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The BNF and the October Revolution (Part I)

October 17 was the 98th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in the former Soviet Union. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the Eastern bloc because of Stalinist degeneration this world-historic event continues to reverberate around the globe. For the first time in the history of humanity  workers captured state power and created their own government which survived for 74 years. They demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that capitalism can be overthrown and replaced by a workers government.  The October Revolution inspired millions of people across the globe.

For Lenin, as for Marx and Engels, a socialist revolution was essentially a world revolution because it was challenging capitalism which had established itself as a world system. The Russian revolution was a prelude to a socialist revolution in Europe until Joseph Stalin invented the reactionary formula of ‘socialism in one country’ which ultimately led to the collapse of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.

With socialism established  as a world system, according to Karl Marx, only then ‘will human progress cease to resemble that hideous pagan idol, who would not drink nectar but from the skulls of the slain’.  Whoever is mesmerized by superficial bourgeois progress forgets that such progress is not possible without dragging the vast majority of the people though blood and dirt, misery and degradation. Indeed it is like drinking nectar from the skulls of human beings.

The question is which progress do we recognize?  The progress we recognize is  best captured by the statement attributed to a certain British reporter for the Guardian;  ‘If manure be suffered to be in  idle heaps, it breeds stink and vermin. If properly defused it vivifies and fertilizes the soil’ . The wealth of the country is like manure. If it is concentrated in the hands of a few people ‘it breeds stink and vermin’ – passion killings, burglaries, street urchins, theft, corruption, etc but if it is ‘properly defused it vivifies and fertilizes’ the country by ensuring the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.

Progress for us must mean adequate water, food, clothing and shelter for everyone. It must be a civilization which ensures that the benefits of modern science, arts and technology are enjoyed by the majority of the people without endangering the ability of future generations to meet their needs from the same environment.  For that reason, the October Revolution continues to be celebrated by socialists and communists across the globe.

The inspiration from the October Revolution at the launch of the BNF  is captured by none other than its founding philosopher-politician Dr Kennth Koma himself. In his seminal booklet, the Second Phase of the African Revolution has  now Begun Dr Koma begins his  analysis of the anti-colonial struggle in Africa, its disastrous failure and what needs to be done by casting his argument within a broader dialectical materialist perspective.

‘The original antithesis, the prime cause, of what is happening in the whole world today, is the challenge that the October Revolution in 1917 offered to the status quo of oppression in the world.  The ideal to struggle for is no longer some imaginary golden age in the womb of the forgotten past. The ideal is not only realizable but also the Land of the Soviets became the torch-bearer of what social dreamers  in past ages had fabricated in the fertility of their imaginations. The reverberations of the October Revolution never left the world ever since’.

The BNF  National Democratic Revolution and its tactical position of  the United Front made our struggle an integral part of the world revolutionary struggle against landlordism and imperialism. Both concepts of the National Democratic Revolution and the United Front have their genesis in Lenin’s thesis on the National and Colonial Question for the Second Congress of the Communist  International in the 1920s.  These strategic and tactical positions were geared towards forging the unity of the movements of the workers of all countries and the national movements of the colonies and semi-colonies around Soviet Russia and an alliance of all national liberation movements.

Given the revolutionary zeal and enthusiasm of the socialist  founders of the BNF a socialist party should have emerged from the ranks of the BNF by now.  It is little short of extraordinary that countries like the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho,  the kingdom of  Swaziland, Mauritius, Ethiopia, Somalia, Benin,  Angola, to name but a few, have communist parties  while Botswana does not have one.  

This year the 98th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia coincides with the  golden jubilee of the BNF in Botswana. This is the opportune moment  to  pause and ask the question; why has a socialist or communist party eluded the BNF for so such a  long time despite the big dreams of our founding fathers and mothers?  And what are the implications for our struggle?
    

The advent of a socialist or communist party with its own national political newspaper would qualitatively transform Botswana’s political landscape beyond recognition. Botswana has many political parties but these are all petty-bourgeois political parties. The country has also witnessed a proliferation of private newspapers and some private radio stations but all them are part and parcel of the bourgeois press. None of them challenges the capitalist establishment.

They take it for granted and operate within its confines.  The birth of a communist party would mean that for the first time workers would have a genuine and consistent spokesperson because a communist party  is the advanced detachment of the working class that champions their cause. At a party level the formation of the piston engine of  a socialist or communist party within the  BNF providing ideological direction would  put an end to the BNF’s stunted growth and ideological floundering and enable it to function like  a proper united front.

In the absence of a revolutionary core the United Front, the  BNF or even  UDC has little or no capacity to deliver comprehensively and consistently  on the democratic demands of the struggle.   

The question of the quality of change we must expect if the UDC assumes state power in 2019 is best answered by none other than Dr Koma in his book, The Second Phase of the African Revolution has now Begun  when asserts that,

‘’The Second Phase of the African Revolution, correctly understood is the National Democratic Revolution. The National Democratic Revolution cannot be carried out under the leadership of a mass organization, pure and simple. It can only be carried out by an alliance between mass organizations and a socialist party. The socialist party must provide the ideological leadership, otherwise the people sacrifice for nothing’.

The BNF or UDC lacks the piston engine of a socialist party that  provides ideological direction and guarantees the realization of the demands of the  Second Phase of the African Revolution or what is but the same thing, the National Democratic Revolution. Such is the influence of neo-liberal globalization today that the average BNF intellectual has somewhat grown rather weary  or hostile to ideological questions required for the qualitative transformation of the Front.

The few revolutionary intellectuals who raise these issues are denigrated and  demonized as being ‘anti-UDC’. Far be it from my thoughts to seek to pooh-pooh prospects of a UDC government in 2019. But the point must be emphatically made that in the absence of the piston engine of a socialist party within the  BNF/UDC the much anticipated change will not go far enough in terms of liberating our people from the shackles of imperialism and remnants of the feudal mode of production. Strictly speaking, the current BNF is not  a united front in the true sense of the word. It is more of a Stalinist class collaborationist popular front where workers are placed under the compromising leadership of the so-called ‘revolutionary’ petty-bourgeoisie in an anti-Leninist fashion. Not even the multi-organizational United Front Dr Koma dreamt about at the BNF congress of 1988 has materialized.

Successful National Democratic Revolutions in China and Vietnam were ‘an alliance between mass organizations and a socialist party’.  The Russian revolution demonstrated the ‘continuous’ nature of the democratic and social demands of the revolution. In Vietnam the Viet Nam Communist Party enjoyed the organizational and ideological autonomy to provide leadership of mass organizations such as the Red Workers Association, Red Peasants’ Association, Communist Youth League, Women’s Association for Liberation and the  Red Relief Society. This United Front was set up after the establishment of the Viet Nam Communist Party. A similar situation prevailed under Mao Tse Tung in China.

In Cuba although the first steps towards the unity of non-revolutionary forces or mass organizations dated back to 1957  Fidel Castro concentrated on building his socialist July 26 Movement first. This he did to avoid finding himself ‘in bad company’ or trailing after capitalist forces.  Only in 1961 after the socialist July 26 Movement had established itself as a considerable force and its strategy for the struggle had been tested in practice as a decisive political force in Cuban society did Castro turn his attention to achieving broader unity or a united front.
In his book, History Will Absolve Me,  Castro explained his position ;

 ‘…at that moment (before 1961)  it was  a thousand times better to stand alone than in bad company. Why is it that back when there were just 120 of us in arms, we weren’t interested in broad unity with all the organizations in exile, while later, when we numbered in the thousands, we were interested in that broad  unity?  The answer is simple: when there were just 120 of us, unity would have meant a clear-cut majority for conservative and reactionary elements or representatives of interests that were not revolutionary, even though they opposed Batista. We would have been a tiny force in such a union’.  
 

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Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is – as always: now.

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

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

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

Let us start today.

*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana

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Opinions

Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12th October 2020

THABO MAJOLA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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