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A response to Matambo’s budget

In this week's piece I wish to share with my readership the views I expressed in parliament on the budget. 

Mr Speaker I wish to begin by registering a complaint and citing a major weakness in our democracy. When the head of state speaks in parliament, his speech is broadcast live on BTV and Radio Botswana.

When the budget speech is presented, the same applies but surprisingly when the leader of opposition presents an alternative program, he is not accorded the same privilege. This is a clear sign that ours is indeed a dictatorship that continues as a democracy.

May be before you gloat about your image next time, be reminded that there are vibrant and functional democracies out there. In fact, I can't help but wonder, if you are so confident about your democratic credentials, if you confident about your ideas and performance in parliament, why don't you broadcast parliament live and allow Batswana the right to access to information- so they make informed choices.

I also want to make this important point that you honourable minister successfully paints a gloomy picture of our economic situation and then abandon us there. You do not provide or chat the path out of this gloom. I would have expected you to offer the nation an aggressive recovery plan of how you intend to help the economy through the difficult times. I will return to this point. Let me first deal with an important point of the budget as a policy tool.

There is a misconception that the budget is simply about allocations of funds. Thomas Dye defines policy "as everything a government does or does not do" and therefore a budget speech as a spending plan should reflect government priorities for the following year. Budget as a Policy Tool would mean that the budget is a statement of the policy priorities for a particular year.

So at a macro level, for example we need to know how much is earmarked for the notorious ESP. For example with regard to education, the minister has been allocating more money to education but instead of improving, the results have been forever plummeting. In my constituency, we concerned with the results of Segoditshane, Boikhutso, Notwane Primary Schools. In this same vein, allow me to congratulate camp primary school for their sterling performance despite difficult conditions such old and dilapidated houses for teachers.

Minister I want to argue that Because of a missed opportunity to use the budget as a policy tool, we have confusion in our education policy direction.

As a result of this, there is what I would call a systematic attempt to destroy the pride of Batswana- the University of Botswana through a drastic reduction in sponsorship of the arts. Global educational thinking is moving towards multidisciplinary, to produce well rounded graduates, who would aid our developmental efforts and take them to the next level.

The confusion in policy manifests also in the form of mixed priorities – for example the BDF expenditure on weaponry.

As Hon Molao was speaking I couldn't help but wonder how did we get here. To a situation where the people who make it into position of power struggle to make head or tail of very basic concepts.

You spoke of 2014 bringing babies to parliament and I was tempted then, not now, then, to say that it might be better to have babies in Parley cause there is room for growth n improvement. I think you would agree with me that it would be more tragic to have babies tramped in adult bodies because that would mean doom and gloom. You quoted one MP from the opposition saying we need a small and professional army. That is the point. Getting to know exactly what our army needs. Our army needs helicopters not fighter jets.

Our disciplined forces need us to address the welfare of our men in uniform at the police, BDF and prisons. 

Answering my question in this house last year, The responsible minister told this house that a consultancy looking into the salaries of the police, BDF and prisons will have completed the job by end of February last year and he expected the officers to begin enjoying the new structures in April last year. We moving to another April, another round of salary negotiations is ongoing and these men and women are left behind.

I am always brought to tears when I remember the Dilapidated and inhabitable houses in prisons at village camp and at the former police college. I am reminded of an officer with 5 years of service, five years of wearing our uniform proudly at SSG camp in Maruapula staying in a tent for those five years. How will buying fighter jets help these men and women in uniform.

How will it improve their morale.

I want to also posit that there is Lack of a clear developmental philosophy that informs the thinking in this budget. You do not show honourable minister that you are indeed in touch with global thinking on development. The proposal on Local Economic Development (LED) is welcome.

But the proposal raises a lot of questions. Why is the government talking about LED only now? Your commitment as a government is suspect. Your government is centralizing instead of decentralization. 

We know why the government is centralising rather than decentralising development management. It is consolidating state capture.

Centralisation has nothing to do with government efficiency and effectiveness and everything to do with government tenders. When ministers and civil servants are free to do business with government, state capture intensifies. Prove us wrong. Take LED seriously and move expeditiously on decentralisation. In fact, let his honour the Vice President tell us that as the man in charge of poverty, employment creation and economic diversification, he shall personally ensure that government moves fast and purposefully on LED.

The world has recognised and embraced the growing and strategic role of cities in economic development. This is an inevitable outcome of globalisation. National borders are becoming more and more irrelevant to the flow of goods and services and farsighted governments around the world are giving cities more space to make polices for their development. Part of the reason we want decentralisation is to accord a sophisticated city such as Gaborone freedom from limiting decisions made at the MLGRD.

Gaborone is fast growing city. The people of Gaborone have the capacity to run a successful and vibrant local economy, if we can allow them to. It has a potentially strong tax base, if fiscal authorities could be creative. If you allowed us we would be able to deal with problems such as bad dusty internal roads, no streets lights, and unemployment that is spiralling out control.

The ESP and economic transformation

Before I speak about ESP, I would like to introduce a concept, actually a propaganda technique often credited to Adolfo hitter termed "a big lie". Hitler believed in the use of a lie so colossal that it would be almost impossible for it not to be believed.

He opined that telling this lie repeatedly and frequently would make it believable. 

Ours is a society in which economic literacy is low even amongst those with tertiary qualifications. We expect leaders to be concerned enough about this to seek to do something about it, not to ruthlessly exploit it for political gain. Yet this is precisely what is happening with the ESP.

The Vice President, some ministers, the Secretary General of the ruling party and party propagandists have to date used every medium they could access to sell the untruth that the ESP is a bold plan to transform the economy.

As it came out in bits and pieces, first through the SONA, then the brochure, and now the budget, it has become apparent that as the LOO has observed, this is irresponsible, cruel and fraudulent, especially to the extent that unsuspecting people have been urged to register companies in large numbers to chase the phantom of broad-based opportunity that the ESP has turned out to be.

There is nothing bold about this intervention, not the idea, not the amounts involved and certainly not the potential. The only thing bold and audacious about it is the dishonesty and deviousness behind it. We have been told that it is a bold plan to transform the economy.

The budget figures tell a different story. There is no fiscal expansion here, no ramping up of demand and therefore no stimulus.

The budget for the ESP is only P2 billion. It is naïve, even if we were to accept the wholly irrational position that money is what the economy needs the most to build momentum towards transformation, to imagine that P2 billion would suffice. This is not sufficient to deliver benefits to the many. It will of course line the pockets of a couple of tenderpreneurs and grease the palms of a couple of corrupt public servants and politicians. More so that it looks like a plan to circumvent normal public procurement processes.

The ESP basically has no design. It is backlog eradication. It is the EDD. His Honour the Vice President said on the floor of parliament in November 2015 that the ESP was brilliantly conceived and brilliantly delivered by the President. With all due respect, your Honour, you are being very unkind to the President. There is no programme design in the ESP. It is as poorly conceived and designed as the monumental disaster that the Poverty Eradication Framework has become.

It should be cause for concern that the person responsible for the ESP is none other than his honour the Vice President.

This is the same man who has led the disinformation on the ESP, perhaps because he does not understand it, has failed dismally on another important initiative, poverty eradication. He has to date failed to deliver a Poverty Eradication Policy he promised the 2009-2014 parliament more than once. He has also failed by the way, to deliver the Freedom of Information Act he promised to deliver within months whilst torpedoing a Private Member’s bill by Honourable Dumelang Saleshando. Can we trust him with an equally weighty assignment such as job creation? I don’t. The disinformation he has started on says we should not. Either he does not understand what is expected of him or he treats this as the vote catching and wealth transfer gimmick it is.

Local Economic Development Decentralisation
 The proposal on Local Economic Development (LED) is welcome. But the proposal raises a lot of questions. Why is the government talking about LED only now? Its commitment is suspect.

LED has been on the table for about four years now, confined to a department within the Ministry of Local Government, the Botswana Association of Local Authorities and a few enterprising local authorities. The rest of government, including the MFDP, has not shown any real interest in this initiative, which may explain why it has stalled.

The MFDP should henceforth ensure that as a coordinating ministry, it engages the MLGRD and helps it mobilise the rest of government to ensure that government moves beyond talking on LED.

We also doubt the Government’s commitment to LED because, as the LOO has correctly observed, the government is not interested in decentralisation.

You cannot pursue LED effectively through local authorities that have no power to make decisions that matter. Central government still appoints their CEOs and operational personnel, determines their strategies and in fact influences every sphere of their operation. In fact, over the last few years, the government has been centralising functions and decision making (water and health are cases in point) with serious adverse effects on the delivery of services.

We know why the government is centralising rather than decentralising development management. It is consolidating state capture. Centralisation has nothing to do with government efficiency and effectiveness and everything to do with government tenders.

When ministers and civil servants are free to do business with government, state capture intensifies. Prove us wrong. Take LED seriously and move expeditiously on decentralisation. In fact, let his honour the Vice President tell us that as the man in charge of poverty, employment creation and economic diversification, he shall personally ensure that government moves fast and purposefully on LED.

The world has recognised and embraced the growing and strategic role of cities in economic development.

This is an inevitable outcome of globalisation. National borders are becoming more and more irrelevant to the flow of goods and services and farsighted governments around the world are giving cities more space to make polices for their development. Part of the reason we want decentralisation is to accord a sophisticated city such as Gaborone freedom from limiting decisions made at the MLGRD.

Gaborone is fast growing city. The people of Gaborone have the capacity to run a successful and vibrant local economy, if we can allow them to.

It has a potentially strong tax base, if fiscal authorities could be creative. If you allowed us we can address challenges such as Bad, dusty internal roads, streets lights that seldom lay work and unemployment that is spiraling out of control.

Youth unemployment
Of all our failings, if there is one we can ill-afford, it is to fail our youth. To fail them is to fail the country.

The cost of a poor education system and failure to engage young educated people today will reflect decades from now in our decline down competitiveness rankings and a downward spiral that will be difficult to reverse. The band aid being proposed now in the form of special initiatives with no prospects long term sustainability and delivering results will shortly be proved inadequate.

There are no short cuts. We must commit to:

a) Economic transformation as a matter of agency: We in the UDC will roll up our sleeves and challenge experts in and outside the UDC to help us develop one but we will be even happier to join the government in finding a pathway out of the current trajectory of slow and jobless growth.

b) Regulatory reform: The LOO has spoken at length about this. It is a matter we must keep emphasising and we urge business, civil society and the youth to join us so that our voice becomes louder and more difficult to ignore as we call for burdensome regulation to fall. This is not rocket science. Stop vetting investors. Stop DIS from harassing investors. Make business regulation generally more efficient and less cumbersome.

Do away with the archaic work and resident permit procedures that stand in the way of FDI, business growth and employment creation. Work towards faster contract enforcement mechanisms. 

These measures and investment in high speed internet access, will spur growth and create jobs. 
c) Empower the youth and create opportunity: Unemployment is not simply a problem of lack of skills. I would argue that it is in fact more a problem of lack of opportunity. Employers will, for the most part be able train educated youths they employ to suit their specific needs. That does not mean that public policy should not deal with skills. It should. But we have a problem in this country.

Much of the training that we avail today is useless because regulators are allowing ill-equipped profit seekers to profit from the misery of our youths and unemployed people. Let us look more closely at the rapidly growing population of entities providing training and satisfy ourselves that they are meeting our requirements. 

In conclusion I wish to speak to workers of this country.

Like the prophet of old has said you have nothing more to lose than the chains in your hands. Beware of the wolf in sheep skin in your midst. Beware of unions and union leaders who have hijacked the workers struggle yet they are tools in the hands of the enemy to offset your march to victory. Remember unity is key. Let me also speak to friends on the other side of the aisle. We are mismanaging labour relations. Tensions breeds inefficiency. The current stalemate at the bargaining council is a case in point. It cannot be right to treat our workers like this.

You still have a chance to be on the right side of history. When there was talk of an event where you queued up to receive ESP projects I thought of tshepo tshola"s song "waiting for my name to be called" I hope it isn't true because it would be sad if Government resources were shared like gangsters would share the loot after a successful night out not after a good in the office.

To you minister Matambo a future historian will have to record that it was under your tutelage that our economy was ransacked and mismanaged.

Say NO to the ever expanding Botswana Democratic Party patronage network. Say NO to the Khama oligarchy and chose Botswana and Batswana. Stop making a butchery of your conscience. Be like the biblical Shadreck, Abednico and Meshack who chose to go into the furnace of fire instead of worshiping the golden image of king Nebuchadnezzar. May God help you and may he bless our country abundantly. I rest my case

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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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