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Sense and Sensibility: UDC+ and Great Expectations

Teedzani Thapelo

It must be hard for the UDC+ to deflect charges of political failure, that is to say, past failures by opposition to take power from BDP, and redefine the political landscape of the nation. But that I hardly think is the issue now; not if you take Botswana politics seriously, the way I do. The opposition, it is quite true, has badly failed Botswana in the last fifty years.


The reasons for this failure are many and well known; resource constraints, petty squabbles, regional particularism, ideological idiosyncrasies, bad leadership in some of the partner organisations, lack of political commitment in some quarters of this huge political marquee, structural weaknesses within many past opposition formations, often meaningless political agendas, opportunism, sabotage by the BDP, infiltration by divisive elements; the reasons make for a long list, and interesting reading.

But all this I want to believe is now behind us. As a united front UDC made a sterling showing in the 2014 general election, and there is no telling what they could have achieved had the BCP deemed it their business to harness resources and their strong voice to other opposition parties and square the ruling party. But lost possibilities are not the subject of politics. My point is it would be a terrible mistake for Batswana to view this political grouping as just talk among a group of bad losers.


By the way, even talk of this kind among a group constitutes serious politics. Even talk among a hunting group in the bush constitutes politics. What really matters is how this talk always “feedsback” in some key way making for greater successes and possibilities of more good work in the future. Despise UDC+ at your own peril.


Laugh at them only if you are hundred per cent positive you have them at a terrible disadvantage, only if you are positive you can beat them decisively at the game they are playing; politics. As things stand, I don’t see many in the ruling party laughing right now. 2019 is a year to watch in our political calendar. The world of politics is not a known world, neither is it knowable. The expression anything can happen in politics should never be taken lightly.

Several things will decide the fortunes of UDC+ in 2019, and the political fate of the nation; its assumptions, origins and political significance in the national imagination. For the first time BDP cadres will have a straining, and frightfully exhausting, opportunity to engage in serious politics with rival political elites. This is one election in which considered judgement should direct the nation towards the imperial need for political legitimacy to be made.


The entrenched political monologue of the BDP should now become a thing of the past. 2019 offers Batswana a unique chance to renegotiate not only the contours of political power but also the rationale and policy direction of a new class hegemony. It is an election about the political rebirth of a nation. The desire for knowledgeable governance is in the air and we all can feel it. My own assumption is that the rise of UDC+ is a logical outcome of a unified approach to the study of national problems.


UDC+ offers the country the chance to remove from society the ludicrous standoffishness that has kept men and women of character and commitment to social justice apart in our civilization for fifty years. It offers them the chance to conveniently come together in search of solutions that are capable of contributing to the knowledge needed by the democratic polity to hedge desperate citizens against the endless troubles of the new millennium.

The danger, of course, is that energy may in turn be dissipated on a miscellany of merely topical issues. I hope UDC+ will avoid this treacherous path and in this they will need our support and guidance; the very thing I am doing right now, writing this article. If they do not listen, by all means, let us send them back to the sea where they come from. The fundamental, and often neglected, problems which arise in the adjustment of human beings in society must be addressed, thoroughly.


Postcolonial society cannot survive on a policy vacuum the way Botswana has been doing this past fifty years. It’s time the entire context of postcolonial significant events was made the springboard of all political action and policy choices. Politics should not and cannot be allowed to create more problems for our bewildered citizens.


There is urgent need to increase the knowledge necessary for the improvement of practical democracy; democracy must exist and thrive beyond the ballot box. It is time voting became just a singular day in a contiguous and self-informing march of democratic culture in society. Batswana must learn to live like educated democrats, to eat and drink democratic values and cultures.

As a political system democracy is a watchman. If you don’t pay it much attention it abandons you. Latch it to your heart and it will prosper, leash it to a rotten tree and it will die. We should struggle not only to protect the physical dignity of citizens but also the realization of human dignity in public policy and national politics. It is not democratic for Batswana to go out partying when the entire High Court bench is under political attack from a prodigal and reckless presidency.


It is not democratic for Batswana to go and dance polka in Khawa when Basarwa are dying of illiteracy, hunger and starvation. It is not democratic for Batswana to laugh at hopeless young people who are spawn into dangerous and loathsome streets every year-at a rate of more than eighty thousand per annum for a population of 1.2 million people-poorly educated, and facing no prospect of landing good jobs with good pay in their lives.

In a democratic society you do not differentiate between public duty and personal conscience, and if you err you always do so on the side of justice. This is what Martin Luther King taught us. This is what Nelson Mandela taught us. This is what Rosa Parks taught us. If we do not learn these things from our own black people who will be our teachers? I do believe the UDC+ wants to teach us these things. Most of these people have sacrificed lucrative careers in law and academia to pursue these democratic ideals.


Who are we to give them deaf ears?  Who are we to turn our backs on them? Who are we to give them cold shoulders? Who are we to march in the opposite direction? UDC+ emerges in our country at a time when we are living in a world of an ever-deepening shadow. The threat to democratic values is real enough. If it does not come from climate change and political violence, it easily manifests in religious mania and terrorism, and worse, nuclear winter.

Under these circumstances it makes sense we use our far too limited intellectual resources for the defence and extension of our democratic values. UDC+ symbolizes a creative rearrangement of, and enlargement of, a political map that defines these problems as perceived by all concerned citizens.


Their political diversity is essential for one thing: the obliteration of lust for power just for its sake-a terrible disease in African politics. A united front is far better at dealing with the endless problems that plague us on a daily basis than a driven personality. We have had enough of this nonsense from the BDP. We cannot heal the polity by pandering to the egos of megalomaniac individuals.

Right now Botswana stands as an unsatisfactory social state. About this we all agree. The question is: what is to be done? How can we, as individuals, best fulfil the requirements of social cooperation in conditions of accelerating economic change and hardships? We all accept, I think, it is institutions, and not the moral and economic individualism of the BDP, that are the necessary conditions of satisfactory social coexistence.


The UDC+ we all can see is such a political institution; diverse, sophisticated and politically committed to social justice. It is an institution in which many diverse individuals and political cultures have come together so they can more effectively grasp how their actions will always involve the regulation of relationships with others, through one impartial instrument; professional collegial judgement in a coalition of equals. Could there be anything more beautiful than this, could there be any political machine more effective, no, more efficient, at running the affairs of a multicultural society in this most troubling moment in national history?

The UDC+ politician is defined by the relationships he has with others so that even an individual is a social system and not some wayward sovereign maverick.  This is very important for party discipline and policy delivery. Is it any wonder opportunists and political adventurists are already decamping to the feeding bowl that is BDP? There is no room for corruption here, only selfless public service, and the greedy wolves are already running.Good riddance.

Let them go now when there is still time. But the gatekeepers, those who are totally and irrevocably committed, should not open the doors for a mass stampede; political education has never been more crucial. These people know not what they are doing. They need our help and guidance. Teach them and value their contributions. This is how I see the UDC+ as an outsider, as a political theorist. This is my understanding of this strategic alliance. I might be wrong about all these things.


But the role of a thinker is not to shy away from what his brain tells him. My duty is to debate these issues, not avoid them. I put them in the public domain with an intellectual purpose which is deliberate; perhaps to a certain fault, to test their validity. It’s not the most empirical way to do things. But my purpose is overtly political. This much is obvious to all readers. I am not going to pretend to any element of objectivity. The future of this country is at stake.


And our moral duty as scholars is to protect the country, not the sectional interests of individuals and political parties. If you disagree with me write your own political monograph-I just finished writing two on these very same issues. Meet me squarely in the republic of scholarship. I will answer to your charges pound for pound in the clinical way most profound.

One thing, however, still demands consideration: is it possible the UDC+ may be composed of just a patchwork of individuals and political parties held together by whatever thread appears to be appropriate to the circumstances of the moment? This, in fact, is my greatest fear; that Batswana may be unwittingly nurturing just another unprincipled political monstrosity.


Rarely is political activity a conscious human purpose. As I said, politics is almost always unknowable. There is no point in just playing one bunch of political elites against another if there is no real politics in such a game, if their interests are coterminous and mutually beneficial to the exclusion of all other interests.

It is critical that we carefully assess the emerging nature of our politics. This we must do before Election Day, 2019. We must learn to educate ourselves about the world we live in. It’s the only way to guard against political annihilation in modern society. Is UDC+ who they claim to be? Are they truly concerned with our national problems and the relationship of the BDP to these problems? Are they truly concerned with what the BDP does, and what it does not do, to further the health and wealth of the nation?


Do they have units involved in policy research and development to originate better ideas and policies to combat the problems that continue to bedevil our national life? Are they just a lobby group masquerading as a political movement? Are they just another pressure group for vested class interests? What kinds of policy arenas, fields, communities, and networks are they involved in? Are they genuinely seeking a fundamental alternative to the present government and its way of doing things? What political reality do they share as a political community?


Where do we, ordinary citizens, fit within this vexing political reality? Is this reality problematic enough to effect a radical change in society and affect the lives of citizens positively in the long term?  What are the ties that hold these disparate political parties as a political group, and how durable are these ties? How are they going to deal with the problems of convergence and shifting class loyalties when they get into political office?

If UDC+ cannot answer these questions then they have no business in national politics. Politics, we all understand, is human imagination. It involves experiments in thought. Surely these suave men and women should know what they are about? Above everything else politics is self-education. They must know this country well. They must know our problems as a nation. They must have a plan for the future. They must mean business. But do they really know these things? Do they really care?

This is what I mean when I say UDC+ still has a lot of work to do if they are to rally the entire nation behind them and carry the vote in the next election. I am not trying to teach them their business. But if they need my vote they must answer my questions. No Motswana, I am sure, expects less from them.

Teedzani Thapelo* is former Research Associate at the Centre for Economic Policy in Southern Africa, Distinguished Africa Guest Researcher at Nordic Africa Institute, Economic History Lecturer at the University of Botswana, and author of the bestselling three-part series Botswana epic novel, Seasons of Thunder, Vol.1. 11 and 111

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The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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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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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

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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