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FIFTY YEARS ON: Self-reliance and the meaning of Independence

Last week my submission was headlined, ‘a culture of dependency must fall’.   This week I want to continue to talk about the dangers of this dependency culture that has like a cancerous cell slowly crept in our country’s psyche, which culture is threatening dominance in our country.  Foreigners working in our country have in some cases openly described our people as ‘lazy, devoid of initiative and self application, not capable of doing anything without close supervision, wanting freebees, handouts and sympathy’. This may be exaggerated but it is generally true and a sad indictment on our beloved and promising nation. 

Many times we refuse to accept this embarrassing label, but deep down we know we are just deluding ourselves, the new culture of dependency and entitlement is real, we must accept that it exists, that it is totally undesirable and that we must therefore fight against it as individuals and as a nation to totally get rid of it amongst ourselves. We must stop accepting free ‘fish’ from wherever, we must refuse these many free ‘fishes’, freebees that we do not deserve and rather demand to be taught how to ‘fish’  for ourselves so that we can, like the Chinese, catch our own ‘fish’ to feed ourselves and our children.

As we approach the day that marks the 50th year we were handed back our self rule by Britain in 1966, we will be reminded again and again that we were given back a very poor country with only less than five (5) km of tarmac road, a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of about US$70, a few missionary schools and some few unfurnished offices. I sometime wonder why this is so much of a concern to us. For me, we should rather be happy that Britain left our country as they found it; a virgin country whose resources were left untouched, intact with all its natural resources safely locked underground and within the length and breath of the country side ready for the rightful owners to exploit. Further they stopped the Boers and the Germans from swallowing our country. We did not have to fight like other countries to get our country back; our country was given back to us voluntarily by Britain with a promise to help us to develop the country. They also gave us our founding legal document, our constitution, recognising perhaps that we neither had the capacity nor the resources to draft our own constitution.

We should rather thank the British people through their government for their generosity, for the five or three km of tarred road they constructed, for the few schools they built for us, for the railway line across our country and its associated infrastructure and whatever else they did for us especially protecting us from the invading Boers from South Africa and Germans from Namibia. We have no reason to complain, Britain owed us nothing, absolutely nothing, they did not take anything from us by force; anything they took from us including some of our land was given to them by our chiefs as gifts.  If anything we are the ones who owe Britain for protecting us from the Boers who where advancing from the south taking our fertile land, the Germans encroaching from the east gobbling our wet lands. We went all the way to Britain to ask for protection against the invading imperialists, not to ask them to develop our country. W must therefore be thankful to the British people.

As we approach the 50th year of our self rule not independence, by the way I don’t like the word independence because we are not really independent, we must thank God for having kept our country safe for so long, from time immemorial. He kept us safe; He kept our natural resources safe.  He through the British stopped the Germans and the Boers from taking over our country.  Instead of complaining about the poor country we inherited from Britain; let us be reminded that each country including the most advanced country in the world started with nothing from the beginning. Each country started with only its people, its natural resources and the world around it to conquer.  We are no different. Instead of complaining that we given our country back an undeveloped we should rather knuckle down to determine our own needs and priorities; train and motivate our people to work hard and use whatever is available at their disposal to be self sufficient in every respect and to use the world around us to market our products including our people as part of our developmental trajectory. We must fight the culture of dependency and promote a culture of hard work and sacrifice to develop our own country.

As we approach that day, the day that marks the beginning of Botswana-hood, we must remember and thank our first president, Sir Seretse Khama who was a visionary of his time. He accepted to inherit an undeveloped country, but I hate to say a poor country, but yes an undeveloped country with a promising future which we are now unfortunately squandering with reckless abound. Our first Preseident, Sir Seretse Khama, knew we had to dependent on our own resolve and meager resources and of course with help from our friends to develop our country and its natural resources including our human resources. He understood our limitations as a country and his own limitations and used all the people he could use in the country including the opposition to build the nation. He came up with a raft of policies based on these four principles that helped to move our country from what was then termed the poorest country in the world to what it is now, an upper middle income country, although despite the wealth created by Sir Seretse Khama, we still regrettably remain one of the most unequal country in the world. Anyway, these principles were;

Self reliance

He was a firm believer in democracy and throughout his life as president he preached and practiced democracy in a visible manner. He is the one who taught us that democracy, like a plant it needs to be watered and nurtured for it to grow and produce luscious fruits that can be enjoyed by all Batswana. He was a real practicing democrat not a fake democrat as we see happening now in our country. We need to go back and try to understand what he wanted to teach us about democracy.

Democracy is about the people, all the people regardless of their political persuasions; regardless of their social orientation, regardless of their beliefs, regardless of the colour of their skin, regardless of their race or their social status. Democracy is all inclusive in a meaningful and measured way. It is through democracy that you can really listen to all your people and get the best from them and the best for them.

Sir Seretse Khama was a firm believer in national unity, nation building.  He wanted a united nation at all costs. This was however done in a dangerously divisive manner in my view. My view is that he could have done it better, a lot better without undermining the so called minority tribes. He decreed that only Setswana and English should be promoted and used as national languages at the exclusion of other languages in the country causing simmering resentment that is a ticking time bomb that needs to be extinguished. 

Only English and Setswana were to be spoken in all public gatherings throughout the country, even in remotest areas where these languages were not known, never heard. This was ill advised as it broadens the divisions instead of uniting the nation, igniting a tribal cold war that still exists. It undermined the minority tribes. Their dignity, their identity, their languages; their cultures were eroded.  This was bad judgment akin to the Portuguese policy of assimilation that was adopted in Mozambique and Angola during the colonial era. 

Having said this though, Sir Seretse was driven by his vision of seeing a united nation that was working together in harmony to develop the country and did no want to see the language and tribal affiliation as a barrier and wanted to destroy these tribal affiliations. I do not believe this was done with malice and intention to hurt the minority tribes but it was hurtful, very wrong and should be reversed to harmonize our country. God created us differently for a reason, like he created different trees with different flowers and fruits, different animals with diverse beauty, different insects with their different beautiful colours and scents; our diverse tribes must remain intact to beautify our country with beautiful aroma of diverse rich languages and cultures.

Self reliance is the topic of my submission today. This is the area our first president wanted very much to engender in us as a tool for development of our country. As a people we have always relied on our own limited resources, using our brains, our hands and working together in our tribal groupings to build our communities. Sir Seretse Khama wanted to promote this culture to achieve our developmental goals and nationhood. He knew that our development would mainly come from our own efforts and drive. He knew that ‘mokoduwa go tsosiwa o o itsosang’ He sought international partnerships to help develop our country through education and exploitation of our natural resources.

De Beers Botswana now Debswana was an example of such a partnership, a partnership that helped make Botswana a ‘miracle country’ surrounded by warring countries fighting for their independence.  Botswana was acknowledged world wide as a ‘shining example of democracy and good governance’. This was then.  We have now instead of building on the Sir Seretse Khama’s legacy of self development, good governance, we have instead become greedy, corrupt and used our diamonds to promote a culture of dependency and sycophancy. Instead of adopting our forefather’s culture of hard work and spirit of community and togetherness, we have become lazy, arrogant and selfish, adopting negative characteristics that will surely destroy us as a nation if we refuse to change.

We have become so lazy and so complacent that we are even refusing to re-write our own constitution. We would rather keep the old outdated constitution donated to us and keep changing it piecemeal to satisfy only our selfish whims. We are conveniently forgetting that this constitution was a ‘donation’ from Britain as at the time we did not have the resources or the capacity to write our own constitution.  We are now squandering the diamond revenues that should have made Botswana a shining example of development in Africa, a Sweden of Africa. We are now squandering the good governance that Sir Seretse Khama left for us and replacing it with corruption and maladministration that will surely kick us back to the dark ages. Sir Seretse Khama must be turning in his grave wondering what on earth has happened to his beloved country. A culture of dependency and ‘bolope’ must fall for us to claim our position as a shining example of good governance, development and democracy, for us to talk of a proud, united, innovative and prosperous nation.

As I conclude, I would like to employ Batswana to build on the rich legacy Sir Seretse Khama left behind; rebuild the culture of self reliance, hard work, entrepreneurship, self respect and a firm no to handouts. We need also to revisit the issue of national unity and national building based on genuine desire for respect of all nationalities, all our tribes, their diverse languages and cultures in order to build a fully united, inclusive and proud nation. We need also to go back to the drawing board and draw our own constitution based on our current realities and a deep desire to move Botswana to the next wave of self recognition and development. We also need to recognise that time has long arrived for us to relook at our relationship with De Beers in order to help us fast track to this next wave of development and self recognition.

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022

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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