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Reviving Civic Voice

Botswana Forum for Action and Reform (B-FAR), is a group of well-meaning Batswana, from different walks of lives, were concerned at the state of affairs in this country. There are many things to be concerned about but I will mention just a few of the things which made us to talk amongst ourselves, agree that something should be done, and sacrificed our time to do it. These are some of those problems:

Economy: Failed economic diversification, citizen economic exclusion and marginalization of local private enterprise;
Society: High and growing levels of unemployment, income inequality, poverty, poor education, health and public services;
Politics: Erosion of democracy, increase in opportunistic politics, tribalistic undertones and political ingenuity;
Governance: High levels of corruption and economic crime, and compromised systems of accountability;
 
In the middle of such problems, the civic voice has been silenced. There is not enough voice of reason, voice of caution, voice of sanity, voice of balance, voice of dissent, voice of persuasion.
 

The theme for this event is in three parts: Reviving Civic Voice; Demanding Reform; and Calling for Action. We want that voice back. This is our country and we should not just watch as spectators when things are not going well. We are here to resuscitate that voice, and we are here to demand reform to address the problems I mentioned earlier, and we are here to call for consistent action for them to be addressed to move Botswana forward. Our call will be to everyone: individuals, institutions, companies, government departments, political parties and leaders.

That group of concerned Batswana decided there is need to establish an entity that will promote the acceleration of the socio-economic transformation of Botswana, and its refocus towards three areas: sustainable development; citizen engagement; and inclusive growth. They are in the process of establishing an entity to be called the Botswana Forum for Action and Reform (B-FAR). The intention was to have completed the process before the elections so that we hit the road running immediately after the elections and get to work with the incoming government. The process is highly advanced and will be completed within days.

B-FAR is being established as a Trust, or in the form of a Trust, based on the instrument we all know as the Notarial Deed of Trust. In terms of function B-FAR is a mix of a lobby group, and advocacy group, a special interest group and a think-tank. B-FAR will be independent and non-party. It is intended to lobby for, advocate for, and represent the interests of an accelerated and radical structural and socio-economic transformation agenda for Botswana with an aim to enhance sustainable development, widen citizen engagement and achieve inclusive growth. We will demand political, institutional, socio-economic and structural reform and call for urgent and determined action in these 3 broad areas.

This will be done through: public policy debate; political education; community mobilization; citizen engagement; leadership development; and action-oriented programmes. We will use various tools to achieve the above, including: opinion polls; media campaigns; publicity stunts; networking sessions; meetings and workshops; exhibitions; newsletters and reports; social media and other communication channels.

Limitations and exclusions. There are two areas we will not deal with: religion and morality. The reason for this is that religion is naturally a divided area that not anyone can bring together, and we believe morality is covered adequately by law unless it is purely of a religious nature. We will be careful in dealing with issues of culture. We love our culture and we will not ordinarily come against it unless it is deliberately misused to obstruct progress.

Strategic focus. We will be deliberately and emphatically pro-citizen and pro-Botswana. We will be for progress and against what stalls progress, regardless of the source. We will commend, applaud, celebrate and be friends with that which is good for Botswana. Whether it is a person, an institution, an organized group, a political party, a stated policy, a pronounced strategy, an action or lack thereof. If it is good for Botswana we will respond positively to it.

On the other hand, we will condemn, denounce, become enemies to and speak against that which is bad for Botswana and Batswana. Our friend is progress and proponents of progress and our enemy is the stalling or reversal of progress and those who do it. Our beneficiary is the citizen of Botswana and our trophy is a prosperous and all-inclusive Botswana.

Our Slogan. We have selected the first four words in the national anthem as our 2-part slogan. “Fatshe Leno … La Rona”. The slogan speaks about the country and about you. It is meant to bring you to the reality that in deed Botswana belongs to you. It belongs to you as much as it belongs to any other Motswana regardless of position and power.

You are like an equal shareholder to a company. You carry one vote as everyone else. No one carries two votes. This should make you feel confidently assured and appeal to your patriotic conscience to do and seek what is right for your Botswana and for you as a Motswana. We intend to prioritize our work. Between now some time after the election, we have selected four areas that we will focus on. These are: Politics; Corruption; Inequality; Unemployment.

Politics. It is an election time and the little time left before elections gives us an opportunity to comment, where helpful to do so, on what we perceive as wrong and what we perceive as right. We are already witnessing self-serving opportunistic politics, a lot of deception and propaganda and the electorate being taken advantage of.  There is a lot to speak about.

Our first message is to advice Batswana to vote wisely. We are at the crossroads where good leadership is particularly critical for Botswana to go forward. It is simple: leaders can make or break a country; they can pull all of us up or down. You only have to look at our neighbours for examples of how leaders can take the country back: South Africa under Jacob Zuma and Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. Similarly, for those that are doing well, the top 2 countries with the highest GDP growth in the world are African.

These are Ethiopia followed by Rwanda. It is not because of ideology, or parties, or manifestos but their leaders. At this point in time, we want voters, especially those that still have to make up their minds, even after listening and referring to the manifestos, to scrutinize the top leaders and vote for a President that will bring the desired change.

Corruption. They don’t call it cancer for no reason. Just as a person who does not deal with cancer dies, a country which does not deal with corruption collapses. Our situation is terrible. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) reported by Transparency International in 2018, Botswana recorded 61 out of 100 and was ranked the 34th least corrupt country out of 175 countries. In Africa, we lost the top spot to Seychelles. All of a sudden, we have become a corrupt nation. We should never forget that we have been corruption averse since time immemorial; we were the best in Africa but not anymore. We have caught the dangerous disease that we desperately should heal from.

Our first call for action in this regard will be to motivate for the outgoing MPs to account for the Constituency Funds that were under their charge in the past electoral period. Going forward, the Constituency Community Projects (CCP) expenditures should be transparent and fully accounted for through a public accounts disclosure system to be developed and followed across the country. This will be followed by the pursuit of accounting for and the retrieval of the huge sums of money that has been stolen from the people of Botswana. We will add our voice for this scourge to be brought to an end.

Inequality. Our view is that after corruption, the next evil Botswana faces is inequality. With an HDI growth rate that is 5th in Africa and an extremely high GDP per capita, the country can be said to be rich, but its people are poor. The previous government has done well to raise the economy but the problem is that it does not reach an ordinary Motswana. The Gini Coefficient is a measure of the extent the distribution of income among individuals and households deviates from a perfectly equal distribution.

According to UNDP, the Gini Coefficient for Botswana measured in 2009 is stated at 60.50 (there is an unofficial mention of 53.30 which apparently was measured in 2017).  This places Botswana as the third (3th) most unequal country in Africa, after only South Africa and Namibia. The question we have is, if the minority white people dominate the South African and Namibian economies to the extent that it has caused so much inequality it can be likened to ownership of those countries, who owns Botswana? Why and how would anybody else other than Batswana own Botswana? This is the message that needed to be told or debated but there was no one to tell it strongly enough even in manifestos and political rallies.

Our first call to action is to interrogate pro-citizen programmes of the political parties and point the electorate to any promises made. We should emphasise life-changing programmes not promises of free gifts of items or money meant to lure voters, but programmes intended to directly target citizens and improve their lives in a meaningful and lasting way. Those programmes should come to life after the elections.

Unemployment. Botswana’s unemployment rate is not only high but growing. Officially it increased from 17.6% in 2016 to 18.1% in 2017. Some people argue that the figures are low because we have deliberately excluded what is classified as Frictional Unemployment, Structural Unemployment, and Seasonal Unemployment.  Despite this exclusion, Botswana’s unemployment rate is the 11th worst in Africa. To make matters worse, the high inequality situation is such that unemployment affects certain sections of the society more than others, and it happens to be the women and youth.

Our first call for action regarding unemployment is not to the politicians but to the institutions. We are going to probe 3 institutions (Ministry of Investment, Trade & Industry (MITI), Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN)), and demand their commitment in relation to large scale commercial production of industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana, initially exclusively for export.

This is an industry that has raised ailing economies elsewhere and has even entered the stock market in places like the USA. This is in addition to it having substantial beneficial and sustainable employment creation potential. Going forward, we are going to interrogate our pre-occupation with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as opposed to Domestic Direct Investment (DDI) and the impact of existing citizen economic empowerment programmes.

B-FAR will follow a 4-stage internal process of consensus building and effective targeted delivery. The four stages are: 1. Selection and prioritization of issues; 2. Fact-finding around the selected issues; 3. Agreement on how to deal with the issues; and 4. Acting on what has been agreed. We will not present individual opinions or decisions but those of the Forum. We will endevour to ascertain that when you come across something being said or done by anyone of us under the name of the Forum, you should understand it to be the position of the Forum.

As I wind up, allow me to state the obvious. You are the media. You carry and transmit and deliver messages. You have heard about the planned B-FAR, our immediate calls for action upon its registration and we invite you to work with us in making sure that the messages reach the intended audiences. I thank you once again, for being here and listening to our story. We pray that we become friends with you.

As I said earlier, our friend is anyone who does what is good for Botswana. We trust that you always do, and naturally we should be friends. But we also ask that we be partners. As an industry you have the interest to promote what is good. But you are also Batswana. It is your country too. “Fatshe Leno … La Rona”. You have to help us to make it better.

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Opinions

The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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