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Least Corrupt Tag Is Problematic

For the umpteenth time, Botswana was ranked Africa’s least corrupt country by London-based watchdog Transparency International (TI) for the year 2015. The announcement as is the custom was made in a subsequent year, 2016.  

Our lofty perch in the corruption perception standings seems to be a foregone conclusion. We have practically become the sang paradigm of such a laurel, which may engender complacence and be a recipe for self-denial about the profundity of corruption in our country. Should the graft busters in the DCEC ranks clink glasses and dance a pirouette?

Before they do, maybe they should listen to my own beef with TI’s take. This is that our exalted position on the corruption-averse log simply do not square with the facts on the ground, or, shall I say, with what we’re given to understand in hushed-tone chatter by outraged Peeping Toms and eavesdroppers, the steady stream of exposes (or something to that effect) that have now become the staple of tabloids and broadsheets alike, and what some of us experience firsthand from time to time.

Let’s take the year 2010. Just like it did this year, TI in that year announced to the whole wide world that Botswana had outranked every other country on the continent on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). But almost at once was a resounding rebuttal, when His Worship Lot Moroka gave a gobsmacked congregation at an anti-corruption workshop held in Gaborone to understand that Government alone was possibly losing up to a billion Pula a year in corruption and economic crime.

Justice Moroka has since been elevated to the bench, but in 2010 he was a regional magistrate. He said his court alone was handling cases of economic crime amounting to close to P500 million. Given that there are 19   magistrate courts in Botswana and assuming that each was snowed under with cases of the sort amounting to a figure of the same order, we’re talking in the region of P8 billion-plus our national coffers are haemorrhaging of year to year thanks to the artifice and deviousness of some members of our own society. Of course this is too simplistic a way of encapsulating the scale of graft in the country but it is not exactly far-fetched.   

PERCEPTIONS ARE NOT FACTS

Somebody sensibly paused this question in relation to the efficacy of measuring corruption in a country:  if the abuse of public office for private gain is typically done in secret, under the table or behind closed doors, how can you systematically – and credibly – capture its scale and depth?

Granted, corruption permeates every corner of the globe, but it comes in hues. In some countries such as Nigeria, for instance, it is said to be audacious and even blatant:  in others, it is blurry and therefore less apparent, the best example of which are the Nordic countries. As such, it is curious that such an elusive aspect of human behaviour can be pinned down and quantified on a simple scale as CPI implies.

TI’s rejoinder to such a dim view of its hobbyhorse is that it does not measure actual corruption: it highlights perceptions of the degree and prevalence of corruption. Therein lies the rub. Perceptions are not and do not translate to facts.   Suspicions – or is it intuitions? – are bandied about but with zero hard evidence to buttress those suspicions. Inevitably, there’s a danger of distorting the reflection of truth, so that a country that is perceived as Africa’s least corrupt – read my lips – may actually be one of its most putrid beneath the facade. Is there a better, more matter-of-fact way of assessing levels of corruption? Successful prosecutions immediately come to mind but TI is quick to scoff at the absurdity of such a notion.  

"Corruption generally comprises illegal activities, which are deliberately hidden and only come to light through scandals, investigations or prosecutions,” TI counters. "There is no meaningful way to assess absolute levels of corruption in countries or territories on the basis of hard empirical data. Possible attempts to do so, such as by comparing bribes reported, the number of prosecutions brought or studying court cases directly linked to corruption, cannot be taken as definitive indicators of corruption levels. Instead, they show how effective prosecutors, the courts or the media are in investigating and exposing corruption."

Because of the difficulty of measuring actual corruption and the prohibitive expense of running elaborate surveys, TI has since 1995 published a CPI that ranks countries according to how corrupt they are perceived to be by a tiny corps of individuals who do not even constitute the barest   quorum in proportion to the national population. The CPI is compiled by aggregating 13 different perception surveys. The people who inform these perceptions come from basically the same cohort. They are "a group of country economists,"; "experts based primarily in London (but also in New York, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai) who are supported by a global network of in-country specialists,"; "100 business executives per country/territory,"; etcetera.

The opinions TI collates to feed into the CPI are garnered from an internationally focussed elite (with a commonality of innate biases), with the common man conspicuous by his absence. The essentiality of diversity of opinion, of plurality of thought, does not remotely come to bear. That’s not to say the CPI is entirely without merit and therefore an exercise in futility:  for all its shortcomings and the unrelenting barbs of cynical strictures, it has done precious much for the anti-corruption cause. But as a nation, we should be sober and rational enough not to take TI’s yearly pronouncements as unassailably factual. Since its methodology is admittedly far from scientific, we cannot discount altogether the possibility of flawed deduction.  

WE CAN BENCHMARK AGAINST HONG KONG

In the 60s and 70s, corruption in Hong Kong, a latter-day Tiger economy, was invariably a way of life.   Graftomania, if I may coin a word, was rife.   For as long as one was able to oil a palm, they could get whatever they wanted and get away with any conceivable transgression against the law.   

Ambulance crews demanded a “scratch on the back” to pick up the critically ailing. Even in the wards, the bed-ridden would not be attended to, let alone vouchsafed a glass of water, before they proffered forth a worthy inducement. Every public service – public housing, schooling, etc – was rendered subject to a kickback. All the while, law enforcement agents, themselves past masters in the art of corruption  and the most unscrupulous in its execution, typically looked the other way thanks to “hush” retainers they routinely enjoyed at the hands of gamblers,  drug pushers, and other nether elements of the Hong Kong Mafia.

Since government, itself choking with mindless aiders and abetters of graft, seemed powerless to arrest the problem, the citizenry decided to take matters into their own hands. They pressed incessantly for government to act promptly and decisively. Things came to a head when one Peter Godber, a Chief Police Superintendent who controlled assets of over HK$4.3 million, skipped the country whilst under investigation on June 8 1973. The public mounted a picket match on the government enclave and demanded that it accounts for Godber’s flight, who, it went without saying, was actually escorted out of the country on the wings of the high and mighty. That’s how the    Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) came into being, leading to the eventual extradition and incarceration of Godber.

Today, Hong Kong is one of the least corrupt countries in the world. It placed 16th on the 2015 CPI and the ICAC has been saluted by USAID as “an iconic and historic example, perhaps the most successful example of an anti-corruption agency”, a tribute our DCEC is light years from attaining to. Unlike the DCEC, which falls under the ambit of the presidency, the ICAC is entirely independent, and separated, from any department of government, including the police.  The dissimilitude between the two agencies in this regard is ironic considering that Graham Stockwell, the pioneer head of the DCEC, was recruited from ICAC and may in all likelihood have vainly pitched a similar setup.   

Hong Kong has been able to wage a most illustrious war against corruption primarily because there, the burden of proof of corruption rests on the suspect and not the policing or prosecuting authorities. If, for instance, you are living a lavish lifestyle or you own property that do not equate with what your average income would ordinarily permit, you have to produce tangible proof that you legally earned the wherewithal that made possible such a lush standard of living, failure to which you are automatically guilty of corruption and a long stint in prison beckons.   

The appropriate institutions of the Government of Botswana are enjoined to pluck a leaf or two from the graft-busting ways of the “Pearl of the Orient”.

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Opinions

IEC Disrespects Batswana: A Critical Analysis

10th November 2023

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has recently faced significant criticism for its handling of the voter registration exercise. In this prose I aim to shed light on the various instances where the IEC has demonstrated a lack of respect towards the citizens of Botswana, leading to a loss of credibility. By examining the postponements of the registration exercise and the IEC’s failure to communicate effectively, it becomes evident that the institution has disregarded its core mandate and the importance of its role in ensuring fair and transparent elections.

Incompetence or Disrespect?

One possible explanation for the IEC’s behavior is sheer incompetence. It is alarming to consider that the leadership of such a critical institution may lack the understanding of the importance of their mandate. The failure to communicate the reasons for the postponements in a timely manner raises questions about their ability to handle their responsibilities effectively. Furthermore, if the issue lies with government processes, it calls into question whether the IEC has the courage to stand up to the country’s leadership.

Another possibility is that the IEC lacks respect for its core clients, the voters of Botswana. Respect for stakeholders is crucial in building trust, and clear communication is a key component of this. The IEC’s failure to communicate accurate and complete information, despite having access to it, has fueled speculation and mistrust. Additionally, the IEC’s disregard for engaging with political parties, such as the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), further highlights this disrespect. By ignoring the UDC’s request to observe the registration process, the IEC demonstrates a lack of regard for its partners in the electoral exercise.

Rebuilding Trust and Credibility:

While allegations of political interference and security services involvement cannot be ignored, the IEC has a greater responsibility to ensure its own credibility. The institution did manage to refute claims by the DISS Director that the IEC database had been compromised, which is a positive step towards rebuilding trust. However, this remains a small glimmer of hope in the midst of the IEC’s overall disregard for the citizens of Botswana.

To regain the trust of Batswana, the IEC must prioritize respect for its stakeholders. Clear and timely communication is essential in this process. By engaging with political parties and addressing their concerns, the IEC can demonstrate a commitment to transparency and fairness. It is crucial for the IEC to recognize that its credibility is directly linked to the trust it garners from the voters.

Conclusion:

The IEC’s recent actions have raised serious concerns about its credibility and respect for the citizens of Botswana. Whether due to incompetence or a lack of respect for stakeholders, the IEC’s failure to communicate effectively and handle its responsibilities has damaged its reputation. To regain trust and maintain relevance, the IEC must prioritize clear and timely communication, engage with political parties, and demonstrate a commitment to transparency and fairness. Only by respecting the voters of Botswana can the IEC fulfill its crucial role in ensuring free and fair elections.

 

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Opinions

Fuelling Change: The Evolving Dynamics of the Oil and Gas Industry

4th April 2023

The Oil and Gas industry has undergone several significant developments and changes over the last few years. Understanding these developments and trends is crucial towards better appreciating how to navigate the engagement in this space, whether directly in the energy space or in associated value chain roles such as financing.

Here, we explore some of the most notable global events and trends and the potential impact or bearing they have on the local and global market.

Governments and companies around the world have been increasingly focused on transitioning towards renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. This shift is motivated by concerns about climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Africa, including Botswana, is part of these discussions, as we work to collectively ensure a greener and more sustainable future. Indeed, this is now a greater priority the world over. It aligns closely with the increase in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing being observed. ESG investing has become increasingly popular, and many investors are now looking for companies that are focused on sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint. This trend could have significant implications for the oil and fuel industry, which is often viewed as environmentally unsustainable. Relatedly and equally key are the evolving government policies. Government policies and regulations related to the Oil and Gas industry are likely to continue evolving with discussions including incentives for renewable energy and potentially imposing stricter regulations on emissions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a strong role. Over the last two years, the pandemic had a profound impact on the Oil and Gas industry (and fuel generally), leading to a significant drop in demand as travel and economic activity slowed down. As a result, oil prices plummeted, with crude oil prices briefly turning negative in April 2020. Most economies have now vaccinated their populations and are in recovery mode, and with the recovery of the economies, there has been recovery of oil prices; however, the pace and sustainability of recovery continues to be dependent on factors such as emergence of new variants of the virus.

This period, which saw increased digital transformation on the whole, also saw accelerated and increased investment in technology. The Oil and Gas industry is expected to continue investing in new digital technologies to increase efficiency and reduce costs. This also means a necessary understanding and subsequent action to address the impacts from the rise of electric vehicles. The growing popularity of electric vehicles is expected to reduce demand for traditional gasoline-powered cars. This has, in turn, had an impact on the demand for oil.

Last but not least, geopolitical tensions have played a tremendous role. Geopolitical tensions between major oil-producing countries can and has impacted the supply of oil and fuel. Ongoing tensions in the Middle East and between the US and Russia could have an impact on global oil prices further, and we must be mindful of this.

On the home front in Botswana, all these discussions are relevant and the subject of discussion in many corporate and even public sector boardrooms. Stanbic Bank Botswana continues to take a lead in supporting the Oil and Gas industry in its current state and as it evolves and navigates these dynamics. This is through providing financing to support Oil and Gas companies’ operations, including investments in new technologies. The Bank offers risk management services to help oil and gas companies to manage risks associated with price fluctuations, supply chain disruptions and regulatory changes. This includes offering hedging products and providing advice on risk management strategies.

Advisory and support for sustainability initiatives that the industry undertakes is also key to ensuring that, as companies navigate complex market conditions, they are more empowered to make informed business decisions. It is important to work with Oil and Gas companies to develop and implement sustainability strategies, such as reducing emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy. This is key to how partners such as Stanbic Bank work to support the sector.

Last but not least, Stanbic Bank stands firmly in support of Botswana’s drive in the development of the sector with the view to attain better fuel security and reduce dependence risk on imported fuel. This is crucial towards ensuring a stronger, stabler market, and a core aspect to how we can play a role in helping drive Botswana’s growth.  Continued understanding, learning, and sustainable action are what will help ensure the Oil and Gas sector is supported towards positive, sustainable and impactful growth in a manner that brings social, environmental and economic benefit.

Loago Tshomane is Manager, Client Coverage, Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB), Stanbic Bank Botswana

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Opinions

Brands are important

27th March 2023

So, the conclusion is brands are important. I start by concluding because one hopes this is a foregone conclusion given the furore that erupts over a botched brand. If a fast food chef bungles a food order, there’d be possibly some isolated complaint thrown. However, if the same company’s marketing expert or agency cooks up a tasteless brand there is a country-wide outcry. Why?  Perhaps this is because brands affect us more deeply than we care to understand or admit. The fact that the uproar might be equal parts of schadenfreude, black twitter-esque criticism and, disappointment does not take away from the decibel of concern raised.

A good place to start our understanding of a brand is naturally by defining what a brand is. Marty Neumier, the genius who authored The Brand Gap, offers this instructive definition – “A brand is a person’s gut feel about a product or service”. In other words, a brand is not what the company says it is. It is what the people feel it is. It is the sum total of what it means to them. Brands are perceptions. So, brands are defined by individuals not companies. But brands are owned by companies not individuals. Brands are crafted in privacy but consumed publicly. Brands are communal. Granted, you say. But that doesn’t still explain why everybody and their pet dog feel entitled to jump in feet first into a brand slug-fest armed with a hot opinion. True. But consider the following truism.

 

Brands are living. They act as milestones in our past. They are signposts of our identity. Beacons of our triumphs. Indexes of our consumption. Most importantly, they have invaded our very words and world view. Try going for just 24 hours without mentioning a single brand name. Quite difficult, right? Because they live among us they have become one of us. And we have therefore built ‘brand bonds’ with them. For example, iPhone owners gather here. You love your iPhone. It goes everywhere. You turn to it in moments of joy and when we need a quick mood boost. Notice how that ‘relationship’ started with desire as you longingly gazed upon it in a glossy brochure. That quickly progressed to asking other people what they thought about it. Followed by the zero moment of truth were you committed and voted your approval through a purchase. Does that sound like a romantic relationship timeline. You bet it does. Because it is. When we conduct brand workshops we run the Brand Loyalty ™ exercise wherein we test people’s loyalty to their favourite brand(s). The results are always quite intriguing. Most people are willing to pay a 40% premium over the standard price for ‘their’ brand. They simply won’t easily ‘breakup’ with it. Doing so can cause brand ‘heart ache’. There is strong brand elasticity for loved brands.

 

Now that we know brands are communal and endeared, then companies armed with this knowledge, must exercise caution and practise reverence when approaching the subject of rebranding. It’s fragile. The question marketers ought to ask themselves before gleefully jumping into the hot rebranding cauldron is – Do we go for an Evolution (partial rebrand) or a Revolution(full rebrand)? An evolution is incremental. It introduces small but significant changes or additions to the existing visual brand. Here, think of the subtle changes you’ve seen in financial or FMCG brands over the decades. Evolution allows you to redirect the brand without alienating its horde of faithful followers. As humans we love the familiar and certain. Change scares us. Especially if we’ve not been privy to the important but probably blinkered ‘strategy sessions’ ongoing behind the scenes. Revolutions are often messy. They are often hard reset about-turns aiming for a total new look and ‘feel’.

 

 

Hard rebranding is risky business. History is littered with the agony of brands large and small who felt the heat of public disfavour. In January 2009, PepsiCo rebranded the Tropicana. When the newly designed package hit the shelves, consumers were not having it. The New York Times reports that ‘some of the commenting described the new packaging as ‘ugly’ ‘stupid’. They wanted their old one back that showed a ripe orange with a straw in it. Sales dipped 20%. PepsiCo reverted to the old logo and packaging within a month. In 2006 Mastercard had to backtrack away from it’s new logo after public criticism, as did Leeds United, and the clothing brand Gap. AdAge magazine reports that critics most common sentiment about the Gap logo was that it looked like something a child had created using a clip-art gallery. Botswana is no different. University of Botswana had to retreat into the comfort of the known and accepted heritage strong brand.  Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital was badgered with complaints till it ‘adjusted’ its logo.

 

 

So if the landscape of rebranding is so treacherous then whey take the risk? Companies need to soberly assess they need for a rebrand. According to the fellows at Ignyte Branding a rebrand is ignited by the following admissions :

Our brand name no longer reflects our company’s vision.
We’re embarrassed to hand out our business cards.

Our competitive advantage is vague or poorly articulated.
Our brand has lost focus and become too complex to understand. Our business model or strategy has changed.
Our business has outgrown its current brand.
We’re undergoing or recently underwent a merger or acquisition. Our business has moved or expanded its geographic reach.
We need to disassociate our brand from a negative image.
We’re struggling to raise our prices and increase our profit margins. We want to expand our influence and connect to new audiences. We’re not attracting top talent for the positions we need to fill. All the above are good reasons to rebrand.

The downside to this debacle is that companies genuinely needing to rebrand might be hesitant or delay it altogether. The silver lining I guess is that marketing often mocked for its charlatans, is briefly transformed from being the Archilles heel into Thanos’ glove in an instant.

So what does a company need to do to safely navigate the rebranding terrain? Companies need to interrogate their brand purpose thoroughly. Not what they think they stand for but what they authentically represent when seen through the lens of their team members. In our Brand Workshop we use a number of tools to tease out the compelling brand truth. This section always draws amusing insights. Unfailingly, the top management (CEO & CFO)always has a vastly different picture of their brand to the rest of their ExCo and middle management, as do they to the customer-facing officer. We have only come across one company that had good internal alignment. Needless to say that brand is doing superbly well.

There is need a for brand strategies to guide the brand. One observes that most brands ‘make a plan’ as they go along. Little or no deliberate position on Brand audit, Customer research, Brand positioning and purpose, Architecture, Messaging, Naming, Tagline, Brand Training and may more. A brand strategy distils why your business exists beyond making money – its ‘why’. It defines what makes your brand what it is, what differentiates it from the competition and how you want your customers to perceive it. Lacking a brand strategy disadvantages the company in that it appears soul-less and lacking in personality. Naturally, people do not like to hang around humans with nothing to say. A brand strategy understands the value proposition. People don’t buy nails for the nails sake. They buy nails to hammer into the wall to hang pictures of their loved ones. People don’t buy make up because of its several hues and shades. Make up is self-expression. Understanding this arms a brand with an iron clad clad strategy on the brand battlefield.

But perhaps you’ve done the important research and strategy work. It’s still possible to bungle the final look and feel.  A few years ago one large brand had an extensive strategy done. Hopes were high for a top tier brand reveal. The eventual proposed brand was lack-lustre. I distinctly remember, being tasked as local agency to ‘land’ the brand and we outright refused. We could see this was a disaster of epic proportions begging to happen. The brand consultants were summoned to revise the logo. After a several tweaks and compromises the brand landed. It currently exists as one of the country’s largest brands. Getting the logo and visual look right is important. But how does one know if they are on the right path? Using the simile of a brand being a person – The answer is how do you know your outfit is right? It must serve a function, be the right fit and cut, it must be coordinated and lastly it must say something about you. So it is possible to bath in a luxurious bath gel, apply exotic lotion, be facebeat and still somehow wear a faux pas outfit. Avoid that.

Another suggestion is to do the obvious. Pre-test the logo and its look and feel on a cross section of your existing and prospective audience. There are tools to do this. Their feedback can save you money, time and pain. Additionally one must do another obvious check – use Google Image to verify the visual outcome and plain Google search to verify the name. These are so obvious they are hopefully for gone conclusions. But for the brands that have gone ahead without them, I hope you have not concluded your brand journeys as there is a world of opportunity waiting to be unlocked with the right brand strategy key.

Cliff Mada is Head of ArmourGetOn Brand Consultancy, based in Gaborone and Cape Town.

cliff@armourgeton.com

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