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Ideas of Heroism in Politics: Why I don’t Consider Ketumile Masire a Hero

Teedzani Thapelo

In this thought provoking seminal article novelist, historian and poet, Teedzani Thapelo*, inaugurates a radical revisionist analysis of the political canonization of late president, Sir Ketumile Masire, and drawing from philosophic exposition, argues this action is not only premature but far too precipitate, rising as it does from hysterical hallucinations, and frightening disregard of the critical role of historical interpretation in the place of heroism in politics and public life.

The argument is part of his coming book; Sir Ketumile Masire: willow in the limelight and the gathering storm. The republic buried Masire in Kanye this morning; 29th June, 2017. In the last few days I have watched, fascinated, and appalled, a tempestuous flurry of hysterical allusions, and precipitate confirmations, of this man’s supposed political heroism; prompting my historical conscience to both revisit, and perhaps, rethink, in the same regard, the philosophical idea, and logic, of heroism in politics. This, I am told, is a country of educated people. So I am not going to waste time, and space, on political definitions. Batswana, I think, know what they mean when they talk about political heroes.

My second assumption is that Batswana know perfectly well political heroes are not fictional characters. Third, Batswana know, and I hope, understand, the history of political heroism in Africa, and African struggles for liberation, freedom, democracy, human rights, and human dignity, in the last five hundred years. Four, Batswana, I think, know, and understand, the idea, and logic, of political heroism in political philosophy, Christian doctrine, historical experience, and moral African traditions, even in our daily known world; a world of lived human experience. What type of a hero was Masire?

There are many archetypes of political heroism in political studies, history, and development theory. All these revolve around several cornerstones; the art and culture of war, man’s historical struggles for survival against the ravages of nature, and the elements, and for religious people, human struggle against mortality. All these heroic struggles are defined by the terror of existential menaces, and the necessity to impose sufficient restraints on them, and without such struggles, human history would by now be a thing of the past, and perhaps even planet earth would be extinct. Throughout history, political heroism has almost always manifested several strands.

First, rejection or affirmation of the human condition. Second, the struggle against environmental ruin. Third, and, in my mind, perhaps the greatest object of heroic political effort; the struggle against human extinction. I understand the Sir Ketumile Masire Foundation deals with issues of peace studies, and the resolution of conflict, among other things. So I take it Batswana know what they are talking about when they advocate the republic must crown him a political hero. I also have sufficient reason to doubt the intellectual vigour of this political knowledge.

My concern here is simple: why should the nation crown him a political hero? Is this man, really, a political hero? From what historical premise does this heroism arise? Has it been sufficiently confirmed by historical experience? My second concern is also simple: empirical studies still have to be done to establish any claims to status of such imperial ranking in annuls of national history. But I might be mistaken about this. Sir Ketumile has been University Chancellor at UB, and it might as well be that political scientists and history professors there have already carried out studies to assist propel this argument forward; something I very much doubt.

In the absence of that, my question still stands: is this man a political hero? If these suppositions are simply journalistic impressions, not backed by vigorous, and objective, investigation, my suggestion is that we shelf them for future consideration. If, however, they are just outpourings of human emotions, we must reject them outright. Political grief is one thing, and political heroism, quite another thing. Most of the time the two do not even relate to each other. Some may say he is not a political hero, per se, but he has done so much for Botswana that it would be grossly remiss to not acknowledge him a national hero. Granted; but he alone?

We must, I think, read well, the marked difference between heroism, which, in essence, is individual or human triumph, over adversity, and therefore deserving of national honour, and excellence in one’s duty, which is a simple academic criterion for application of the human mind, and labour, to professional duty, and therefore deserving of a salary, and promotion. I grant both rewards are forms of appreciation. But the two still differ considerably. Masire was paid well for his work, and got the promotions he deserved in his lifetime. If now he must be recognised at a level greater than this, then there clearly is need to re-assess the peculiarity, and genius, of his political career.

This, I am afraid, Batswana have not done. To the best of my knowledge the Botswana national project was collective effort, mostly rooted in African moral principles of common humanity, and human fellowship, and these communitarian precepts are not unique to Botswana: Ubuntu, botho, buthu? To the best of my knowledge it’s untrue to say Masire alone embodied these African values in our political life. Not even the ancient organisational political principle of consultation is unique to Masire’s brand of politics or Botswana political culture in general. These things are common knowledge. Second, our political history is deeply rooted in republican constitutionalism, regardless of the flawed nature of our constitution; a thing that Masire conveniently ignored throughout his life.

What, then, constitutes his political heroism? What political attributes denote the heroic in his political philosophy? What I have heard Batswana say is based on personal observations, professional attachments, collegial cooperation, routine-and rustic- interactions, and, friendships, family connections, and highly select, and unacceptably subjective, historical memory. None of these things are sufficient intellectual tools, in themselves, to confirm the idea, and logic, of political heroism, on their own; not even collectively. The political hero, by definition, is born in war, and allied human struggles; struggles, historical, divine, environmental, eschatological, and metaphysical.

It doesn’t matter what you are talking about; saints, martyrs, statesmen, artists, philosophers, generals, humanist celebrities like Nobel Laureates, all these have homes in these areas of human conception, and imagination. Where, pray, does, Sir Ketumile fit? Is it possible, according to this criteria, to locate, and affirm, to place, his brand of heroism? I think not. And there lies the problem; the simple indifferent challenge of conceptualizing his political heroism. What appears to be indisputable is the fact he was an ordinary, honest, hard-working man. I should think, possibly a most decent fellow, at least to his family, friends, and those to whom he sought audience, and company.

In short, he was a typical Motswana man. There are more than a million men like him in this country. The major difference is that he entered politics, and reached the highest political position in the republic, and in this he is not alone. Are we then to designate all former Presidents political heroes? Isn’t this foolishness of the first order? Would not Sir Ketumile, himself a literate man, and passionate political animal, find this ridiculous to the extreme? Batswana must be aware scholars are already revising the heroic status of Nelson Mandela, the finest amongst African political icons. I have read just about everything solid there is to read about political heroes like Churchill, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela himself, Fidel Castro, and several other historical figures that caught my imagination in the last third years. I have also read the political villains; Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Idi Amin, Mabuto of DRC and Robert Mugabe; a man who tearfully calls Sir Ketumile his best friend.

It shocks me, profoundly, that Mugabe, a man guilty of killing revolutionary heroes in the land of Zimbabwe, can come here and talk about national heroism. He says in Zimbabwe, they would regard Masire as a national hero, and Batswana applauded him, but do they know of the villainous political criminals who lie in the Heroes’ Acre in Harare? Do they know that Mugabe committed genocide against the Ndebele and BaKalanga people in Zimbabwe between 1982-84, right under the watchful eyes of the Masire government?

Or should we take it Masire gave tacit consent to these crimes against humanity? Are we now being called upon to celebrate the horrors of Gukurehunde; the cleansing of chaff, the Zimbabweans Mugabe considered too impure, and unfit, for citizenship in liberated Zimbabwe? Throughout his tyrannical rule Mugabe has relentlessly brutalized, terrorized, intimidated, assassinated, ruined, humiliated, and exiled hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean finest intellectuals, artists, musicians, professors, students, and laid to waste fertile land that once was the economic backbone of Southern Africa. He has scattered millions of hunger-stricken citizens to all corners of the world so that today it is not uncommon to see the children of that beautiful land begging in the capitals of the Western world or being burned alive in South African cities and crowded, equally poor, townships.

The children of Zimbabwe die, lost, and miserable, in the most sordid ways possible, and this man has the audacity to come to a funeral in Kanye and talk about the genocide in Rwanda. Mugabe never mentions Seretse Khama in his inane reminisces about his fond friendship with the good Masire precisely because his politics are a radical pervasion of values that Khama cherished most; moral distinction, racial equality, tribal tolerance and cultural-historical consciousness in pursuit of the public good. Just what is it that constituted such a bond between these two men, Masire, and Mugabe? Should we not consider Masire just as guilty, at least by way of association, of many of the wrong-doings, and heinous crimes, committed by his good friend in Zimbabwe?

Just what are we expected to make of this relationship? Did Masire not care about the killings of innocent little Ndebele, European, and Kalanga children by the Mugabe regime? Then there is the irritating talk about Masire’s mediation exploits in DRC and efforts at reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda. Oh, really? What did he actually accomplish there? Nothing, absolutely nothing. As I write Congolese children are still being raped, and massacred, in that permanently lawless country, and Joseph, the arrant son of Laurent Kabila, continues the legacy of his father unperturbed. Yes, some warlords have been arrested, convicted, and imprisoned, but all this happened after Masire had thrown in the towel, and flown home to his farms. I really do think people should learn how to examine, and grade, political success.   

Batswana always surprise me. They claim to be educated, and yet seem to know so little about the world around them that ignorance of simple realities has come to define us in the eyes of the world. It is because of our gallivanting around with rude, and rustic, characters, like Mugabe, that we have become the laughing stock of the world. If Masire could choose such men for company, and personal friendship, what does this tell us about his political judgement, about his sense of justice, and moral rectitude? What other kind of friends did he choose here at home? Things like these seriously call into question the personality, and moral integrity of a man. Is this how we want Masire to be remembered? What was that silly applause, broadcast live on TV, about?

The argument for Masire’s heroism is too premature, perhaps even misplaced. I look, in both political literature, and the historical drama continually unfolding in Botswana, at how Masire interacted with public servants, and his colleagues throughout his presidency, and how these people remember him. By the time he left office, and I left graduate school, there were already 10, 000 doctoral theses on Botswana, and I have since made it my business to make them my personal friends. Just about all of them are available online. I look at his relationships with civil society, the private press, academics and students.

I look at the presidential commissions, land tribunals, landmark court cases; just about everywhere this man left a fingerprint in the many years of his political life, and little, to nothing, suggest to my mind, this man is a national hero. I look at his political biography from various angles; cosmopolitanism, entrepreneurship, political innovation, administrative accountability, values of statesmanship, elderhood, and patriarchy, and still I am not convinced any case can be made for political canonization. I don’t want Batswana to misunderstand me. I am not trying to take anything from this man’s political life. In politics people do get embroiled in the most vexatious and violent disputes. The few who rise above these without scars, at great trouble, and peril, and some expense, and wearing the grand badge of political glory, are people who are capable of legislating their own path to this glory, people who are their own lawyers in national matters of the greatest importance, and these few we call heroes.

For the most part these people die good, wise, incorrupt, and free of slanderous aspersions, and social acerbities. Masire is not one of them, and this now brings me to issues that bothered me when this man was still president. I have heard Batswana argue these past few irritating days he is the architect of our republican constitutionalism, the crafter of our political culture, an undisputed guardian of the public purse during his heady days at Government Enclave, master of financial prudence and economic austerity, the master-farmer statesmen who gave name, dignity, and prestige, to rural production, the finest educationalist that ever strode the republic; it’s as if even Seretse Khama, and other BDP leaders never existed. I don’t even know how to address this emotional juvenile delinquency. It’s just terribly frustrating.

Can the people who argue he is a national hero answer these questions? Why, and how, did the problems of poor work ethic, productivity, and corruption in the public sector worsen under his administration? What really happened to our diamond wealth? Don’t Batswana want to know? Did we get an agreement that was right for the nation? Is it possible by partnering with this gigantic, and notoriously secretive behemoth, we traded away not only national wealth but certain fundamentals of our democracy as well? Is it possible this agreement clawed back our national sovereignty?

How does a small, uneducated, poor, legally and technically ignorant country, like Botswana, negotiate a secret mining agreement with a giant like De Beers in the turbulent, racist world, and climate of the late 1960s, and still claim political legitimacy, and credibility; even mutual benefit? What is the basis of equivalence in De Beers working together with the Botswana government through a corporate deal of this nature for so many years? The agreement is not transparent, it is shrouded in too much secrecy and darkness; does this not bother Batswana at all? Is there an arbitration clause in this agreement? What exactly is the revenue sharing formulae between the two parties, and how has this been affected by subsequent revisions of the original agreement, including the setting up of Debswana, and other attendant organizational and operational changes? Have all these things been done in good faith, and good will?

For example if there have been cases of over-mining, illegal smuggling of rough stones, gratuitous injury to workers, and the environment, has it been possible for government or other affected parties, to claim compensation? Who exactly is entitled to arbitration, and under what circumstances? What kind of legal protection did De Beers ask, and what did it get? Or is this a non-recourse commercial agreement? What are the limits to regulation? What about the issues of social contract and social conscience? How have these been handled, and continue to be handled at these mines?

Was this agreement a blueprint for others to come? Is it a legal precedent for other mining agreements with international mining companies in Botswana? More significantly, how much political capital was invested in this agreement? Is the agreement as progressive as its signatories claim it to be? These are important issues of commercial justice. Batswana rightly suspect the nature of this agreement stifled our economic growth and development, and that we gave too much away, and got little, to nothing, in return. The agreement has absolutely no contact with real society yet it applied to lucrative mining in tribal land, isn’t that the strangest thing? The voice of the people was totally ignored. Only a small elite of less than five educated Batswana found a sit at the negotiating and signing tables, and these people possessed no expertise! Is it possible the agreement took advantage of national poverty, ignorance and appalling levels of political anxiety to impose terms and even redefine political consensus? Under what circumstances can aggrieved Batswana sue De Beers? These are very serious matters.

Just look at our standards of living. Look at the high levels of poverty and unemployment. Look at the swathe of social wretchedness. It has been estimated we could have built more than six international cities the size of Johannesburg with money from our diamonds; what really happened here? How come this huge wealth failed to inaugurate a historic economic dynamic for radical social transformation, the creation of good sustainable jobs, high incomes, industrialization and modern knowledge society? The whole world is astounded at our missed opportunities. We really should get a prize for this briefest gleam of stupendous prosperity that passed by so swiftly and so inconsequentially.

It is obvious Batswana who signed up to this infamous deal were only looking at the political track; they had no knowledge of economics, and no vision of the future. They knew not the cost of doing such things, and could hardly ensure that choices were made with the fullest possible understanding of the facts, risks, and uncertainties involved. Yes, they had help from other white fellows, people who went on to work for De Beers and its affiliates like Anglo-American while those who stayed in Botswana joined the BDP and sat on the local board of the mining company. What do you make of that? Did subsequent renegotiations of this relationship rectify this anomaly? What should be done now? Kana re jelwe Batswana, go ile fela jalo?

My second issue with Masire relates to corruption and elite behaviour during his rule. We know for certain that substantial mineral revenues accrued directly to the state, which enjoyed monopolistic influence on how they could be spent for a good many years. We also know that massive politico-bureaucratic involvement in livestock production has been enhanced with the result that the rural livestock sub-sector has benefited through input subsidies, lax taxation legislation, and other forms of institutional support, but this involvement has left the majority of Batswana lurching helplessly in the poverty trap; and the institutional origins of state lethargy originate in the Masire presidency, of that most scholarship is agreed. What really happened, and why?

I particularly query Masire’s relationship with De Beers, the cattle industry, and his influence in the funding, and transformation of the entire rural economy. Under his presidency one man could be a senior civil servant, an active politician, a priest, a witch, a self-confessed thief, a businessman, a husband, a father, a community leader and a commercial farmer, and therefore, by virtue of all these accoutrements, a hirer of human labour, a trustee of public confidence, and a moral redeemer; a situation that angered progressive Batswana like Gobe Matenge to the extent the two remained enemies throughout their lives in government.

Let us consider the issue of economic austerity. Throughout his administration National Development Bank was held to ransom by agricultural producers, and at challenging election years, was forced to write-off millions of money it could not afford to lose. In 1980s the bank was under such brutal political siege that faced with uncertain elections, and shrinking BDP urban political support base, government had to save the NDB from imminent liquidation by writing-off over P24 million in debt payments owed by both arable and livestock farmers. When NDB was confronted by yet another bankruptcy threat government was once again compelled to intervene. Its accumulated losses at one point totalled P41.1 million.

Outstanding loans amounted to P91.3 million, of which over one-third were in arrears, most for more than six months. The Government's equity position was a negative P15.6 million. In addition, the Small Borrowers Fund, administered by the NDB for the Government, had at the same time accumulated losses of P32.4 million; 70% of its accounts were in arrears, almost all in excess of six months. The NDB was losing P450, 000 a month. The pre-pacified acerbic weekly tabloid, Midweek Sun, reported that NDB was owed more than P60 million in arrears, and borrowers, all of them BDP politicians, were refusing to service their loans. According to the 1991 Budget Speech, P31 million had been provided by the Government in 1988 in order to write off bad debts.

A parliamentary statement by the Assistant Minister of Finance appeared in the Botswana Gazette newspaper on 30 March 1994. In the article the minister revealed that the loans to the NDB had been written off in 1985/1986 and 1988/1989. According to the minister the total cost to the tax payer engendered by these rescue operations amounted to more than P35.5 million. Press interviews of disgruntled NDB employees, including unsigned documents listing NDB loans to Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament, makes the startling revelation that the Bank habitually sanctioned the rescheduling of loans on an across-the-board basis, neglecting individuals' creditworthiness. It tried to deal with this crisis by using ineffective instruments like direct grants, interest recapitalisation, suspension of loan and/or interest payments, conversion of loans into equity, increasing authorised share capital, extension of loans, hikes in rates charged by corporations, and revaluation of assets, and meanwhile 40% of Batswana lived in poverty.

This political burlesque irked, and riled, a public that was only beginning to awake to the sad reality that pirates were in power, vultures that were daily navigating their horrid and ruined lives with greedy eyes that spared no human carcass. Faced with a possible rebellion from angry citizens, especially poor people like us, government turned to constitutional changes designed to make sure we remained compliant, submissive, biddable, and compromised. These laws have protected corrupt, greedy, lecherous, vile, villainous, unethical, immoral, crooked, avaricious, gluttonous, lustful, randy, dreadful, loathsome, evil, contemptible, base, shameful, unpleasant, horrid, and nasty large cattle producers, multinational corporations, senior civil servants and the various members of the liberal professions for a worryingly long period of time. This means that all these oppressors have licence, authority, liberty, privilege and freedom to abuse us, our women, our children, our resources and our fragile environment with reckless abandon and legal impunity. Is it any wonder that these same rulers laugh at us, ridicule us, mock us and play games with us all the time?

Another issue that Masire lazily, and complacently, ignored is the serious matter of grave civil rights violations in the country. While he was busy accumulating wealth, poverty was worsening in the rural sector as shown in the household incomes surveys of 1975/76, 1985/86, 1993/94, 2002/03, the BIDPA reports of 1997 and finally acknowledgement by President Mogae in the 2004 Annual Address to the Nation Speech (see RoB 1976 1986 1994 1997 2003 2004). The plight of Basarwa communities, most of whom had been pushed out of ancestral land to make way for TGLP ranchers, national parks and game reserves, diamond mines and emerging townships like Gantsi actually worsened to the point that by 2004 thousands of these people were irking a living in economic camps, some will say death camps, called remote area dwellings (RADs).

Are all these disturbing facts marks of heroic politics? My point? Studies in political heroism are a minefield. More often than not, one man’s hero is another man’s villainy. To me, this presents a serious problem. I take it I know Botswana political literature well. I also know the history of this country. In fact just about all educated Batswana know these things very well. We also know the story of our country’s development. We understand, I think, the politics, of this country well. I have heard Batswana speak about this man since he died; in the streets, on social media, radio stations, BTV, and a few other infamous places I would rather not reveal. It is, I think, not a particularly good thing to speak about the dead without compunction. But this does not mean those who choose not to speak in public have nothing to say. To most Batswana, and under such emotional circumstances, it is always prudent to subscribe to the cliché discretion is the better part of valour.

So it is, that I have noted, with great concern that certain sections of the republic have deliberately chosen not to participate in these debates. So it is that I have noted these people more or less chose to discreetly boycott the entire funeral dialogue, and process. So it is, I doubt, they will very much miss the late Sir Ketumile, and many of these people are prominent BDP members, past, and present. Yes, statements of condolences where issued, but reading between the lines it is obvious the praises for Masire, were deliberately designed to criticize, and spite, the Khama presidency, instead of directly honouring Masire, on the basis of his own political merit.

Almost all living former cabinet ministers, high court judges, senior civil servants, ethnic minority human rights activists, intellectuals, trade unionists, cultural workers, stayed away. It would not be an exaggeration to say this man was buried, from the depth of hearts, mostly by his best friends, family, foreigners, and tribesmen. Government officials, and some leading politicians, seemed appalled, even annoyed, by this stupendous hysterical exhibitionism. Why? Do they know something that we don’t? When parliament convened to pay oration, three of the four parliamentarians who spoke were Masire’s tribesmen, and the last an opposition member. The rest just watched, almost stunned.

All this is very disturbing. But what I find even more disturbing than this, perhaps even most extraordinary, was the appeal from certain other sections of the republic for emotional restraint during his burial. This is surprising. What was the meaning of these appeals? I particularly remember the appeal by Vice President Masisi. Botswana is a democracy. Masire was a democrat; perhaps not a perfect one, but a democrat nevertheless. So far as I am aware, I am the only citizen who responded, in print, to the last public lecture delivered by Sir Ketumile at a university in Botswana. I admit I disapproved of his domkrag politics. When this man was still president I was refused permission to research Basarwa anthropological anger in Botswana.

I then proposed to write on De Beers and diamond mining but still I found myself struggling against a wall. Infuriated, I turned to something else just so I could get my doctorate. By the time I reached that decision, I had read so much literature about Botswana politics, and development thrust, that when the PhD Selection Committee demanded I should furnish them with development literature review to demonstrate I had sufficient grasp of what to write about Botswana after such a peripatetic shuffling by the Masire presidency and his bureaucratic machine I gave them 200 pages of modern development theory in three weeks. It was only recently I discovered Debswana had been financing Masire’s farming business, and Basarwa sitting on diamond wealth in CKGR.

I have never met Masire in person, but I know about his rule. I lived under his administration. I too have a lot to say about him. As I said, the conception of political heroism is grounded on historical reality, and not only the attributes of a man. Character is important to heroism, but it is what a man actually does accomplish that makes him to stand out as a hero. The accomplishment must be extraordinary, and of infinite benefit to humanity. I don’t believe Sir Ketumile is a political hero. It might be he was admired within BDP but his presidency was certainly not a distinguished chapter in the history of our republic. Many have suggested he was not the right man for the job in the first place. I will not be that ungenerous.

But I do doubt it was a good idea to keep him in the job that long. He has occupied too huge a space in our lives, and brought far too many citizens great misery, and mistrust of the art of politics. No one can deny these charges. He did try to develop a constructive approach to opposition politicians, but the aim was to accommodate, and destabilize the opposition, and not to nurture it. Otherwise he would have allowed government to fund it. We need to be honest about these things. He retired because, like a pillar of salt crumbling away rapidly, he was losing authority in the party.

It cannot be said a man who could not control political dissension, and revolt, in his own party, was also a man happily enamoured to the interests, and agenda, of an organised outside opposition that wanted to torpedo his government. That is a contradiction of terms. Of his forays in international politics after retirement, I really have little more to say. The strangest thing is that he went out to defend political values he routinely violated during his own tenure in office, political values he allowed his best friends, like Robert Mugabe, to also routinely violate; international law, human rights, and personal dignity.

How will I remember Masire? He was a lucky man who found himself thrust in the momentum of history. Sadly, he did little, to nothing, to benefit his own people, and humanity, with the political light put in his hands by benevolent gods. But then there’s always something egotistical about grand lofty things, about mountain tops, a sort of wisdom that is woe, a path in life that takes those who wonder out of all human understanding, even while living, in the congregation of the dead. Such is the road that men like him, and his friend, Robert Mugabe, have travelled. In the end only history can judge them. We are too human, I think, to pronounce the last word in their careers. For this reason alone, I don’t think political canonization will do his memory much good. Let him rest in peace.

Teedzani Thapelo*, is author of the Botswana novel series Seasons of Thunder, Vol. 1(2014), Vol. 2 (2015) and Vol. 3 (2016) and forthcoming books; Battle Against the Botswana Democratic Party: the beginning of the point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe: abandonment and revolt, The Argument Against the Botswana Democratic Party: an intellectual inquiry and Khama Presidency and Vanity Fair in Parliament: an African political tragedy, and Sir Ketumile Masire: willow in the limelight and the gathering storm.

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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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