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.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.