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Response to Kesitegile Gobotswang

LEBANG MPOTOKWANE

Initially, I was going to respond instantly to Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang’s opinion piece (Weekend Post, 23 – 29 September 2017) headlined “Mpotokwane, Midwife or Abortionist”.

Then family and friends advised me to ignore Gobotswang’s piece and not dignify it with a response. But in the end, I decided to respond, however belatedly, because the piece not only contained many untruths about me, but was also misleading and obviously intended to discredit me.

For instance, Gobotswang unfairly accused me of wanting “to ensure that the (UDC) project is aborted.” I’ve been involved (with others) in a tireless and often thankless effort to unite Botswana’s opposition parties since March 2003. Why would I now suddenly try “to cause maximum confusion” in the UDC with a view to aborting what I have spent much energy and personal financial resources trying to achieve over so many years?

Gobotswang also accused me of having made “startling allegations that membership of Botswana Congress Party (BCP) in the UDC was irregular”. As former conveners of the 2012 negotiations that led to the formation of the three-party UDC, Rre Motlhabane Maphanyane, Dr Cosmos Moenga and I were indeed surprised by the presence of the BCP at the meeting of the UDC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) held on 2 August 2017.

Surprised because the UDC’s initial decision to accept the BCP as a new member following the BCP-UDC negotiations was not the final act on the matter. Hence the party’s subsequent appointment of a Transitional Committee (TC) to recommend terms and conditions (e.g. allocation of UDC positions, documents to be signed, joining fee to be paid by the BCP, the need to amend the constitution to suit an enlarged UDC etc.) on which the formal admission of the BCP would be based.

When the BCP attended the 2 August meeting, the TC had submitted its report at the beginning of June, but the UDC NEC had still not met to consider it. This was the reason for our surprise and concern at the presence of the BCP at a formal UDC NEC meeting. It’s worth noting here that in 2012, the founding members of the UDC (Botswana Movement for Democracy, Botswana National Front and Botswana Peoples Party) themselves went through similar formalities to those listed above. So, why should the BCP not do this?

Let’s also not overlook the possibility (which I hope doesn’t arise) that some of the terms and conditions prescribed for the BCP’s formal membership of the UDC might well prove unacceptable to the BCP. Hence the need for the party to see and accept those terms and conditions before it can be regarded as a full member of the UDC. Lastly, if the BCP really fully joined the UDC at “the Oasis historic announcement in February 2017” (as Gobotswang alleged) why was the party’s letter to the Speaker of the national assembly, re-designating its parliamentarians from BCP to UDC MPs, only dated 3 August 2017 (Mmegi, 8 August 2017) which was just a day after the BCP’s first appearance at a UDC NEC meeting?

Gobotswang further found it necessary to announce in his article that when the 2006 opposition negotiations failed, I “withdrew from the talks leaving Mr Maphanyane alone” to handle the talks between the Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) and the BCP, which followed the collapse of the four-party negotiations. This is misleading, for It sounds as though when Maphanyane and I chaired the four-party negotiations, our assignment also included chairing the BAM-BCP talks, which was not so.

I heard of the latter negotiations for the first time from Maphanyane when I had told him I was leaving the meeting room following the collapse of the talks, and he asked whether I wasn’t staying for the BAM-BCP negotiations. My response was that apart from the four-party negotiations, I knew of no others; and feeling tired and frustrated, I didn’t even ask who had told him about the negotiations.

I couldn’t have participated in the BAM-BCP talks anyway, because soon after leaving the meeting room, the leaders of the four parties requested me to brief them on the reasons for the collapse of the negotiations. They then requested Dr Prince Dibeela and me to facilitate their own efforts to resuscitate the collapsed negotiations. Unfortunately, they held only one meeting before the negotiations collapsed again.

Dr Gobotswang also stressed that Maphanyane’s role as convener of the BAM-BCP talks had “ended the day the two parties agreed on a PACT for the 2009 general elections”. He said the parties subsequently merged, retaining the BCP name, and “BAM did not JOIN THE BCP”. He emphasised how, following the merger, the BCP had allocated two senior positions (his own position of vice president, and that of treasurer) to former BAM leaders in recognition of “the level of sacrifice … required to cement relationships between cooperating political parties.” He then concluded: “It is the kind of spirit that is not appreciated by some self-proclaimed conveners”.

I might be wrong, but it appears that in making the above-mentioned comments, Gobotswang was contrasting what happened following the conclusion of the recent BCP-UDC talks, with what happened after the BAM-BCP merger. If so, he was wrong because the two scenarios are very different, as indicated below:

Unlike Maphanyane’s role in the BAM-BCP talks, the roles of the three UDC conveners didn’t end when the UDC talks ended in 2012. Instead, section 28 of the UDC constitution included the conveners among the members of the interim NEC of the party, whose mandate runs until “the first meeting of the National Congress”. This was done at the request of the cooperating parties when the conveners wanted to leave after they completed their work in 2012.

Rather than “merging” with the BCP, BAM in fact joined the latter, hence the retention of the BCP name. Similarly, the BCP is joining the UDC alliance, hence the retention of the UDC name, instead of adopting “UDC+”. This is because when two or more parties merge, they adopt a new name that usually reflects the nature of the merger e.g. the UK’s Liberal Democrats (Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party) and South Africa’s Democratic Alliance (Democratic Party, New National Party, and Federal Alliance).

While it’s easy where party X joins party Y for the latter to “sacrifice” senior positions for the sake of cementing the relationship, this is extremely difficult in an alliance like the UDC, where the holders of the party’s most senior positions are, at the same time, leaders of the autonomous group-members of  the alliance. In such an alliance, it’s risky to assume that it would be easy for a new member to be given a position equal to that of any of the founding leaders of the alliance.

In the case of the BCP, this was made more difficult by the party’s refusal in 2012 to sit down with the others to consider resuscitating the negotiations that had collapsed in 2011. There’s therefore no doubt in my mind that appointing the BCP leader vice president of the UDC alongside the then leader of the BMD was one of the reasons that led to the formation of the Alliance for Progressives (AP). A similar problem would have arisen had the BCP leader been appointed either co-chairman or co-president of the UDC. The issue is that simple!

Gobotswang went on to congratulate me on the role I played in the negotiations that led to the formation of the UDC in 2012. I thank him for the warm compliment. Unfortunately, another baseless accusation against me followed the compliment, namely, that “It would appear that Mpotokwane prefers any opposition cooperation arrangement as long as it excludes the BCP. Hence his latest rumblings following the success of self-mediated talks post 2014 general elections.”

This, in turn, was followed by a reference to the fact that “there were no conveners” during the recent BCP-UDC talks and, much later in the article, that “it is high time Mpotokwane came to terms with the painful truth that he was not the convener of the 2016 negotiations.” To be fair to Gobotswang, the latter comment has also been made by some senior members of the UDC NEC who, as I’ll show below, ought to have known better.

For Gobotswang to claim that I prefer cooperation arrangements that exclude the BCP is to deny my unquestionable commitment to the cause of opposition cooperation in Botswana in the past 14+ years. There isn’t much I can do about such denialism.  My colleagues and I didn’t participate in the BCP-UDC talks because long before they started, we had informed the UDC NEC that we couldn’t participate in them because of our positions on the UDC NEC since 2012.

In other words, we would have been conflicted had we participated in the talks. In response, President Boko had explained that the talks would not need conveners, which we were all pleased to hear. So, there’s really no “painful truth” that we need to come to terms with regarding not having participated in the talks.

Another of Gobotswang’s baseless accusations against me was that before the BCP-UDC talks started, I was “one of the leading proponents” of the view that, instead of the BCP-UDC talks,  “BCP should have been asked to submit an application to JOIN UDC.” He alleged that those who held this view did so “in the name of frustrating the BCP to exit the negotiations.” The truth, however, is that while this view was indeed expressed at a meeting of the UDC NEC, I was either the first or the second person to oppose it, and the meeting mistakenly supported our view on it. Mistakenly, because the UDC constitution actually provides that, “An organisation intending to apply for membership must….”

I therefore apologise profusely to the UDC NEC member whose legitimate proposal I, together with others, opposed. Incidentally, some of the requirements prescribed for new members under the above-mentioned provision of the UDC constitution are addressed in the report of the UDC’s transitional committee, which has caused so much controversy in the party.

Gobotswang then claimed that for the same reason of “frustrating the BCP to exit the negotiations”, “… Mpotokwane and those who think like him never recognised the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on by elections. They never bothered to attend the signing ceremony held in Sekoma, describing it as a BCP-BNF agreement.” This was also untrue. The reason why many members of the UDC NEC didn’t attend the Sekoma ceremony was that they first heard about the MOA on the news, when it was too late to try to attend. Had there been enough consultation and information about the MOA, many more UDC NEC members would have attended.

In conclusion, I urge Dr Gobotswang and other BCP members to desist from their repeated attempts to discredit my efforts over the years to unite Botswana’s opposition parties. In particular, I caution them that in the 14+ years that I have spent on this important project, I observed some examples of questionable conduct on the part of the BCP or its members. I am, therefore, in a position to make accusations against them that would be far more serious than their feeble attempts to discredit me. 

However, I’ve kept such information to myself so far, and intend to continue to do so going forward. I’ll do so because that’s who I am. But if BCP members continue to make false accusations against me, I reserve the right to reveal whatever I know about them and their party following my interactions with them over the years.

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Opinions

Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022
Craig-Cloud

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

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

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

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

United in Our Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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