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THE RACE TO 2019 HAS BEGUN: GERRYMANDERING COULD MANIFEST ITSELF IN MANY FORMS?

This is a word I have learnt recently after BDP Gaborone region proposal to increase our constituencies from the current 57 to 120 for the 2019 elections. I then found out what gerrymandering was; it is a practice that attempts to establish political advantage for a particular party by manipulating district boundaries to create partisan advantaged constituencies as typified by the illustration in the borrowed picture above.

The word was created in reaction to redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under the then governor Elbridge Gerry in the early 1800s.  Many political commentators have branded the proposal by BDP functionaries to increase constituencies for the 2019 elections as gerrymandering.  This is considered to be so because such proposal was made before by the opposition in parliament and was decisively rejected on the basis that the economy could not afford it.

How can the economy afford it now when it is said to be in intensive care requiring a stimulus package (ESP) for its resuscitation; when we have been forced to tap into our foreign reserves to support our ailing economy?  If the proposal to increase constituencies were to be approved this would give credence to those suggesting that gerrymandering to keep the ruling party in perpetual power is indeed at play.

However, increasing constituencies in order to improve effectiveness of representation of the people is desirable as was previously proposed by the opposition provided that the economy can support it. It becomes devious if it is done for the purpose of gerrymandering. The nation is therefore fore warned; be alert and awake so that in the event that the proposal is accepted, effective systems to hinder and frustrate any gerrymandering are devised by you through your representatives and civic organisations.
What else could be considered to be ‘gerrymandering’?

This intriguing gerrymandering word got my mind working. I started thinking maybe they could be other areas where gerrymandering could be at play in our country. They could be many things that are being done in this country that are similar in nature to gerrymandering and maybe we should find local names for them to. These are things or programs done for political expediency whose only aim is to shift political boundaries in the land by using public resources to manipulate people’s minds and emotions in a way that unfairly favours one party over the other. We therefore as a nation need more than ever to deeply scrutinise certain programs that seem illogical to many people but are being done and supported by seemingly knowledgeable and sane people.

Please allow me to think aloud. I can see a number of seemingly ‘gerrymandered’ programs in our country.  You will find appropriate names for these if you so wish, but for me they smell like gerrymandering dressed differently.

ESP

The way the ESP I mentioned earlier was announced and is being implemented brings a lot of doubt on whether this is a genuine attempt to stimulate the economy or whether it is a package meant to lineup pockets of some partisan functionaries and consequently their political party  to  create financial advantage over other parties? Elections are very expensive, so creating a scheme that will financial benefit party functionaries and the party will help with campaigns and possibly to buy votes especially from the poor and disadvantaged.  We understand that over a billion pula was spent even before the package was endorsed by parliament. How and when were these tenders prepared and adjudicated? Who won these tenders? Was a transparent and auditable process used?

The nation in a strange way was told to register companies in order to benefit from ESP. One wonders how one registers a company for ESP? What expertise is required for one to register such a company and for one to successfully execute an ESP project?  Should we not have rather encouraged already established and experienced companies to get ready by identifying and training Batswana for execution of these projects? We heard from a very senior party functionary through a leaked tape how tenders are created and won in this country for the ruling party supporters through tenderpreneuring.

Tenderpreneurs do not have to have any skill; they only need the political connection; they add no value to our economy. They are given tenders which tenders are implemented by others and a sizable cut from those tenders lines the pockets of these tenderpreneurs. Is this not gerrymandering dressed in public financial manipulations whose aim is to change people’s psychological boundaries to create partisan advantages?
 

Unprecedented Presidential visits to rural areas and showering the poor with gifts and?

It is a known fact that poor people are easily manipulated by simple gestures from authorities. Visiting poor people and talking to them as the president does so often is a good thing, if it is meant to hear concerns and developmental needs of these people but giving them presents is a sure sign of buying loyalty and keeping the poor poorer. These people can be the most loyal people you can come across and are always looking for something, anything from their leaders and giving them presents will surely win their hearts and loyalty. Leaders can easily manipulate them by cheap politics that does not add any value to their lives.

On the other hand, leaders who want to make a difference to the lives of the poor people do not give them soup and gifts, they build clinics, schools, roads and provide employment that pays at least a living wage; the elderly are given living allowances, food baskets and cared for not only by the family members but by the community and the country. These people have done their part for the country and it the time for the country to give back to these people who are now physically and emotionally unable to support themselves.

I often wonder where the blankets that the president doles out during his many visits come from. Do they belong to the country or do they come from the president personal resources? Or are they gifts from foreign companies or those tenderpreneurs? These are just innocent questions that the nation needs to ask unequivocally and wonder if this is not another form of gerrymandering; shifting political boundaries by buying people with gifts they do not deserve or need?
Ipelegeng

The way ipelegeng is conducted leaves a lot to be desired. It is not the ipelegeng that was originally envisaged by the founding father of this republic. Ipelegeng was a self help scheme meant to allow local communities to help the government with short to long term projects that benefited the community directly. Projects like building local roads, classrooms, dams, staff houses; contribution to building the University of Botswana was a typical ipelegeng project that current generations and generations to come will continue to benefit from.

Ipelegeng of today is about spending long hours under shades of trees chatting. Go around Gaborone and see these people at work and see what they actually achieve in a day. To me this is just a way of saying to these people we do not have jobs for you but we shall pay you P400 for registering in this ipelegeng because we care for you, you do not have to achieve anything. This also creates a lazy mentality that will become difficult to shake off.  Why can’t they create permanent jobs for cleaning town roads, like it is done throughout the world?

If you go around Mogoditshane village almost every yard in some streets is a brick yard owned by foreigners. Therefore brick molding is a growing profitable business that requires low level skills as evidenced by these many busy informal brick yards. This is an area that will continue to grow as Gaborone and surrounding areas continue to build new houses and infrastructure. Why can’t government use this ipelegeng money to set up proper brick yards and a support structure in areas such as Mogoditshane and get these people to mold bricks for sale and pay them decent wages instead of gerrymandering with ipelegeng program?

What else?

I am sure there are many other areas where gerrymandering is done in our country. The people need to understand these things so that the perpetuators could be appropriately punished at the polls. The people must know that the government owns no money; the government does not own any resources in this country. The money the country has and the resources that have been bestowed upon us belong to the people of this country equally.  The government role is to manage the financial and natural resources on our behalf; provide and facilitate the provision of all the services needed by the people.

The government is duty bound to ensure that we have adequate roads, adequate transportation and communication systems; adequate health care systems; adequate food; electricity, gas and water; adequate educational facilities and programs; must ensure that people are meaningfully employed to contribute to the growth of their economy; must ensure that we are well represented internationally in order to benefit fully from the global village.

Conclusion

I want to conclude by  quoting from the bible, ‘’ if I give all I possess to the poor…, but do not have love, I gain nothing, love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth, it protects, always hopes and perseveres’’ Corinthians 13:3-7.

As a nation let us consider these words and apply them to our situations. Do we really love each other? Do our leaders really love the people or is it all about them using the people for their own selfish benefit?

The government role is not to go around giving gifts to the poor; they are organisations and charities that do that where there is need. The government role is to empower people so that they can create livelihoods for themselves.

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Opinions

The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosis visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosis actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as international waters.

Pelosis visit to Chinas Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqus. In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to Chinas position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The Peoples Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijings position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwans administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Bidens words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region. The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as Taiwan independence. The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosis visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for Chinas Peoples Liberation Army to safeguard Chinas national sovereignty, security and development interests. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard Chinas overseas investments, projects and personnel. It then follows that President Xis administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector Chinas sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part. Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The Peoples Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces. This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijings military exercises will certainly shake Taiwans confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwans central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As Chinas military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit Chinas Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to Taiwan independence separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General Antnio Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the Peoples Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy 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 consumers piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswanas, 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 dont imagine that their one download will do anything to the production houses 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 musicians 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 Botswanas 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 Africas 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 Botswanas economy are being diverted.

Why cant our local creative industry grow? Why dont 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 Botswanas 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 countrys 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, its 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 economys growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artists 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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