IT’S A CASE OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES – “FIXES THAT BACKFIRE” SCENARIO
A couple of months ago the Botswana Institution of Engineers published their position paper in the Weekend Post Newspaper titled “BOTSWANA ROADS INFRATRUCTURE FACES POTENTIAL MAINTENANCE TIME BOMB“. Incidentally, about this time last year (2016) I wrote a short article in a newspaper called Boidus Focus trying to say the same thing about our infrastructure in general, not just road infrastructure.
But I don’t know if my message came out as clearly as the BIE position paper puts it: “…Unless the road network is adequately maintained through the requisite funding the country will pay a highly amplified cost for having to undertake an ever increasing kilometrage of back-log maintenance which equates to an untenable maintenance time bomb.” In my article I concluded: “Lackadaisical approach to preventative maintenance… eventually leads to more urgent and expensive maintenance faults. Therefore lack of preventative maintenance eventually leads to higher maintenance costs of your infrastructure”.
The discussions and conclusions as presented in the BIE position paper remind me of the story of “the Urgent file V/s Current file”. The story goes: at one point the Police Service in a certain country in Asia found themselves inundated with urgent files (urgent cases to investigate). Every now and then a senior police officer would bring an urgent file to the junior officer and instruct him/her to set aside the current file and work on the urgent file. And the junior officer would oblige and do the work with due diligence and attention. Except that more urgent files kept coming leading to more and more current files being set aside.
Eventually the complainants for the files set aside started coming one by one to the station commander to plead with him to treat their cases as urgent as they had been delayed for too long, and as we all know, “justice delayed is justice denied”. So the station commander would then take the files down to the officers and declare them as urgent. That meant the number of urgent files increased even further and by the same token, the amount of time delays on current files also increased even further, leading to more pleading with the station commander to treat them as urgent and thus fueling the vicious circle.
This is exactly what happens overtime in facilities management if no due attention is given to preventative maintenance, but it usually happens in such a subtle manner that management does not notice it. In fact many property mangers; facilities managers or organizations whose mandate includes maintenance of some property or infrastructure such as buildings, street lighting roads, power lines, pipelines, equipment etc, often find themselves caught up in the same situation at one point or the other.
Why? Because the mindset of limited resources sets up a competition between responsive maintenance and preventative maintenance, and responsive maintenance often wins as it shows the symptoms of damage to the property. Therefore it is treated as more urgent than preventative maintenance.
However, there are some unintended consequences of making the decision of prioritizing responsive maintenance over preventive maintenance. Over time, it is these unintended consequences that come back to add to the problem you were trying to eliminate in the first place. What then happens is that the fix or the attention to the problem grows and since there is “limited resources”, less attention is given to preventing the problem from occurring again. And so the problem keeps coming and increasing, slowly but surely in quantity and severity.
Here is how the problem looks like from a systemic viewpoint:
This structure is called “Fixes That Backfire”. The S Next to the circular arrows denotes same direction while the O denotes opposite direction. The big circular arrows indicate how the parts interact and affect one another over time. e.g. as the level of problem goes up, the level of fix goes up (same direction).
In a Fixes That Backfire situation a problem symptom cries out for resolution. A fix is quickly implemented which alleviates the problem. But overtime, the unintended consequence of the fix exacerbates the problem symptom, leading to more fixes. The cycle continues and the problem symptom gets worse and worse with time. In our structure above if you insert “demand for responsive maintenance” in place of “level of problem” and insert “action on responsive maintenance” in place of “level of fix “, and then insert “number of roads that missed preventive maintenance” in place of “unintended consequences”, you will start seeing the picture.
Due to “limited resources” the responsive maintenance competes with preventative maintenance and so when there is action on responsive maintenance there is no action on preventative maintenance. Thus, over time the number of roads that missed preventative maintenance increase and reach the stage where they also call for responsive maintenance. And so, as more and more infrastructure calls for responsive maintenance less and less attention is given to preventative maintenance. The vicious circle then continues to run.
Interestingly, as this vicious circle continues to run, overtime another competitor then joins the raise: Emergency Maintenance! When emergency maintenance enters the raise both responsive and preventative maintenance are given less or no attention, and so the level of unintended consequences starts to grow faster. That means the vicious circle now starts to run not only faster but also more severely. And I am told we are at this stage with regards to our A3 road.
But this type of problem does not only exist in roads maintenance. It is prevalent in all other types of infrastructure – buildings, water pipelines, sewer systems, street lighting, equipment etc. etc. For example, how many of us can recall buildings which at completion of construction had nice well working central plant air conditioning system but are now infested with ugly wall mounted consoles or split air conditioning units?
Or how many of us live in villages where the water pressure is always so low that water only comes out of our taps at night because when the supplier tries to increase the pressure numerous pipe bursts occur that lead to closure of the line and worsens the water shortage situation? Or how many of us have now come to terms with the fact that street lights would go off more often during the rainy season? These are simply symptoms of organizations that are caught up in one of the systemic archetypes like the one described above.
But there is no blame! It’s a case of unintended consequences. Here is what the truth is. The systemic structure or Archetype called Fixes That Backfire as depicted above runs in most of our lives and our organizational systems. As we solve problems we create some unintended consequences. These unintended consequences eventually come back to us as more and more problems to solve. This is why we are so attuned to the culture of problem solving that we don’t find time to develop the culture of systemic thinking. Yet it is only when we have the systemic thinking skills that we can uncover and reverse the underlying structures that keep generating these problems.
Lackadaisical approach to preventative maintenance as depicted above is a sign of lack of capacity for systemic thinking. It is similar to setting aside the current file and attending to the urgent file. It is a sign of an organizational culture that is leaning more towards problem solving and less towards systemic thinking. The term organizational culture here we refers to the industry as a whole, not just those responsible for maintenance of the roads.
This culture of problem solving, doing more responsive maintenance at the expense of preventative maintenance, eventually leads to more urgent and expensive maintenance faults, which is more like the situation we are in as described by the BIE position paper. Nobody intended to leave the roads until the status they are in today. It is the underlying structures that led us to this stage. But we couldn’t see the situation unfolding because we don’t know how to see it clearly. It is not due to the aftermath of cyclone Dineo that we find ourselves in this situation. It has always been coming but we couldn’t notice because of the subtleness of the underlying structure that was driving the situation.
So, what should happen regarding the current status of our roads? Of course we must find money quickly and attend to the roads now, lest we find ourselves in a worse situation next year. But it is also more important to start learning to see how the underlying systemic structures lead us to such situations, and then learning how to work with such structures to prevent the situations from happening again in the future.
So, while honing our skills for problem solving (timely response to damaged roads before they dilapidate) is necessary, it is even more important to develop the skill for systemic thinking – seeing ‘the whole’ rather than isolated parts, seeing interrelationships rather than things; seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots. In other words, learning to see archetypes in play like the Fixes That Backfire as demonstrated above and learning to discern points of high leverage is the way for sustainable solutions.
For any comments, questions and/or further clarifications feel free to contact me at:
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.
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
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.