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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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Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is – as always: now.

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

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

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

Let us start today.

*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana

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Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12th October 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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