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.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.