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Thursday, 18 April 2024

A misguided political leadership

Opinions

I have never really trusted politicians especially those in the ruling party since my youth. The reason being that during the elections every five years they came, made promises, ridiculed the opposition politicians as dreamers and went back only to come back for the same similitude after five years. Many of the promised developments, especially roads networks have still not been constructed almost fifty (50) years later making access to these villages very difficult resulting in a lot of our people migrating to towns and other villages.

Without roads and necessary developments who will be interested in investing in these villages? How many educated and informed people given a choice will remain in undeveloped remote villages, surrounded by poverty, with no social amenities?  How many people will choose to travel every weekend on dusty, bumpy and unsafe roads with their children to these far flung villages just for the sake of being in their beloved undeveloped villages? The fifty (50) year old song, the political song called diversification of the economy, will remain a song, a pipe dream that will last as long as we have the kind of politicians we have in this country, especially those in the ruling party.

The kind of politicians who do not realise that diversification will not happen until the country is first adequately prepared for it; the kind of politicians who do not realise that investors will come only if their livelihood and that of their families is not compromised; the politicians who does not realise that investors will need decent schools for their children, the politicians who do not understand that investors will need decent health care systems for their families, the politicians who do not appreciate that investors will need decent transportation infrastructure like road networks, railway facilities, telecommunication and air travel to reach the market and to fully benefit from and fully enjoy the benefits of his investment. Without the right kind of politicians no meaningful diversification of the economy will take place.  

Our politicians do not understand why Gaborone and the Greater Gaborone are so congested. They do not realise that it is because of our failure to decentralise and spread the economic burden to all the major centres of our country. Our politicians do not understand why the cost of living is unbearable for many living in Gaborone and the Greater Gaborone. They wonder why accommodation is extremely expensive in Gaborone and the Greater Gaborone.

They cannot see that it is because of poor planning that has resulted in concentration of all economic activities centred on these areas.  Gaborone was never designed for the population it is currently forced to support. The resultant congestion has complicated many things including land shortages resulting in expensive accommodation, on the lower end of the community economic spectrum accommodation is not only expensive, it is also appalling with many families living in one roomed accommodation which is used as a kitchen, a bathroom, a sitting room and a bedroom.

Roads are overflowing with traffic making driving not only a very expensive and dangerous occupation, but also a negative productivity factor as people cannot get to work on time and cannot carry their economic activities on time making the business environment very unattractive. Water supply challenges in and around Gaborone is a result of the volumes required to water Gaborone and the Greater Gaborone as a consequence of this congestion and poor planning and execution by our politicians. These politicians do not realise that developing rural areas will help in their diversification efforts and will ease congestions in Gaborone and surrounding villages.

As a young man I vowed never to be become a politician as I believed many politicians I observed as I was growing were just load mouths with very little in between their ears.  I was also told that it is the empty drums that make the loudest noise. I heard their loud noises in their load speakers as they bellowed and traversed our villages, at freedom squares canvassing for votes from desperate  and unsuspecting villagers who were always ready to hero worship these noisy politicians who always told them that they held the national purse for development of their villages.

I heard them too, they promised but never delivered. Every five years they came with their empty loud promises, and then disappeared never to be heard until the next five years. What a bunch of clowns!  See them at work in parliament and you will realise that indeed they are a bunch of clowns, not the honorables that they fake to be.

It is this crop of politicians who have not understood their role or who have deliberately misguided themselves for their own selfish interests, or who have not taken time to understand what their functions are or who neither have the ability nor the aptitude to understand their mandate or who are so malleable that they can easily be swayed to toe the line by the party leadership against their better judgment. It is this bunch of politicians who are purchasable, bought by promise of tenders and personal opportunities. It is these politicians who have sold their souls to their party at the expense of their mandate and the people they are supposed to represent. What a bunch of people!

The role of a politician is to represent the diverse interests of his or her people fearlessly with the courage and ferocity of a hungry lion to get the best ‘meal’ for his constituency and his country; to make laws that govern the country for the promotion of peace, tranquility and development, to allocate resources equitably through out the country and to be able to explain to the electorate the rationale behind each allocation of funds and the development priorities. It is not up to the Minister of Finance or the President to allocate resources. No. Their job is to manage and ensure a fair, transparent and equitable framework for the allocation of resources.  It is the responsibility of all politicians to allocate resources according to the needs of their people and the needs of the country using a fair and transparent system.

The people must see how the allocation will benefit them and it is the responsibility of the politicians to be able to explain these to their people as all the resources in the country belong to every citizen and therefore each citizen must be assured that the resources are allocated and used for his or her benefit one way or the other. When resources are used to benefit individuals and selfish interests then we have politicians who are irresponsible and lacking in character; then we have politicians who can be described as vultures and dishonorable; then we have politicians who should be purged and cast out of the political system.

Our politicians have given themselves responsibility to appoint and manage public servants including people employed in the parastatals. It seems they have even now expanded this self given mandate to influence critical and strategic appointments in the private sector because they hold the purse and influence on the civil servants. Politicians by nature are not experts in any field and they should not even want to be. 

Their job is to ensure that there is a legitimate, transparent and world class framework for appointment of civil servants, and employment of people running the parastatals such frameworks must be devised and managed by experts with politicians only playing an oversight role. Politicians should have no role whatsoever ever in private companies as this can only be a recipe for economic disaster that we see emerging in our beloved republic.

If you look closely to the failure of the entire government sponsored project you will realise that the politicians were and are running the show. The Morupule B it was the Minister of Mines who was running the show with BPC executive as just the minister’s messengers.  Just mention any government project and there are many, the ministers where and are responsible. At one stage when our current President was the Vice President he was given the mandate, his only mandate at the time to manage the implementation of all government projects. Did we get any of the projects implemented satisfactorily? No. But it was not his fault; he was not simply qualified to carryout that function. The current President continues to make the same mistake and has even made the mistake bigger and more expensive by now appointing retired and failed politicians to oversee government projects.

These are politicians who do not have any project implementation skills, how can they be appointed to manage projects and how do you expect them to make any positive difference? They are going to fail not because they are bad people but because they have been given jobs they are not qualified to do. Why can’t these people also realise that they are inadequately equipped for such jobs and decline these jobs? Do these people have the interests of the country at heart or only the interest to line their pockets? Do they care whether these projects will succeed or not?

What we need for these retired politicians is for them to be given adequate retirement packages to allow them to retire from public office gracefully and do their own thing in their own chosen areas of interest.

We do not need retired politicians to be made project managers when we have qualified younger people waiting to be given opportunities to prove themselves. We do not need retired and failed politicians to be made ambassadors when we know they have no such skills. What skills to they have to represent our country in foreign countries?  What skills do they have to find business opportunities for Batswana in those countries and what skills do they have to find investors in those countries and guide them to partner with Batswana to start businesses in Botswana? With good ambassadors we do not need some of the many politically motivated parastatals that have been created to promote foreign investment.

In conclusion, our politicians need to realise that they must change and start serving the interests of the people not their own interests. I believe what I have said here is a true reflection of our political status. However, I must admit that we have politicians in the past and now who have interests of their people at heart. They are however very few, I can mention a few but I will not.  It is disappointing and disheartening that almost all the politicians in the ruling party have sold their soul to their party forgetting their country and their people. They have regrettably become spineless puppets on the string to serve only the interests of the party.

We need to raise the voice of consciousness and urge these politicians to understand and pursue only their mandate and not to accept programs and laws that will drain our national coffers without commensurate benefit to the country. We need politicians who will stand for principle not only to satisfy their political bosses. Let us watch the American and European politicians at work and learn how function democracies work. The politicians including the president should not be above the law, the politician including the president should not be above his or her people; the politician including the president should rather be a true servant of the people.

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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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