are in cahoots with the opposition parties to besmirch the president ahead of the 2014 general election.

Khama was given a microphone to instead besmirch the journalists and the journalism profession by making unsubstantiated and unverified claims. Despite his poor interviewing and presentation skills Kaboeamodimo raised issues around the internal BDP squabbles and the resignation of the former chairperson Samson Moyo Guma. Kaboeamodimo, however, failed to probe Khama more about his succession plan. For example, what is his take on the electoral loss of his first cousin Ramadeluka Seretse? Is there a succession plan? Is Seretse part of the succession plan as alleged by many in the BDP and in the media?

The only highlight of the interview was when Khama talked about foreign policy, in particular Botswana’s stand on the recent Zimbabwe harmonised election.
The president maintained that while the Zimbabwe election were “free and peaceful” they were not fair. And also that Botswana would not be participating in any future SADC observer missions should the regional body fail to address demands for an audit of the elections.

Certainly Kaboeamodimo failed to impress, but Khama was a fair participant. He was clearly in his favourite turf. The interview was the public relations exercise that he needed. The question one may ask is, what was the president doing with a piece of stick that he played with during the entire interview?

So many questions were left out of the interview. The reluctant interviewer failed to rise to the occasion. He failed to interview Khama, but gave him the microphone to say whatever he wanted to say. What a missed opportunity! Perhaps Kaboeamodimo should focus on nurturing talent at BTV than doing something that he is clearly clueless about.