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Why BOFEPUSU disengages from 2019 General Elections

World over, trade unions are known to be the voice of people’s aspirations, particularly when labour is confronted by political opportunists, as is the case now in Botswana. Circumstances bordering on authoritarianism, dictatorship, unilateralism, populism and undemocratic regimes prompt trade unions to partner with political parties to usher democratic dispensation.

African countries have gone through different political engagements with political parties, which Botswana trade unions have so far evolved only through two phases. According to South African emeritus professor Eddie Webster there are four types of political party and trade union partnerships. Botswana as a country has moved through two different partnership types, which were evidenced in 2014 and 2019 general elections, respectively.

The first phase occurred in 2014 General Elections when Bofepusu made a public pronouncement to rally behind Umbrella Democratic Congress (UDC). BOFEPUSU backed the UDC comprising of three opposition political parties in their pursuit to upstage BDP, which has been in power since independence. Bofepusu had a backing of public workers normally at loggerhead with the government for not heeding to their call of improving conditions of services. 2014 General elections saw the opposition ushering an increased number of opposition parliamentarians due to Bofepusu support. The union further declared war on the BCP for allegedly betraying the opposition parties’ cooperation project, for staying put of opposition conglomeration.  The Federation said it wanted to end the BDP’s alleged abuse of the working class. (WeekendPost, Botswana, 2014).

Trade union leaders worked with the opposition by attending meetings and probably covert financial support. South African Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and African National Congress (ANC) coalition is more advanced than of Bofepusu and UDC, which was more cordial and emotive based. Bofepusu leadership remained confident that once UDC attain power, they will be rewarded with political positions as characterised by political parties and trade union partnerships across the globe. Equally, the UDC then has enticed the Federation leadership into governance structures. Further trade union iconic figure Comrade Andrew Motsamai was lured to contest for Gaborone Central constituency, which he declined due to uncertain elections outcome.

Immediately after BOFEPUSU’s realisation, the Federation embarked on Thabathula retreat, ultimately undertaking a decision to, “Appointment of Political Lobby and Advocacy group/team (PLAG).” The group was to identify specific issues of national interest, make robust research, formulate sound position papers and identify legislators capable to motivate motions at National Assembly or find a public figure capable to effect change in a communal domain. The group had to make visitations to various workplaces to address and influence members take decisions that are of national interest.

Even to pressurise legislators or the government against taking specific conclusions. The group had to work independently from the leadership for it to perfectly work well without undue duress. Over time, the leadership disregarded the idea of PLAG on the basis of simply being clouded with excessive powers. The leadership was so consumed with powers that they adopted a common-sense approach to tackle issues of national interest.

The main reason why Bofepusu enters 2019 General Elections as a feeble player, is due to inability to execute their establishment mandate. Firstly, the Federation vowed to, “Formulate and promote comprehensive workers agenda with full participation of workers themselves.” A deliberate attempt to a collective decision making has been a far-fetched reality for the Federation. There have been insignificant attempts by the Federation to source decisions from affiliate members when the organisation was confronted with dilemmas, especially the furfure surrounding Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). There had been snippets of occasions where the Federation converged special congresses to get resolutions over salary negotiation saga. Sadly, decisions were normally concluded by the leadership and members cajoled to accept agreements relayed by influential leaders.  

Similarly, Thabathula declaration motivated that the Federation, “Will not affiliate to any political party but vote as a block.” Unfortunately this strategic perspective was side-lined immediately after the leadership crossed the border back into the country. No matter how the Federation sounds smart and cunningly they had taken a stubborn stance to align to UDC during 2014 National Elections. The leadership published a hit-list comprising of unwanted political enemies of the struggle. Messages were spread across the country not to cast votes for the earmarked political culprits. The leadership publicly pronounced that Bofepusu has taken a decision to support UDC and urged its members to add weight to the opposition party.

Major causality of 2014 hit list included Dumelang Saleshando whose party BCP was punished for not forming an opposition coalition. Daniel Kwelagobe for BDP also lost his constituency as he was part of the hit list. All Bofepusu affiliates bar Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) backed the UDC. Bopeu distanced itself from the position, citing their public service obligation to serve under any political party in government.

BOFEPUSU leadership took a bold decision to rally behind UDC because they wanted a regime change, which Khama led government disregarded the PSBC by taking unilateral decisions to the detrimental of workers. Additional the employer through their mandate givers, disregarded BOFEPUSU’s proposals and never acceded to the demands despite economic burdens. “Any political party that appears to accede to workers’ demands will be rewarded with block votes by the Federation,” so says the Federation leadership. The UDC then, resonated with Bofepusu hence massive support towards a conglomeration of a political party.

Astonishingly, 2019 General Elections has taken another twist, Bofepusu leadership finds itself disintegrated amongst different political parties, which exacerbates the Federation leadership from taking a stance to support a political party. Unlike the 2014 General Elections were the whole Bofepusu leadership was behind UDC, this year’s elections brings another dilemma. The better part of Bofepusu leadership are Alliance for Progressives (AP) sympathisers, which has ditched the UDC due to matters bordering on principle, others support the BDP President Dr. MEK Masisi, who is seen as a messiah because of his nationalistic stances. In the mist of the leadership others are still clinging onto UDC.


BOFEPUSU UDC supporters have disdain for the current leadership, since they view them as sell-outs because of their stance to exonerate themselves from political alignment. Others in leadership think their counterparts are dishonest for not rallying behind Masisi’s BDP because he has shown tolerance towards workers by affording them negotiation space and affording assured consecutive salary hikes for the year 2019/2020. Though Masisi has shown snippets of good relations with workers organisations, such as acceding to their salary demands, his government has failed dismally to facilitate for resuscitation of the bargaining council.  The proMasisi faction strongly believes that those anti him are being dishonest as the leadership has vowed to support any political party which appears to favour labour.

The opposing faction that supports the UDC postulates that it is not a matter of an individual accolades rather it is about his political party that has poor historical relationship with trade unions. The Federation is fragmented moving towards the general elections, the lowly paid bracket, mainly comprising of Manual Workers Union constituents, have vowed to cast a vote for Masisi’s party because of the P500 increment after PEMANDU talks conclusions. Others have sheer disdain for the former President who supports the UDC, and consequently opt to support Masisi’s party.

All these quandaries prompted Bofepusu to take a stance of not supporting any political party for the sake of saving faces, as they would have no answers to provide. But one may conclude that for now Bofepusu leadership are too sceptical to move with the UDC, would rather live with the devil they have wrestled with than the angel that promises better social-economic and pro-labour alternatives.

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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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Opinions

Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022
Craig-Cloud

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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