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LET US PRAY

"Pray for London." "Pray for Madrid." "Pray for Paris." It seems "Pray for such-and-such a place" is increasingly becoming the catchphrase in modern times, especially following acts of terror or natural disasters. We rally around these catchphrases and calls for prayer and even use them as our profile pictures in our social media pages. It's the "in thing." But do we really believe in what we're calling for? And why do we often only want to pray when we're in trouble?

Does prayer work? I mean really work?

You bet it does!

But saying that does not mean that prayers are the spiritual equivalent of coins which we place in a Divine vending machine and that if we put the right ones in, in the proper sequence, we will automatically be granted whatever it is we ask for, especially in tough times. That would be magic or manipulation, not prayer.

Atheists are often very aggressive when it comes to attacking Christianity, and one of the topics they often criticize is prayer. Since they believe (deny, lack belief, etc.,) that there is no God, therefore prayer cannot work – no matter what is said. The problem is that atheists who attack Christianity regarding prayer have three major problems. First, they need to deal with their own false assumptions that constrain their objectivity. Second, how would they judge if prayer works. Third, they don't understand how prayer works.

In the first case, atheists can only assume that God does not exist. They cannot know for sure that God does not exist because it is not possible to know all arguments and evidences for and against God's existence – which means there could be arguments and evidences they have not yet heard. So, ultimately, his position is held by faith–even if he wants to say it is an informed "faith."

Once his belief is in place, all evidence and arguments for God must be filtered through that paradigm. Prayer, then, could not possibly work because it would mean that God existed.

Second, how would atheists judge whether or not prayer works? Do they want repeatable experiments and regular quantifiable data so that the efficacy of prayer can be tested and measured? That would be a problem. If prayer "A" resulted in effect "B," then we would see a correspondence of prayer and result – something the atheist could see and verify. But if this were the case, such a phenomena would not be a demonstration that God exists. Instead, it would be a demonstration that uttering certain words in certain patterns brings certain results.  This would imply that a new property of the universe has been discovered, and that by saying certain words certain results occur. This would not demonstrate that God exists. Besides, we call this phenomena sorcery.

Third, prayer doesn't work the way the atheists imply it should. Biblically speaking, prayer is offered to a Living Being who, according to Christianity, works all things after the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11) and not ours. God, like any rational being, may or may not answer a request from someone. Think about this: if my child asks me for ice cream and I don't want to give it to her, does it mean I don't exist, or that her asking me for things doesn't work? Of course not.

That doesn't stop the atheist from citing "studies" where the efficacy of prayer is measured and found to be useless – according to them. But that is what you'd expect if God, in his infinite wisdom, refused to be quantified by those who deny him and want him, essentially, to perform parlor tricks by responding to prayers in such a regular and man-centered manner so that his "performance" (and prayer's efficacy) can be measured. In other words, atheists, who deny God, want God to do what they want him to do, so they can be convinced. But God doesn't submit to his creation – especially to those who deny him.

But still, does prayer work? Yes it does. I've experienced profound answers many times. But, of course, if I were to offer my experiences and answered prayers, the atheist would say it's too subjective and not quantifiable. Therefore, they would reject it. So we are at an impasse. The atheist requirement of observation, testability, etc., can't affirm or deny prayer's efficacy. So, it isn't possible to win with the atheist when he sets up a criteria that is impossible to satisfy and especially when all answers have to be filtered through his atheistic worldview which requires that prayer will not work.

The atheist, in my opinion, has arrogantly challenged God by viewing non-answered prayer as evidence that He does not exist. The Bible says that God hides himself from the proud (James 4:6). So according to Scripture, atheists cannot and will not see that prayer works, and they will continue to deny God and elevate their own sense of truth and reality.

I believe in a personal God – one who listens to my prayers, especially when those I love are suffering, when I am at a loss, or when things seem so dark in the world that there is no other response that makes any sense. I pray to that God and hope that I do get what I want, but we all know that’s not exactly how it works. I wish it were that easy.

The one or ones to whom any of us pray, and for the purposes of my question it makes no difference who that one or ones is or what name they are called, is not a vending machine which is manipulated by the user in order to obtain goodies – even very serious and totally appropriate ones. And if one can only appreciate the efficacy of prayer in those terms, then I take back my initial assertion about prayer working.

For example, and contrary to what some people believe, there is no reliable evidence to support the notion that prayers offered on behalf of sick people make them any healthier than those for whom nobody has prayed. In fact, the studies which purported to prove that kind of efficacy for prayer, have all been debunked. But that does NOT mean that prayer doesn’t work. I'm only presenting this from purported "scientific" studies. We need not assume that prayer is working only when it gets us the end result we seek. Observations and studies aside, the Bible commands believers to pray for the sick and promises them that such prayers will result in the sick being healed. To be fair, Jesus in fact commands to HEAL the sick, not PRAY FOR the sick. Maybe that's why most sick people have stayed sick even after prayer! They didn't require prayer but healing. But that's a subject for another day.

But if I, or any other believer, know that our prayers won’t get us what we want, at least not in any direct way, why bother? Because, and I mean this quite seriously, as the Rollings Stones sang, "you can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you just may find, you get what you need." Well, maybe not in the ultimate sense — that’s up to God, the individual, or some combination of the two, depending on your belief system, to confirm or deny. But we can find more than we often imagine of that which we need to get through the tough stuff, and prayer is a wonderful way of doing so. For that there IS evidence.

Prayer works amazingly well at providing some of the most important things we need especially at life’s most difficult moments – it takes us beyond ourselves, it connects us, battles loneliness, focuses attention on that for which we hope, and so much more. I think that’s why the impulse to pray transcends pretty much any religious and theological categories that exist and over which people battle. People can argue about the existence of God, which religion(s) are true and which are false, etc. but the desire to prayer is bigger and deeper than all of that. It's why, I think, according to the Bible, spontaneous prayer is with us from the very beginning of the human story, though formal liturgies take millennia to emerge.

Having been sick myself and having shared sickness and so many other difficult moments with countless others, having prayed for others and having asked others to pray for me and those I love, I know two things: first, that there is no way to prove that prayer directly effects or creates the outcomes we may seek and second, that prayer is a profound source of strength and clarity which enable us to achieve those outcomes or to deal with the fact that we may fail to achieve them.

The first premise is from a non-faith, philosophical perspective. It's based on scientific deduction. The second premise is from a faith perspective. And that's my main interest area. The prayer of faith works, manifestly so. There are millions of people the world over so can attest to its efficacy. There are people who have miraculously recovered from terminal and incurable illnesses after prayer.

In my experience, prayer works not as a manipulation of God, but as an opportunity to connect more deeply with ourselves and to experience the reality that we are not alone, no matter how much we may feel that we are at any given moment. And there is plenty of evidence for the material benefit of overcoming loneliness and alienation, restoring a sense of hope, and reminding ourselves that there are sources of strength upon which can always draw – whether they are located within us, within those who care about us, or within the God in whom we believe. So yes, prayer works.

I've seen it work. It's working for me daily. In fact, where I currently am in life and the man that I am today is owing to prayer, my own prayers and countless people who have prayed and are praying for me. While I respect the man who doesn't believe in the power of prayer, I pity such a man. He is the poorer for it. Prayer works.

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Opinions

Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022
Craig-Cloud

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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