By Mahatma Ramoloko
We are settling into the ‘New Normal’ of life with COVID-19, sporadic lockdowns and social distancing.
Because of this, we have become more aware of our human need for connection.
Because we couldn’t meet or gather in numbers, we remained connected by holding meetings on Google Teams, throwing birthday parties on Zoom and chatting more with family in WhatsApp groups.
There was also increased activity on social media; a number of Batswana started YouTube channels, posted Facebook Live videos or started food blogs.
This means that all the content from Botswana is ‘floating around’ the Internet, adding to the swarm of stories from people and brands all over the world.
In this way the playing field is level. If you can Google it, you can find it. The question remains: how relevant is Botswana content in the digital context? Do our stories, our narratives matter?
Being Out There
Content creator, travel journalist and influencer Nick Bonté seems to think so. “We are living in a global digital world where information is readily available, and we can get whatever information we need from anywhere in the world. Being able to put yourself out there to be seen and recognised is important.” Indeed, our style of storytelling is best suited to the digital medium; oral tradition lends itself to being recorded in a podcast or broadcast live on social media.
Publishing our stories is how we co-create our contemporary culture and share it with the world.
“Batswana are a very unique species of mankind. We are a very ‘spongy’ nation; we can adopt other cultures very well and easily follow other cultures. But it is difficult for others to identify with our culture, and they need to in order to understand it. We need to tell our stories so that we can be recognised,” he said.
He believes that telling our stories is a way for us to add to the international narratives that are changing our global consciousness.
It is a way that we start conversations and put out our points of view.
It is also a way for us to carry forward our history and investigate how the personal narrative fits into the national archive. “We have a long history that is untold, and because of this we don’t know ourselves. Our grandparents, the people who know about our past, pre-Independence, are dying out. We need to be able to listen to them and learn our own history instead of relying on others to tell our stories. It is up to us to write and film them.”
But making a living from creating content isn’t necessarily as easy or straightforward as it might seem.
Director, producer and writer Oarabile Carol Keosedile says, “Everyone I speak to about the creative industry recognises that everything is evolving very fast, and we are working in an industry that is not regulated. Even if the industry is reserved only for Batswana, we will still not benefit from the telling of our stories.”
The challenge for artists to make a living solely from their art is a real one that only a handful of creatives have managed to surmount. “The industry is not yet well funded or remunerated sufficiently, so we are living on a day-to-day pay-cheque. During this lockdown we got the opportunity to see the number of creatives on Facebook. They were sharing their pages and videos, but they won’t be able to get money for their content,” she continued.
Understanding the ins and outs of the creative digital economy requires a number of skills that the average local creative is yet to master.
Market segmentation, targeting, accurate pricing and producing paid content are a web of factors that go into being able to turn a profit from digital content.
This, and a favourable policy environment may give local content producers a fighting chance. “I’d love for the government to sit with the creative industry and start with regulation in order for us to actually benefit from our work. When it comes to the labour act, we fall under the informal sector because we have not been catered for,” Keosedile added.
The rest; the creativity and learning about digital publishing and distribution, is up to us.
Internet protocol television (IPTV) is one way that film makers can take advantage of digital innovations and participate in the digital economy.
Because of the way that we consume content, traditional television (while still consumed quite widely) is rapidly being replaced with and internet videos and streaming platforms.
Audiences now choose what they want to watch, and when they want to watch it – all from their desktops or the palms of their hands.
As wholesale provider of telecommunications infrastructure, BoFiNet, readies itself to launch a new IPTV platform with a focus on local content, local creatives are presented with another way to reach their audiences – locally – and tell their stories to an international audience.
Creating and distributing digital content means that Botswana’s narratives will be recognised on a home-grown, international platform.
During his keynote address at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland graduation ceremony in 1970, Sir Seretse Khama was famously quoted as saying “A nation without a past is a lost nation. And a people without a past is a people without a soul.”
He was encouraging the young Africans to write their own stories and own their own narratives – a call to action that is as relevant today as it was then.
One could argue, ‘If a nation without a past is lost, then so is a nation that doesn’t actively create its future.’