Botswana’s Ruling Political Party ‘Politicizing HIV/AIDS,’ Should Remove Campaign Billboard, NGOs Say
A group of nongovernmental organizations on Monday called on the Botswana Democratic Party to remove a campaign billboard that features a prominent AIDS advocate and links voting for the BDP with receiving antiretroviral drugs at no cost, Agence France-Presse reports. The billboard includes a picture of Helen Ditsebe-Mhone -- who in 1992 became the first person in the country to publicly announce her HIV-positive status and founded the Coping Center for People Living with HIV/AIDS -- and includes the words, "Free HIV/AIDS drugs. Vote BDP." The billboard was constructed ahead of the country's general elections, which are expected to take place in October, although a date has not been announced (Agence France-Presse, 9/8). According to a joint statement signed by numerous NGOs, BDP is "politicizing a serious national tragedy," Botswana's Mmegi reports. The statement was signed by the Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organizations, the Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organizations, the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS, the Botswana Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS and the Botswana Christian AIDS Intervention Program (Motlogelwa, Mmegi, 9/7). "This ... has the potential to enlist innocent citizens who will be invariably made to believe that those who can benefit from the antiretroviral program should belong to BDP, as it is the one that has access to national resources," the statement said, adding that the billboard "was a serious error of judgment." The statement continued, "We therefore humbly call upon the BDP to withdraw the advertisement before it causes more damage and in particular to the image of the country's leadership."
The opposition Botswana Congress Party said that the billboard was "most deplorable," according to Agence France-Presse. "The billboards are evidence of trashy politics," BCP spokesperson Dumelang Saleshando said (Agence France-Presse, 9/8). However, BDP Executive Secretary Botsalo Nuvane said that other political parties also have "politicized HIV/AIDS," Mmegi reports. "Read their manifestos and you will understand that the HIV/AIDS struggle is now a political issue," he said (Mmegi, 9/7). Ditsebe-Mhone previously said in an interview with Mmegi that she agreed to appear in BDP advertisements because "prominent ruling party officials helped her at a time when she was jobless," according to Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse, 9/8).