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Our Democracy is CRITICALLY flawed!

Following the SONA week with the much talked about ESP that left more questions than answers; the tragic week that saw seven of our young lives lost in an unfortunate truck accident and many injured leaving the parents and the nation critically wounded and heart broken. This incident has shown us the best and worst of our people. May the souls of these young lives  rest in peace and may Batswana be comforted in the knowledge that we are largely a caring nation and may the culprits be hunted down to face the full might of the law. This was an aside. Today I want to visit 2008 when the president gave us an inspiring roadmap for his presidency.

During his inauguration in 2008, the president presented a roadmap in which he articulated four Ds (Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline) that would define his presidency.  We were excited as Batswana that here comes a president who saw the need for our Democracy to be improved and modernised; who saw the need for our Development to be accelerated to give all our people a more Dignified standard of living and who saw the need to improve Discipline nationally in order to support the pillars that would anchor his roadmap. He later realised that a Delivery vehicle was required and fittingly crowned his Ds with a fifth D which he aptly termed Delivery.  This roadmap was going to leave a lasting legacy that posterity would cherish and build on. We believed that the president was on a mission to take Botswana to a new destination where our country would assume a significantly new and vibrant shape.  We believed that the ‘savior’ had arrived and he was going to place Botswana in its rightful place globally. I think the time has arrived for us to evaluate where we are on this roadmap and demand feedback. I will start with Democracy and the rest will follow in subsequent submissions.

I believe when a Motswana talks of Democracy, he or she is talking of ‘a government of the people, by the people and for the people’. If I am not mistaken, the president is on record describing democracy in the same manner.  This is a definition that was coined many years ago by the then American president Abraham Lincoln which definition has largely been universally embraced including by our own people. So when the president included Democracy as one of his first key deliverable, he must have been concerned about the state of our democracy and was planning to meaningfully enhance it. He was not talking about maintaining the status quo or weakening the already weak Democracy he inherited.  So what has the president done to enhance Democracy in our country?  I believe there are many opportunities and areas where he could have made significant improvements, but we still await his interventions more than seven years later.

The Democracy we currently practice is a watered and weathered down version of democracy which means a form of government, where a constitution guarantees basic personal and political rights, fair and free elections and independent courts of law. Many people would argue that we barely meet this basic and narrow definition of Democracy, hence the excitement generated by the inclusion of this D in the roadmap as his number one priority.

What then are our expectations as Batswana?   Maybe we can answer this by asking another question. What are the ingredients of the democracy that we aspire for, the democracy that was aptly defined by Abraham Lincoln as ‘a government of the people, by the people, for the people’?  What are the critical success factors?

There are many areas that the president should have attempted to address on the Democracy lane of his road map. I will highlight these ingredients by posing questions that the president should have answered during his two terms. I will also briefly mention some possible interventions that could have been adopted in an attempt to enhance our democracy.

EQUAL ACCESS TO INFORMATION BY THE ELECTORATE

How can it be ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’, when access to information is limited and biased in favour of one party?  The people must not only be allowed to vote, but must be given information that would allow them to choose their representatives wisely.  All the political parties and their candidates must be given equal exposure by the national electoral process including public broadcasting.  BTV, Radio Botswana and the Daily News which are national assets run and maintained by the tax payer must be availed to all political parties in equal measures for them to reach the electorate equally.  These media outlets belong to all the people of Botswana.  Therefore all these facilities must be used equally by all Batswana especially during elections. The president has done nothing to ensure equal access to the public media by all the political parties. If anything he has somehow made it even more difficult for the opposition parties to access the public media because he is always given lengthy and unqualified coverage thus denying others access.  A recent glaring example was the state of the nation address that was covered live by both BTV & Radio Botswana and then repeated over time on the same stations.  When the leader of opposition was responding officially to the same address in parliament, BTV and Radio Botswana were no where to be found. Only a handful of people who found seats at the parliamentary gallery could listen to the leader of opposition live. Some people were rudely kicked out as there were no seats available accept for elders from the ruling party… true, no exaggeration! They were not even allowed to listen from outside because no provision was made for the public. This is our sick democracy, where people are only shown one side of the political coin and the president ought to intervene and have this corrected.

REGISTRATION AND THE VOTING PROCESS

How can it be  ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’ when only less than 50% of the people bother to register for elections and only about 80 % of those who bother to register actually vote?   Can this be true democracy when only about 35% (700 000 people out of a population over two millions) of the population participates in the elections? This is an area where the president would have looked at closely to find ways to make registration and the voting process easier to encourage more people not only to register but also to vote. The opportunity is available. Technology is glaringly available to make the process easier and friendlier. It is not rocket science anymore; it only requires political will and the word from the president for it to happen. Many countries including developing countries like ours have better systems to encourage registration and voting. In some countries it is even illegal not to vote because they know that it is through voting that true democracy can be entrenched.

PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION

How can it be ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’ when 47 % of the popular vote yields a majority of 65 % of seats in parliament?  This looks like government by the minority. Therefore, there is a definite need for improvement. The current system denies the electorate fair representation in parliament as it can and has yielded a government that is not reflective of the will of the majority.  This therefore cannot be ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’. It is a minority government. Many progressive democracies have adopted a form of proportional representation which enhances representation across not only political party lines but also different interest and minority groups. The president ought to do something to improve the current undemocratic practice that has produced a minority government in our country for the first time in our history.

PUBLIC FUNDING OF DEMOCRACY

How do you achieve ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’, when the ruling party is allowed to use public funds for electioneering and the opposition parties have to use their own personal resources for the same?  This obviously makes it extremely difficult for the opposition to reach the electorate, giving the ruling party an unfair and unjustified advantage. Political funding is a common phenomenon in most democracies including our neigbours.  The president as part of his desire to enhance democracy should have introduced political party funding. Democracy is a commodity that should be publicly funded and nurtured as it is the only viable vehicle that will allow all citizens to participate in the development of their country through their representatives. The president has an obligation and opportunity to make a significant mark in enhancing our democracy by allowing political party funding. He still has a chance to do this before the end of his term.

THE PRESIDENT MUST BE ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE

How can it be ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’, when the president is not elected by the people directly?  Why should we not allow the people to choose their president like they do in other developed and developing democracies? When democracy is a key component of his roadmap, election of the president by the people would have been an obvious and glaring area that should have stood up for improvement.

THE PRESIDENT MUST ATTEND PARLIAMENT

The president does not attend parliament to listen to debates and concerns from the people’s representatives. In a democratic dispensation he is duty bound to attend and listen and answer questions. He needs to hear the concerns of all the people regardless of party affiliation in order to formulate and design appropriate polices and programs for the entire country.  Parliament is where development policies and laws are made. How does he influence that if he does not attend the very institution that he should head and guide, the institution not only charged with making laws but development of the country?  If the president respects the voice of the people, he should attend parliament, others he will be assumed to be an autocratic leader who rules alone.  

CONCLUSION

It is very clear that our democracy is sick and weak as correctly identified by the president during his inauguration. This is true despite the international accolades that we are a shining example of democracy in Africa.  These accolades are seemingly politically motivated and those responsible for these accolades must own up and tell us the real truth.  The president still has up to 2018 to make some improvements. Maybe he is waiting for the right time to make some far reaching amendments that will shake and humble his opponents. The president however, owes Batswana an update on this roadmap before Batswana make their own uninformed conclusions.

Bernard Busani
E mail;  HYPERLINK "mailto:bernard.busani@gmail.com" bernard.busani@gmail.com;   Tel; 71751440

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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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