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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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Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan

Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.

This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.

The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.

Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.

Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.

Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?

This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.

The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.

So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?

This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.

Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.

I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’  I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’

Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message.  Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?

The answer is – as always: now.

This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.

We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.

It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.

Let us start today.

*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana

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Opinions

Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.

So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair.  When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees.  They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.

It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government.  To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.

It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.

If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer.  It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.

An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.

On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.

Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country.
Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.

Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country.
The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?

Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.

When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised.  If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?

Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land.  Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.

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Is it possible to make people part of your business resilience planning after the State of Public Emergency?

12th October 2020

THABO MAJOLA

His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.

The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.

The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.

Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.

Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?

The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.

The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly.  So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?

COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.

Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.

Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.

Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.

Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.

Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.

Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!

This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety.  Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.

Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.

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