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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

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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