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This article was motivated by a comment from a colleague who recently said that ‘politics is too important to be left to politicians alone’. I concur with this sentiment. We should not shy away from politics because, believe it or not, everything we do is affected by politics. Politics affects our lives daily either positively or negatively.

As we begin the year we should pause to consider what role we play as individuals to shape the politics of our country.  Maybe we should try first to understand what politics is and why we need to be involved. I would like to share my layman’s views on why politics should not be left to the politicians alone.

From a layman’s point of view what is politics?  What are the qualifications a person should have to be considered a politician?  Further, what impact do politicians have on each and every one of us? If we can answer these questions, perhaps we can begin to appreciate why as a nation we cannot leave politics to the politicians alone.

I understand that formal politics is referred to as the operation of a constitutional system of government and publicly defined institutions including political party functions, public policy, foreign policy, issues of war and peace and many others. Many people regard these as outside their sphere of influence and cannot be bothered. But all these issues affect all of us in the same way either negatively or positively.

Therefore it is important that each member of society must participate in a meaningful way to influence the political direction of their country not only through election of political leaders but also through continuously engaging the leadership and the people through public debates, sponsorships and whatever means available to them to encourage the most acceptable political system for the country.

Now the question is. What is a politician and what are his or her qualifications? We have politicians who have never been to school; we have politicians with only primary education; some with  only secondary; some with tertiary and even with PHD qualifications. Most of these politicians if not all of them, have not studied politics at all. We have people who have studied politics and have qualification in political science, but they do not consider themselves to be politicians. So what is the qualification of a politician and does it matter?

In the days of Moses in the Old Testament, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses asked all the people to choose some ‘wise, understanding and respected people from each tribe’.  He then under the authority of God ‘appointed the chosen leaders to have authority over the people. There was no mention of educational background, only wisdom, understanding and respect. 

It can be argued that education can enhance wisdom, understanding and the level of respect in society, but, I must add, this is not always the case.  In the book of Romans in the Bible, Paul says, ‘let everyone be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established’. To me this is the authority that has been established through free and fair elections or choosing as was done by the people during the time of Moses.

My understanding of the scripture is that a politician’s qualification is defined by the people. The people must choose wisely period.  If the people fail to choose wisely then they will be governed by whatever leaders they have chosen. 

So it is in the interest of the people to be involved in choosing the right leadership. Those people who stay away from choosing could distort the results of the elections resulting in the wrong leadership being chosen. If this is the case the whole country including the abdicators will bear the consequences of bad governance. In our country only about 50% of the people choose our leaders. This cannot be right; it needs to change.

We must all understand what politicians or leaders do. If we see many sick people spending days waiting for medical attention in our hospitals and clinics, it is because of the leadership we have chosen; if we see collapsing educational infrastructure and our children failing at alarming rates, it is because of the leadership we have chosen; if we see our graduates, after spending so much of our resources on them idling in the streets and in prison, it is because of the leadership we have chosen; if we see unacceptable disparity between the rich and the poor in our country, it is because of the leadership we have chosen; if we see many of our people unemployed and  resorting to vile and an acceptable behavior to survive, it is because of the leadership we have chosen; if we see a thriving  and vibrant economy, it is because of the leadership we have chosen. The list is long, anything you can think of.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything happens in a good or bad way because of the leadership we have chosen.  Do not take this too literally, leadership does not, for instance, control the whether, but it anticipates and plans for adverse effects of the whether.

So anyone who does not participate in choosing our leaders is irresponsible. Everyone with no exception, except perhaps one with a dire medical condition, must participate in our political dispensation. 

Failure to participate is abdication and a serious lack of patriotism which in some countries is punishable by law.  
How then do you decide who is wise, understanding and respectable?  I believe it is through political education. But who must provide this political education? This education cannot be left to politicians alone or certain groups.

If we do they will obviously be gross biasness and manipulations. This is where the civic society must come in, including the churches, religious institutions, the tribal authorities, the intellectuals, the learning institutions, the business community and every member of society who has the means to educate others must do so in the interest of getting the ‘tribes’ to choose wisely.

As can be seen from the local papers and BTV, the race to 2019 has begun. It is important for all of us to be engaged one way or the other in order to sensitise all our people to become alive to the reality that the future of this great republic will be determined by each and every one of us.  I see that 2019 will be very important politically. For the first time, there is a real chance that we will be having two parties to choose from.

But before then we must also choose those who will represent the two parties.  This is going to be a very important and landmark election and therefore we must adequately inform ourselves and those around us so that we all make informed choices.
As a nation, we must consider our current reality, in terms of governance, levels of corruption, levels of unemployment especially amongst our educated youth, poverty, education, health and foreign relations amongst others.

We have a 50 year history to judge how well we have developed as a country not as individuals and whether we could have done more with the resources that God has generously bestowed.  We also have a ten year history that we can also use to judge where we we are currently headed as a country. Are we headed the right direction that will transform our country into a modern and proud state. Why have we not achieved our vision 2016 goals is a question we must ask?

The opposition has now become a very interesting case study; the formation of BMD, a significant off shot from the ruling party; their zeal for a new dispensation in which everyone must benefit according to their merit not because they know someone; their zeal for economic transformation that will see modern infrastructural development spring up in all corners of this republic; a zeal for economic growth that will benefit all the people meaningfully;  the modernisation of the BNF into a credible party that has no time for extremism is something to watch; where time for bickering seem to have been relegated to the archives; the small but steadfast BPP has stood the test of time.

The coming together of these parties into a seemingly formidable and congruent force in the name of UDC brings in new meaning and hope in our politics; the eminent talks that are aimed at bringing BCP and UDC together into a major force will bring not only interesting dynamics in our political landscape but will bring renewed hope for many who had become disinterested in our politics.

We have countries with fewer resources than ourselves that have developed so much within a short period of time. These countries include Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai and many others that have developed so much with limited resources. These countries seem to have deployed their human capital wisely to achieve their developmental goals.  If they did this with less, we can do much more provided we choose the right leadership.

The next four years will bring another opportunity for Batswana to choose their leaders. Like Moses said choose wise, understanding and respected people. The race has started, let us all engage and participate in order to bring modern and accountable people to lead our country from 2019.

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

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 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 Pelosi’s 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’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s 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 Communiqués.  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 China’s 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 People’s 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 Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s 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, Biden’s 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 Pelosi’s 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 China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s 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 China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s 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 People’s 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.

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

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s 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 António 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 People’s 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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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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