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University of Botswana: a university facing an existential and identity crises and yearning for reform

A lot has been said and written in the media about the University of Botswana (UB) of recent, especially prior to and after the recent closure of the University that lasted for about one month.

The decision to close the University came from the Chairman of the governing Council of the University. Most, if not all, of what was in the media was blame game, character assassination and an over simplification of the recurrent problems at the institution. Consequently, the media missed an opportunity to take a comprehensive analysis of the problems at UB by going beyond finger pointing and name calling and became part of the problem. The student riot that led to the closure of UB was nothing but a symptom of bigger malaise at UB.

 

Therefore while closing UB, appointing an acting Vice Chancellor (VC), and forming a committee to find a replacement for the former VC who resigned out of frustration with stakeholders, were all necessary, they are insufficient in themselves as far as finding a lasting solution to the problems at UB.  Reactive measures instead of a more comprehensive analyses and understanding of the situation will only perpetuate the problems.


Just like the media missed the opportunity to critically analyse the situation, the government through its Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology missed the opportunity to comprehensively analyse and advise government on the way forward. UB is a flagship University for which Botswana as a country and Batswana as a people have a big stake and have invested in heavily. It is therefore in the interest of government to see to it that it is well managed to provide the required human resources to drive the economic development of the country.

 

The problems of UB have grown dire over the past decade or so. The scope of the problems can be categorised as structural (poor policy framework), leadership (lack of visionary leadership at all levels and by all stakeholders), human capital (incompetent and poor human resources), poor funding (funding crunch), and poor discipline (irresponsible and ill-discipline of students and staff). Permit me to examine these problems one by one.


The policy framework, which was set in place by the then Vice Chancellor Profs Sharon Siverts and Bojosi Otlhogile, was premised on the assumption that UB should be run based on a business or corporate model. The basic conception of the business or corporate model is driven, often, by short term profits. Usually, vision and mission statements and strategic goals are myopic and do not capture long-term additive and multiplicative value of education.

 

As Prof Mahamood Mamdani (1993) would put it, a university is not a business venture. It is more of an infrastructure comparable to a bridge, power station or a road. Returns on such investments are not measured only in monetary terms. The returns are not only economic or quantitative but are social as well as qualitative and often unquantifiable and unmeasurable Mamdani (1993).


To enhance efficiency, so Profs Sharon Siverts and Bojosi Otlhogile believed, they created about 20 directorates, each with a director, deputy director, assistant directors, secretaries and office attendants. Directors are paid at the level of professors and deputy directors at the level of associate professors. This policy resulted into a bloated administrative staff and consequently huge administrative and overhead costs. Unfortunately these costs were completely unrelated to the core activities of the University (teaching, research, and community service).

 

Similarly, the creation of the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) may have been appropriate at the time but unsustainable and duplicates activities of other academic centres. For instance, all courses taught at CCE can be better offered in other academic centres (faculties). This renders CCE unnecessary and expensive project. Closing CCE down will save UB a lot of money and make other academic centres more efficient. Another section that would benefit from reorganisation is the Graduate School.

 

Does UB really need a Faculty of Graduate Studies? Probably not. Graduate education is best handled in the respective faculties coordinated by an Associate Dean responsible for research and graduate studies. Furthermore, two thirds of Secretaries and Office Attendants have nothing to do all day long except gossip on phone and spend time in the Staff Canteen drinking tea and eating fat cakes from 9 -11 am, eating lunch from 12:00 noon to 2:30, and knocking off at 4:00 pm. The majority of workers in the Maintenance Department have nothing to do all day long.

 

They report to work at 9 am and play board games the whole day. As a result of these redundancies, the number of support staff is more than double the number of academic staff. Consequently, these “waste centres” (e.g., the Directorates, CCE, Graduate School, Secretaries, Administrative Staff, Maintenance Staff, etc.), are a few examples where UB can reorganise and save space and money especially during this time of funding crunch.

 

When Prof Thabo Fako tried to reorganise the university to make it lean and mean and focus on the core mandates of teaching, research, and community service, he met with stiff resistance and an avalanche of court cases. Without a painful and radical reform of the current structures and policy frameworks, UB will collapse under the weight of its unnecessary and expensive “super administrative structure”. It is high time the stakeholders understand that UB cannot be run by courts. Running to courts when the University has structures and fora where such issues can be addressed, is childish, an abuse of the judicial system, and a waste of time. The courts should not interfere with the running of government and its departments. This undermines the principle of the separation of powers.


The second major problem at UB is leadership: leadership at all levels from Sections, Departments, Faculties/Directorates, Senior Management, Senate, Council, and Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology. UB has leaders at all levels whose understanding of the local and international higher education landscape leave alone the idea of university education is terribly lacking.

 

If you listen to the higher echelon of leaders at the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology talk about higher education, one cannot help but cry! They do not have a clue leave alone a vision for higher education in the country. This is evidenced in the proliferation of not only substandard but unnecessary universities in this country. Besides, apparently, there is no regulator with the capacity to assure quality of lecturers, programmes, and students admitted to the so called universities, which, in fact, are big secondary schools.


UB council comprises people who have no knowledge of how institutions of higher education should be governed. When students rioted because their allowances were not paid in time, the Chairman of the UB Council decided to close the university. The students who were rioting were less than 150 in number! This number translates to only 1 percent of the total number of students enrolled at UB. Moreover, this group of students were the criminal-minded hooligans who went on to loot shops, vandalise property, and abused national symbols.

 

The same group of students had previously looted and vandalised property on campus. Deploying riot Police to round up this group of hooligans would have secured the university and prevented an otherwise unnecessary closure of UB and destruction of property. To close UB because of the action of one per cent of the student population was uncalled for and ill-conceived. For sure, the Chairman Council did not think of the enormous reputation damage that the closure did to UB. Industry and international research organisations funding are very sensitive to riots and strikes in universities. Has anyone ever heard of Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford closed due to student riots?


The quality of leadership among lecturers even those with PhDs, is appalling. One often hears ‘yunibesithi tse tsa rona’, especially among the citizen lecturers. The word "university" originates from the Latin phrase universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which translates to "congregation of teachers and scholars” whose main life goal is pursuit of knowledge and truth. A university is an oasis where scholars and teachers from all over the world come to quench their thirst for the truth and knowledge.  Citizenship in universities is universal. To think of a University as “ours” and not “theirs” is parochial and small-mindedness. In addition, such lecturers do not have an inkling of how the human resources of this country should be trained by the best brains from all over the world.


Academic leadership at Departmental and Faculty levels is woefully lacking. The majority of lecturers, especially citizens, are what one may term as “armchair academics”. By Thursday evening most of them are already off to the Cattle Posts only to return on Monday evening. If in doubt, a visit to the University on Fridays will help clear your doubts. This “cattle post mentality” is a hindrance to teaching, supervision of masters and PhD students, and research.

 

No wonder, the majority of the professors shy away from supervising postgraduate students leaving one wondering what they profess! Many of the professors have not published a single article or presented at a conference for the past three or even four years. When the former Vice Chancellor, Prof Thabo Fako began to emphasise performance, the non-performers were all up in arms against him. In fact, the mechanism of mediocrity at UB is so strong that it will require a mad VC to handle. In the Faculty of Education, Department of Guidance and Counselling, there are over 100 students pursuing a degree in counselling and being supervised by less than 8 lecturers who have never published or presented at a conference in the past three or four years! The students are not only half-baked but ill-prepared to function in the world of work.


At Departmental and Faculty levels, supervision is appalling: absentee heads of departments or Deans without any inkling of academic leadership. Majority of lecturers only come to the university when they are scheduled to teach and leave immediately thereafter. Those who stay a little longer congregate in the corridors, walkways, or staff lounge to gossip and talk about anything but academics.

 

The majority of the Heads of Departments and Deans are mainly bent on creating a chiefdom over which they superintend and will do nothing to rock the boat. In the Faculty of Social Sciences for example, a former Deputy Dean who was relieved of his duties was promoted to Associate Professor yet he had only consultancy reports and a few low quality articles in local and some Indian-based journals! Moreover, this same deputy Dean had been sponsored by UB to pursue a PhD abroad but was unable to complete because he spent all his time abroad drinking and smoking. In many universities, even on the African continent, he would not qualify to teach at the University, if only for reasons of failing to complete his PhD despite enormous investments by the university.


Another leadership problem at UB is that it operates as if it is still the only university in the country. It requires leadership to gain an understanding of the current higher education terrain in the country, especially with the proliferation of universities in Botswana. UB acts arrogantly and insenfdsitively to all its clients including students.


Perhaps the greatest weakness at UB is poor human capital. To begin with, UB has more politicians than academics. Political activities are more pronounced at UB than academic activities. For the majority of the lecturers, especially the citizens, the main question is to which political party one belongs. Many of the lecturers talk more about politics than top journals within their fields of study, that is, if they know of any.

 

UB is probably the only premier university with “random professors”, that is, professors without a field of study who publish randomly on any subject in any field and get promoted for being just that, random academics. Absurdly, one does not require a PhD in order to be promoted to the rank of associate or full professor. Yet UB should be in a league of universities where a PhD should be a minimum requirement to be recruited as a lecturer.


What is even worse, many of the professors are engaged in “fake research” and are protected by their heads of Departments and Deans. The majority of UB academics publish in bogus and often poor quality journals and publishing houses with low or no impact factor at all. Moreover, only a handful of UB academics get cited at all by their peers within their scientific communities.

 

If you disregard self-citation, you will hardly find UB academics with more than 20 citations in a year! If in doubt, check Google Scholar citation indices and enter their names. Worse of all, plagiarism has taken root in almost all departments. For example, a Nigerian professor of Statistics who is a well-known plagiarist and was found guilty of plagiarism by the Disciplinary Committee is still in the Department of Statistics. Another Indian professor in the same Department of Statistics who is famous for plagiarism is proudly referred to as the father of the Department.

 

A former Dean who was relieved of his duties for misconduct and incompetence had previously brought to the Department of Psychology a “fake professor” from Nigeria who was plagiarising and recycling his publications with academic members of the Department of Psychology. The current head of Psychology had to fight hard to get rid of the Nigerian professor and his local partners with whom he plagiarised and recycled his previous publications at will and with the protection of then Dean. In the Department of Economics, for example, more than 70% of their publications are in two journal outlets (Botswana Journal of Economics and Asia-Africa Journal of Economics and Econometrics ) whose editors in chief are the two professors in the same department.

 

Does this ring a bell? The two journal outlets are the factories for plagiarism and recycling previously published articles. In the faculties of Business and Education, professors who are known to plagiarise are protected and shielded by their respective Deans because the Deans want to build a power base to enable them become Deputy VCs or VCs in future. Moreover, promotion at UB is based on fake publications in predatory journals without any review processes and often plagiarised and published within days upon payment. UB is choking with plagiarism and it is high time the few clean academicians stand up to challenge and change the status quo.


To make matters worse, the uncritical media refers to such disgraced professors and Deans as decorated professors and VC materials. Yet these professors have never received any accolades whatsoever. Currently, these same failed and disgraced Deans are behaving like hyenas. They are all over campus adorned in fancy suits and garbs talking to groups of lecturers trying to build support for their candidacy for the vacant VC position. Aside from the structural, leadership, and human capital problems, UB is in financial crisis.

 

UB gets more than 90% of its operating and capital funding from government. Globally, funding for education, especially university education from government has been declining over the years and may continue to decline for the foreseeable future. With the proliferation of tertiary institutions in the Botswana, all looking to government for funding, the future looks bleak and funding crunch is anticipated to continue.

 

The question then is what is the way forward? UB needs to work hard to attract industry and international research organisations’ funding. But, does UB have the calibre of academic staff that can attract funding for the university? Again, the former VC, Prof Thabo Fako tried to restructure UB management to include a division to be headed by the deputy VC for Research and Innovation with a mandate to drive the research and innovation agenda of the university and get industry funding. Again, unless the quality of human capital at UB is radically improved, achieving the mandate of this division will be difficult.


Very few professors at UB can write a proposal for a research grant leave alone win a competitive research grant from international research organisations such as National Institute of Health (NIH), Wellcome Trust (WT), the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), CODESRIA,  etc. Many universities in the region such as the University of Pretoria get 60% of its funding from industry income and research grants from research organisations and the majority of employees get paid through industry funding.

 

This can only happen if the quality of human capital is high. Many of the professors and senior academics at UB would rather do consultancies. The difference between research and consultancy is that in research, the researcher formulates the research questions and is driven by quest for knowledge whereas in consultancy the client frames the research question and is driven by the quest for money.

 

In sum, you do not need to think in order to do consultancies. UB has been turned into a consultancy factory for lecturers to get side income for themselves and not UB where they are employed. With such magnificent and world class infrastructure, UB can only make it to the league of world class 21st century universities if the quality of human capital with visionary and competent leadership, is urgently attended to.


Finally, two issues regarding students in tertiary education require urgent debate: student financing and discipline. First student financing should be opened for debate. Currently, government pays tuition, living-out allowances, book allowances, among other things. In light of the current economic reality and competing demands, isn’t it time to debate whether government should continue picking all the student bills? To begin with, which socio-economic backgrounds are these students from? Isn’t it true that the majority of the students are from Marua-Pula, St Joseph’s, Rainbow, Legae, and other private schools where their parent spend a lot of money for their education?

 

Is it morally right for government to continue footing the educational bill of students whose parents are well to do and could afford to send their children to elite well-resourced secondary schools that afforded them the opportunity to come to university in the first place? Instead of giving students book allowances why not use the funds to stock the library instead? Isn’t populist to even think of giving the students cash to buy books? Is Botswana creating a Nanny Society by nurturing the culture of entitlement to public resources by those who are well to do? Is it time for cost sharing? As a country, these questions should be soberly debated in a non-partisan way to be able to arrive at a credible and morally acceptable student funding formulae. Such formulae would include those who truly deserve full, partial, or no scholarship at all.


Student discipline is an important area that should be addressed. Over the years, the rate at which students complete their programmes on time has plummeted and currently stands at a paltry 58%, that is, out of every 100 students who start their studies in first year, only 58 will complete in time. What a waste of resources! Majority of the students who do not complete in time do not attend classes, are lazy, abuse drugs and substances, and are just not interested in studies.

 

Their perception is that they are doing a favour to the country by pursuing higher education. It is all about their rights and not responsibilities. Why should government continue to spend money on these lazy and irresponsible students? The government is nurturing a mentality of entitlement to government resources which will ultimately lead to a Nanny society or a welfare state that encourages laziness and discourages innovation and the long-standing national value of self-reliance (Ipelegeng). As Prof Fako once lamented, this is likely to lead to “… less self-discipline, less willingness to work hard, less conscientiousness, less commitment, less selflessness, and less sense of a common purpose and destiny”.


The way forward for UB:
To move UB forward, all the stakeholders need to deeply reflect on the existential problems outlined above and radically reform. I will make some suggestions for reform:
What Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science & Technology can do:


First, immediately set up a Visitation Committee of eminent persons with sound knowledge of higher education landscape in the 21st century to critically analyse the perennial problems at UB and advise government accordingly. Membership should include persons from outside UB, if possible, outstanding academics from world class universities. The African saying that “it is the visitors who can see the cobweb in your house” may help.


Second, a rigorous independent oversight and monitoring agency should be put in place to provide oversight function to all tertiary education institutions. The agency should have the capacity to deliver and ensure high quality academic programmes and human resources in line with national development goals. Both Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) and Human Resources Development Council (HRDC) do not have the capacity to regulate all the universities and tertiary institutions in the country.


Third, diversify tertiary education. Not everyone who completes form five or high school should go to university! Wherever you go in this country, you will not find a citizen mechanic, electrician, plumber, and all other types of technicians and artisans. Government should make these and other trades attractive by offering full scholarships for them and partial scholarship for courses such as Media Studies, Economics, Law, Political Science, and other programmes in Social Sciences, Humanities, and Education.

 

In sum, government should put its money where its mouth is. Similarly, government should revisit the policy of ever increasing number of universities in this country while at the same time crying that there is no money. Increasing the number of universities leads to increased overhead administrative costs and loss of talents to administrative positions. For example, UB lost Prof Otlogetswe Totolo, a renowned scientist to Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).

 

Prof Otlogetswe Totolo should be heading a research consortium on Climate Change in Botswana instead of being wasted to administration. Many professors and technocrats at UB left for BIUST as well. Yet, there are no courses at BIUST that could not be offered at UB. In fact, UB has better infrastructure than BIUST to offer all the courses currently offered at BIUST. Moreover BIUST sends their students to UB to access facilities and equipment they require for their studies. This is not a wise use of limited resources.


Fourth, government must come up with a credible and well thought out funding model for universities including UB. Parameters should include relevance of courses to national development, research output, patents, graduation numbers, maintenance of infrastructure, foundation courses such as Mathematics, Physics, Languages, Health, and not just student numbers. Ten students in a physics class may be more important to the national development goals of the country than 100 in Law, Economics, History, or Divinity.


Fifth, the university Act is not only outdated but out of synch with the exigencies and realities of the current higher education landscape. For example, the appointment of top officials of the University like the Vice Chancellor and deputy Vice Chancellors should be revised to safeguard the process from murky and often dirty institutional politics. For example the appointment of a VC could be done with the approval of Parliament. Similarly, members of the University Council should be nominated and approved by Parliament and should include eminent persons of repute and not carpenters or local mechanics with no clue of how a university should be run.


Sixth, there should also be legal clarity on the powers of staff and student unions. Currently, the staff union with only about 100 members and student SCR appear to be supreme over the University Council and are the cause of perennial riots and strikes. For example the current acting VC was one of those who signed a memorandum to Council against the former VC.

 

If the UB Council was not dancing to the tune of the staff Union, why was she appointed the acting VC when she was complicit and part of the problem at UB? The current search for a VC should exclude any professor from UB if the university is to radically and meaningfully transform because the majority are involved in dirty institutional politics to undo each other as they jostle for the offices of the deputy VC or VC. All what these professors are interested in is to be deputy VC or VC without any vision for the institution.


Finally, for equitable distribution of wealth and resources of the country, the government should decentralise student financing to districts through a quota system. This will go a long way in reducing the ugly inequality that is a time bomb for this country. Moreover, decentralising student financing will, in the long term, improve performance in the districts and tap the potentials of rural districts and reduce unemployment through access to higher education.


What UB can do?


First, UB needs to recalibrate and define its niche within the current tertiary education landscape in Botswana. UB currently faces an identity and existential crises with the proliferation of universities in the country. It has been an only child for far too long and now the parents have decided to have more children. With very young siblings to play with, UB looks awkward. At 35 years of age, UB should be in middle age and mature enough not to compete for undergraduate students with four- or five-year old Ba-Isago or Botho universities.

 

Currently, more than 90% of students at UB are at undergraduate level 99% of whom are citizens. UB has to change from a mainly undergraduate and instructional to a postgraduate and research university. The number of undergraduates should gradually reduce to make way for graduate students. Botswana as a country needs more well trained people with masters and PhD degrees in key sectors to manage and maintain the high middle income status.


Second, UB needs to develop its research capacity and become the “think tank” of the country. This will help drive the national research agenda for Botswana. These research agenda would include: climate change; economic diversification; water, energy, and food security; health; drug and substance use; and poverty alleviation among others. Training solid researchers, developing research themes, collaboration with and across disciplines, should be core activities of the research and innovation department.


Third, UB should open its doors to more self-sponsored students to reduce the number of government sponsored students. By doing so, UB will attract students from other countries within the SADC region and beyond. Similarly, since UB is operating a semester system, admission should be done every semester and not only once as it is the case now. All core courses should be offered every semester. This will make admissions more efficient and the system more flexible.


Fourth, universities in Botswana still operate like the public service. For instance, single spine salary structures, age limit requirements, localisation policy, permanent and pensionable employment terms, etc., do not belong to modern universities. Academics in a university should not be treated like public servants in a public service. Universities are universal institutions that should be globally structured while responding to national needs. Permanent and pensionable contracts make getting rid of deadwoods difficult and not an incentive for hard work and productivity. Localisation and age policies belong to public service and not universities.


Fifth, UB has redundant staff at all levels. There is need for a forensic human resource audit of all categories of staff including academic, administrative and support staff to establish whether they have adequate duties or workload to undertake during official working hours. All deadwoods must go! For instance, a grace period of between two to five years should be given to all lecturers without a PhD to upgrade or be fired.

 

All those with master’s degree only should be turned into Graduate Assistants and should be appointed on a two-year renewable contract and paid a stipend instead of a salary. Without this, UB will remain an undergraduate teaching institution without the academic cores to live up to the expectations of its vision statement: to be a leading centre of academic excellence in Africa and the world and join the league of world class universities.


In conclusion, UB has a 21st century infrastructure but the leadership,  human resources, and legal framework belong to the 19th century, the reason the University is out of synch and currently facing an existential and identity crises. At the moment, UB is yearning for radical reform. It is difficult to see whether this yearning for radical reform can come from within UB since that is where reform needs to happen in the first place. A visitor with a new broom is in a better position to see the cobweb of problems and the quagmire UB is in. While lack of money is a problem, it is certainly not the most important problem. The main problem to the perennial problems at UB is not funding, it is poor human capital.

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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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