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Trouble with Botswana Politics: Hedgehogs and Tortoises

In this provocative article Botswana poet and novelist, Teedzani Thapelo*, argues that the salvation of African nations demand the rise of statesmen in democratic space. We need, he says, to rid politics of the idle voluptuousness that very often reduces it to the level of immoral luxury, and Botswana politics is in particular so insipid and shallow it will always fail us in hours of darkness, unless we can somehow manage to redirect politics toward the demonic center of the world we live in, work, and die. Botswana opposition, he says, should heed this message, since BDP has long abandoned the art of good politics.

Why write about politics? It’s such a tiresome subject. But is it really that bad a job? Come to think about it, is it really boring, both as topic for discussion, and job? I think not. Oh, no, God forbid, I am not a politician. I swear I am not one of those fellows, and you will soon learn why. After reading this article I am sure those people who proudly write on their Facebook timelines, under employment, the word politician, may very, very seriously want to reconsider; though I doubt many politicians will consider quitting, and that’s the paradox of politics. It is in reality more than just a complex art, it is an infuriating occupation; both to the theorist and the practitioner. Some are drawn to it by that façade of idle voluptuousness that very often reduces it to the base ladder of immoral luxury. A few by its lofty ideas, poetic appellation to human imagination, and even a fewer number think it can help them change the world.

But would life be really interesting if we all just sought security and comfortable occupation in politics as it is general discoursed, and practiced? I think not. My first objection to politics as it is practiced in Botswana, and much of Africa, right now, is that it fails to both investigate and improve human experience. Second, it erroneously equates public noticeability with civic duty, a social vanity I find most irritating. More than 2000 years ago Socrates warned us against the barrenness of a busy life. But Batswana refuse to listen.

Who can ever forget the annoying cross country tramping by Ian Khama and his useless cabinet these past ten years? I am told they visited every village in Botswana. But what did they do for those poor villagers? Nothing…the barrenness of a busy life. Now Ian is taking goats and chicken from those villagers, people he did nothing to help, not even the worst politics ever gets so low. When Kenneth Kaunda returned to his mothers village after twenty seven years in power he screamed, visibly shocked; “Oh, my God, nothing has changed! God forgive me,” and then burst into tears. The barrenness of a busy life…African politics.

Politics though is an elemental force in human life; perhaps even something more than that. Just like religion, food and God, we cannot live without it. The real question is what kind of politics is useful for the management of human affairs? Both the businessman and intellectual who say they are not politicians, or interested in politics, are liars. Otherwise how can one do business and the other write his theses and research work without kneeling at the altar of politics? The priest speaking at the altar every Sunday is a politician. Otherwise how does he grow his parish? How does he remain relevant to his community?

The greatest practitioners of politics, to me, though, are those men and women who only go into politics at the point when they become self-conscious enough to participate in the making of their own destiny, those who refuse to abandon their lives to chance, and the dictates of cruel fates, and these great human beings I call statesmen. Most people who attach to themselves the label of politics are nothing but opportunists-the Masisis of this world.

The real problem with African politics is insufficiency of conventional practical knowledge in the face of darkness. We just don’t have enough intellectual insight to look more deeply into the demonic center to the world we live in, work, and die. That is why our politics always fails us so miserably in the face of terrifying circumstances, and irreparable conditions. Of course the fundamental imperfection of fellow human beings is also a problem, but these things can be remedied.

We do bad politics because inadequate human perception, our poor grasp of reality, our weak grip of the deep subconscious energies of humanity, all work against our best efforts. But more often than we exert far too little, to no effort at all to improve our political enterprises, and this is the reason why I have no time with most postcolonial liberation political parties in Africa, especially in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Politics is not synonymous with partying; it is an art of governance.

Those who wish to govern should be willing, and ready, to set aside their wishes and desires, and prepare to do what is really expected of them. This is a message that opposition parties should note. By dismissing politicians we are not saying there is no significance to human effort, only that people can, and should, do better.

Politics fascinates us because it concerns all the things that madden us, torment us, stir up the lees of things-human and natural-all the truth with malice in it, all the troubles that crack the sinews in our bodies and lives, cake the brain, all the subtle demonisms in human life and society; all evil, politics is art, it is music, it is poetry, it is religion, and we must respect, and improve it. This is the only reason why I write; to summon the reader not only to the monstrosities and carelessnesses of public life, but also things so pertinent to human existence, and human enterprise, they harness all the manifestations of human life itself… are Batswana aware of the political watershed that is unfolding before their eyes?

In a few weeks Ian Khama will be sent out to pasture. Masisi will automatically succeed. The same way Mnangagwa, and Ramaphosa, took the baton from Mugabe and Zuma respectively. The comparisons are not frivolous. The three men will, if they win the pending elections in their blighted neighboring countries, find themselves placed in the unique position of deciding the fate, and future lives, of almost 70 million human souls, 60% of whom are under the age of twenty five; a daunting task by any means, and an incredible political privilege. The statistics are contestable. That much I grant. But that is not the point. The real question is, are these men up to the task?


The moment this question reared its head in my mind I thought I should for once critique, not the major problems facing these countries, per se, but the nature, and character, of the men and women, we routinely elect to govern our countries, and solve these perennial problems. The utility of this premise is obvious. I get a good chance to look at both the people in power, and those in opposition, to assess, and critique those who are departing, and, more important, to shed light, on those who are coming into office. I have followed the careers of these men for close on forty years, the exception being Masisi. The focus on Botswana is simply to illuminate the historical character of the other figures, and help explicate the problem of politics facing citizens today.

We have a big problem in Botswana politics, and this is, in fact, a problem of African politics. I am talking about the devastating drought of statesmen in national politics, and the worrisome, and annoying, flood, of politicians, in democratic space. What do I mean by a statesman? A skilled, experienced, and respected leader; already we are beginning to disqualify some of the people I mentioned above.

A statesman always stands on political principle, and his ambition is country first and other considerations, including the particular interests of his political party, second. He leads the way, and the people, with a vision whose clarity is beyond doubt. He has education, conviction, and ideas, and builds his platform on a foundation of firm, unchanging, unchangeable, fundamental truths.

Think of Nelson Mandela and racial equality. That man, almost single-handedly, taught an entire generation of politicians, black and white, the value of living together, respecting, and loving each other and building a community called a nation. So did Martin Luther King, and many others before him. Can we say the same thing about Mugabe? No.

Statesmen, guided by a moral compass rooted in a profound sense of absolute right, and absolute wrong, build nations, not political constituencies. Can we say the same thing about Ian Khama? No. The statesman leads by moral authority, and represents the best qualities in his countrymen. Can we say the same thing about Zuma? No. He is a man capable of rallying his people to his vision, and convincing them of the soundness of his political philosophy.

Think of Abraham Lincoln laying the foundation for American democracy, through blood and fury, till a bullet struck him dead. We need such leaders in African politics. We need men and women who always speak to the very best within their fellow citizens, leaders who exhibit great wisdom, and an ability to directly deal with vexing public issues. We need leaders who build a national consensus to achieve proclaimed political vision.

Do we do this kind of politics here in Botswana? No. Already I can visualize some readers mumbling, Teedzani doesn’t know politics, let him try it… these are just words. What does he mean by these abstract, and absurd, heavy political feelings? But wait. I am still talking about statesmanship. I will get to politics, and that wayward species, the politician. Only then can you start castigating me to your heart’s content. The reality is we cannot do good politics if we neglect the bigger picture of these heavy political feelings.

All good politics derive from human intelligence and feelings; from the totality of experienced human conditions. We should never lose sight of this simple reality. What made Morgan Tsvangerai, may his soul rest in peace, and Julius Malema, successful opposition leaders? These heavy political feelings that dry political science maligns, and I would really like our opposition to rid themselves of formulaic demagoguery, and start doing politics the right way; harnessing the power of the written, and spoken word, to the wrath of intolerable human conditions.

I am not the only person exasperated by the conditions of political life in this country. What would a statesman do in a situation like ours? He’d strive for the principal things that Ian Khama failed to do; a constitutional republic guaranteeing freedom and justice for all. Described by the BBC as a man who likes to fly high, Khama proved throughout his tenure in office to be cold, aloof, ascetic, authoritarian, and his callous disregard for Basarwa, whose life he described as obsolete, and extinct, and his particular antipathy to journalists, and roughshod strangulation of the judiciary, and intellectual community, are things completely foreign to statesmanship.

Who can forget that implacably hardening attitude to the press, and trade unions, and the imposition of puritanical discipline on free citizens? Ian worked for the BDP, his family, friends, and close colleagues; not Botswana, and Batswana. The entire country he turned into a safari destination, a theater for personal amusement. He would, I believe have done a good job as an explorer, but he chose to be a politician, and I shall to return to this subject soon.

A statesman does not crave absolute power, and where he has power he never uses it in an oppressive manner, like Mugabe, and Ian Khama did. Is he necessarily perfect? No, that is not humanly possible. Churchill bombed Dresden, and the Germans are still mad. Lincoln suspended habeous corpus during the civil war…but these are exceptions. He doesn’t use force to rule over the entire country the way Mugabe did.

Lincoln took war to confederate forces, but allowed them to surrender with dignity, laying a clear example for future generations the world over. Mugabe took war to the Ndebele, and used his victory as a useful precedent to deal with future political opponents, and the result? In the end he ruined an entire nation, and republic. Even those who stood by his violent pacification of Ndebele people lived to regret the powers, and veneration, they’d invested in him.

I remember a group of Shona children, and their terror, and bewilderment, when, trying to escape hunger, and death, they found themselves crossing the land of the dead in Matabeleland on their way to Botswana…had it not been for pious Ndebele chiefs and priests, God forbid.

The immaturity and shallowness of African politics is really a terrible thing. That’s why statesmen focus their efforts on the common good, national prosperity, and the inheritance of future generations. Placed in the hands of bad, or weak, men, politics has the potential to ruin, not only citizens, but whole nations, and any prospects for creating wealth, and opportunities, for future generations. Statesmen are always conscious, and apprehensive of this, but politicians don’t care.

My problem is that in Africa, and Botswana in particular, we have too many politicians, and not enough statesman, and not many people seem to understand, and appreciate, the differences between the statesman, and politician. When Batswana say someone is a good politician they mean someone who does them favours, no matter how small..o reka bojalwa, and that sort of thing. Many people were prepared do die defending Zuma. I understand even Zulu warriors were itching to test blood. That’s the sort of narrow-mindedness I am talking about, pandering to partisan interests, and not the public good.

The statesman knows what he wants to do when he gets in office. Does Masisi know what he wants to do when he gets in office? Does he know what needs to be done? Rona ba ga domkrag…malope, really, Batswana? It is things like these that terribly pain me. If Masisi was a good leader he’d long have given rousing, intelligent, motivating speeches to Batswana, spelling his vision, admitting the problems he sees in society, the obstacles to solving them, and inciting participation, and movement, with convincing arguments, and making it hard, if not impossible, for his critics, within and outside BDP, to ignore his message.

But is there any such hope to be expected from Masisi? Nope, like Ian he’s working for his party, and not Botswana, and Batswana. Ditto, Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe. Cyril Ramaphosa seems to be bleating in the right direction, but only just…buffaloes might yet rule in South Africa. Only time will tell.

The trouble with Africa is the flood of politicians in democratic space. It may sound strange to the reader to say this but the only definition of politicians in this context is that they are the major, and most notorious, perpetrators of politics in public life. This is neither sophistry nor tautological nonsense. I have here as I write the classic, In Defence of Politics, by Bernard Crick. I have already advanced his major arguments about the nature of politics in previous articles and I am not going to repeat myself.

So what do I mean when I say politicians are the perpetrators of politics in public life? Simple. They are the men and women who give the word politics, and the art of politics, a bad name. How often have you heard sensible really nice people say; “I don’t get involved in politics? Oh, how I hate politics! There can be no person more dishonest than a politician. Politicians are thieves, rascals, hooligans…”

Talk to people who campaign during elections and you will be amazed by the kind of reaction they get from frustrated women, youth, old man, and other citizens with integrity, and a firm sense of purpose in life. Many times these campaigners get kicked out from homes of really good people simply because they mention the word politics, dipolotiki, and this is not surprising.

Look at the irrelevant endless arguing, preposterous fights, name-calling, mud-racking, back-biting, lying, sense of arrogance and self-importance that passes for politics in Botswana. Many Batswana think these dirty insults the essence of good politics. That is wrong. These things are not politics. Only badly brought up kids indulge is such nonsense.

Politicians stand behind the word politics to hide their lack of principles, personal character, and the courage to stand up for what is right. To these irresponsible citizens politics is a product of pride, the lust for power, and partisan pursuit of self-enrichment. To them the end justifies the means, no matter how disreputable, no matter how dishonorable. Obsessed with power, public images of individual grandeur, and motivated by greed, these shameless men and women in due course learn the artful craftiness of deceit, and cunning methods of distortion, distraction, denial and blame shifting…in short they will do anything to stay in the public eye, to snatch a vote, to remain relevant to the social scene.

These charlatans are found in all political parties, and they are accepted, and respected, as politicians, as patriots. This is wrong. This is where the rot in our politics comes from. These are the people who weigh down struggling opposition parties. These are the people who erode the moral strength, and institutional character, of ruling parties. These are the people who supported Zuma in South Africa, the people who elevated Mugabe to the status of a demi-god in Zimbabwe, the people who vote BDP, the people who are giving Khama millions of presents and money.

What then is politics, Teedzani? Politics is primarily civic duty. It is love of country. It is deep affection, and concern, for those you seek to govern, or already govern. Responsible citizens go into politics the moment they realize not enough is being done to fulfill civic duty; respect for the rule of law, preservation of the republican constitution, involvement in community life to safeguard the republic, watch over government, and police the fabric of society and the nation. People who enter politics from this direction are statesman, men and women, trained in humanity.

Citizens with a strong moral code of right and wrong, and patriots possessed of valuable attributes of honesty, humility, reverence for personal responsibility, and a poignant apprehension of the future state of rewards and punishment. If Mugabe and Zuma where statesmen, they would not have resisted popular censure from enraged populations. But being petty politicians, they already considered themselves demi-gods, angels beyond moral, and legal, reproach.

To me this is the greatest problem with our politics. The simple fact people who call themselves politicians actually do not know politics. This is the tragedy of African politics, the tragedy of Botswana politics. There’s dire need to educate Batswana on this subject. You don’t just wake up and decide to be a politician.

“Why,” friends ask.

“I don’t know. I too want to eat. I must pay my debts.”

Such a person is already a bad politician, before he can even start. Unfortunately this is the direction taken by many people who go into politics. You are working on a biography and you ask the old man, “What made you go into politics?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I was recruited by so and so.”

“Is that the only reason?”

“Yeah, I can’t really think of any reason. I thought it would be fun, and boy, have I done well. Never, in my wildest dream…”
At this point I’d advise you to drop the research project altogether because really you are talking to an ignoramus, a complete fool.

Sad thing is there are millions such people in our countries, and as long as we continue to look at the art of politics this way we’ll never mature as democracies. South Africa is doing very well thanks to its robust institutional framework. But Botswana, and Zimbabwe, well, a lot needs to be done here. A politician like Mugabe never stops to consider that he actually belongs to the state. No, he thinks the state belongs to him. He treats it like personal property. This is not politics. It’s theft.

A politician like Khama thinks only about the next election, not the next generation. A man like Zuma does not possess a strong desire to serve others. He refuses to recognize his imperfections and strive to overcome them, to be the best person he can be. Such men are not statesmen.

Not one of these men defended liberty and virtue in their countries, not one respected and honored the moral sanctity of the constitution. Not one of them put country first, making it stronger, stable, and taking it on high on the bases of growth, inclusiveness, harmony and social justice. Who can really respect all those terrible decisions and judgments made by these men all these many years? As a matter of fact Zuma and Mugabe had no qualms about directing political vision towards personal gain, in broad daylight. Khama chose simply not to bother working with other leaders at home and abroad. Why bother? He’d no political vision. Batswana wanted him to play, and he did.

This is where we stand now; on a most tantalizing political cliff, as anticipation begins to enter the public consciousness regarding the men earmarked to succeed these political failures; Mnangagwa, Ramaphosa, and Masisi. All three owe their elevation to their political parties, and not the best political parties in the world. What should we expect? I am afraid not much. I said before Mnangagwa is a split image of Mugabe. I have nothing to add. Ramaphosa is a self-made man.

He has a strong grounding in civic duty and grassroots politics. He is a firm constitutionalist. But the master he serves, the ANC, is a merciless behemoth. There is, I think, hope for South Africa. Trouble is ANC has already squandered the public will conferred on it by admiring and grateful citizens only twenty five years ago. In Wretched of the Earth, France Fanon argued African liberation movements would start degenerating in twenty five years. Who can argue with that now? Great man, and great philosopher, that France Fanon.

As for Masisi, ah, I think, I should leave him to Botswana opposition parties. This brings me to one interesting point, the drought of statesmen, and flood of politicians, in Botswana opposition parties. What really is happening here? Can the statesmen in Botswana opposition please stand up? Do these people love this country? Why can’t they originate a political vision, and sustainable platform, that actually transcend their petty, almost personal, differences, and move towards the goal of national preservation?


One would assume opposition parties are familiar with the organization of political conflict in society, and that they consider their sole responsibility to be the search for political resolutions. Are these people really interested in good politics? Do they know what is at stake?

Already, Masisi has moved to ads, PR campaigns, futile obsession with public opinion, including the harmless pieces I write-the man is in a panic mood, but does opposition capitalize on this poor political strategy? No, they are busy fighting among themselves, risking loss of public support, and sympathy. Does the reader see what I mean by the value of political education?  Even the few statesman-like people in opposition are being pilloried with reckless ease, and far too many decisions, decisions that eat at the fabric of political unity, are now based solely on power, wealth, and conformity to facile legal rules, and not a look at BDP and its effect on the nation and the economy. Is this proper opposition politics?


Masisi follows the crowds, and if need be he looks set to live and die with his finger in the air, blowing wind, laboring on a dead horse, maintaining an image of leadership even though we all know he is a just a vacillating opportunist, but opposition does not seem to care much to deliver the knockout punch. Is there something we don’t know here? What is happening! Could it be there is some truth in the saying all politicians are hornets and mosquitoes, that citizens can never really understand why they have to endure them? Is politics really this useless? Is it necessary the burden of political affairs should be so irritating? Is it surprising that griping, moaning, and complaining on a daily basis Batswana continue to return BDP political amateurs to office?

Part of the problem with opposition I think is that people in this side of politics often thrive for a while, and then lose steam, or worse, suffer extinction, and just as often these happens to be the people who really care to push the opposition agenda. Mental fatigue is a serious strain in politics-not to mention personal material resources, and dealing with entrenched incumbency does not help the situation. In the end some opposition members begin to feel just comfortable with marginal political participation.

The few really seasoned opposition members also develop entitlement complexes that madden new entrants in the game, especially impatient, and frustrated youth. In the end the chain of moral authority and mutual beneficence collapses and far too much time is spent mending fences.

Pray, opposition must realize this also happens to ruling parties. Giving up is not an option, it is moral suicide, and most of you guys are good Christians. If in doubt adopt the defense strategy of the hedgehog who protects himself by rolling into a tight ball, quills jutting at enemy position, shielding the tucked face, feet, and belly; in short fight with spirit, and determination, never give up. The human spirit is an immeasurable political treasure. In BDP you are face to face with the tortoise.

The shell is still hard though much of this might by now amount to nothing but sham. The tortoise symbolizes longevity in some cultures, and some of these creatures, just like BDP, have been known to live long lives. Adwaita of Aldabra, for example, lived 225 years but eventually, like all nature, died.  Note too that some species of the tortoise, just like BDP politicians, have very small brains and others do not have hippocampus in the brain, an organ that relates to emotion, learning and memory. You can live long like BDP without learning, or feeling, anything, about the people you lead. Both Zuma and Mugabe tried to survive like these tortoises but see what happened in the end. Tjisingapele tjo hula.

More leaders in opposition must really start turning to the amour of statesmanship. Yes, I accept the nuanced subtle differences between the politician and the statesman but it must take advantage of the fact BDP completely abandoned good politics long ago.  If everybody in Botswana remains stuck in political mediocrity, who is going to stop political corruption? Who is going to prevent national ruin? Do you really want all this bribery, extortion, cronyism, influence trading, and peddling, and graft, and embezzlement to go on unchecked? Do you want to facilitate criminal enterprise in the country through voluntary abdication? Batswana have not abandoned you; not yet. The use of power by government leaders to extract and accumulate private enrichment is not permissible.

So the use of corrupt means to stay in power. The repression of opponents. General police brutality. The use of extracted resources for political preservation, and power extension purposes, and the politically motivated distribution of financial and material inducements, benefits and spoils; things like namola leuba and Ipelegeng…these are criminal things, and they must stop.

Batswana need education, jobs, and sustainable social safety nets; not handouts. If nobody stops the gravy train this country will be what nature decreed it to be before we turned it into a home: arid desert and dustbowls. Is this what you want?
I don’t think so. Tembezelani Batjibilibili, shangoyapalala.


Teedzani Thapelo* is author of the novel Seasons of Thunder, and the books, Battle against the Botswana Democratic Party: point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, Argument against the Botswana Democratic Party: an intellectual inquiry, Ian Khama Presidency and Vanity Fair in Parliament: an African tragedy.

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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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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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