There are some people who have reduced our Setswana Culture to mere singing and dancing. There is a lot we can learn from our heritage in order to build a better Botswana for the future generations.
Ours is a human centered culture, this means that whatever we do, human beings come first. We do not plan to do things in order to make profit or individual gains.
Our economic plans, political governance were always geared towards the interest of the community as a whole. Nobody was regarded as inferior or less privileged because the society was giving equal opportunities to all.
If for whatever reasons someone is found to be less fortunate either due to ill health or disability the society or community will come to his or her rescue and nobody will announce it at the top of his voice that so and so is poor and I have brought him or her out of poverty.
It is a taboo in Setswana culture to boast about your wealth. The wealth someone is having does not belong to him or her but to the clan. We speak about dikgomo tsa rona, dikgomo tsa gaetsho, Dikgomo tsoo rra Moenga kgotsa dikgomo tsoorra semangmang. This is the culture which makes every child in the family, clan, community, tribe or society to be equal because the wealth of the society belongs to all.
As Steve Biko said, in traditional African culture, there is no such thing as two friends. Conversation groups were more or less naturally determined by age and divisions of labor. Thus one would find all boys whose job was to look after cattle periodically meeting at a popular spot to engage in conversation about their cattle, girl friends, parents, heroes etc. All commonly shared their secrets, joys and woes. No one felt unnecessarily an intruder into someone’s business.
The curiosity manifested was welcome. It came out of desire to share. This pattern one would find in all age groups. House visiting was always a feature of the elderly people’s way of life. No reason was needed as a basis for visits. We did not need hired pastors or borra le bomma boipelego to visit the sick and the needy. It was all part of our deep concern for each other.
These are things never done in the westerners’ culture. A visitor to someone’s house, with the exception of friends, is always met with the question; “what can I do for you?” This attitude of viewing people as agents, for particular functions either to one’s disadvantage or advantage is foreign to us.
We are not a suspicious race. We believe in the inherent goodness of human beings. We regard our living together not as an unfortunate mishap warranting endless competition amongst us but as a deliberate act of God to make us a community of brothers and sisters jointly involved in the quest for a composite answer to the varied problems of life.
Hence in all we do we always place human beings first and hence all our action is usually joint community oriented action rather than the individualization which is the hallmark of the capitalist approach. We always refrain from using people as stepping stones.
Talking to each other is one of the central concepts of our culture. We talk to each other not for the sake of arriving at a particular conclusion but merely to enjoy the communication for its own sake and to learn from one another.
This talking to each other freely will erase suspicion from one another. Today you find people belonging to one organization, either a political party or church but not greeting each other when they meet in the streets, let alone talking to each other. You hear the secretary general of a particular party does not see eye to eye with the president of the party. This is not African and is evil to say the least. People see each other only in meetings or church gathering on Sundays.
African culture, our Setswana culture teaches us to communicate with one another and by so doing build trust and respect on each other. I don’t need to greet you when we meet only if I know you. Greetings, in our culture are the key to conversations.
When Batswana meet they greet each other and ask about relatives’ welfare, even about their cattle, sheep, and goats because in Setswana you cannot be well if your uncle or mother is not well, or if your animals are dying of drought. We believe in a holistic approach to life. Our Setswana culture must be reflected in all spheres of life i.e. in our politics, economic and social life. Batswana believe in consensus methods in dealing with national issues.
We debate issues politely, honestly with respect to each other until we reach an agreement. It is in the best interest of the majority that we agree. We don’t believe that everything discussed needs to be voted for. Voting is a foreign concept. In a world where money can buy anything most voters are being bought as one intelligent journalist put it, “under capitalism – democracy is on sale!”
Sometimes people vote without knowing why they are voting and who they are voting for, simply because they are given money or they are given alcohol. We no longer debate issues, because of lack of African culture in our politics, evil people are in governments in Africa while honest and intelligent people are left out of power.
In African culture a leader is prepared even before birth, groomed and nurtured to be a leader. This reminds me of the story I was told by Kgosi Mareko Mosielele of Bahurutshe on how he trained Kgosi Letsholathebe Moremi. Kgosi Letsholathebe II graduated with a degree but in accordance with our Setswana culture.
Batawana royal house found it fit to send Letsholathebe II for more studies at the Bahurutshe royal house. Anybody who knew Kgosi Letsholathebe II will agree with me that he was the best among the best when it comes to leadership qualities. He was a down to earth person but highly respected kgosi.
On several occasions, I met him in Gaborone when he was attending house of chiefs meetings and I being a student he will always say,” dumela morwa Moenga, you always remind me of your parents”. Somehow Kgosi knew my parents and respected them and I benefitted from that in a way.
The point I am making is that, a leader is trained to lead. It must be the people to decide who leads them, not money as it seems to be the case in our society now. Our culture also was reflected in our economic systems as Africans or Batswana.
We helped each other when it was ploughing season since we did not have tractors and used oxen for ploughing. Those who did not have oxen would just go and borrow from the neighbor, borrowing oxen, easily, as if borrowing a simple knife. That is African culture. What was important was assisting someone.
At the center of our culture is the human being. Whatever we do or plan to do is done in the best interest of the human being. Poverty is a foreign concept. As I said rich or poor we were always using oxen for ploughing. If you didn’t have milk to provide for your children you would just go and ask for dikgomo tsa mafisa.
Our economy was not profit driven, unlike the western culture that places profit ahead of human beings, although they smartly refer to it as individual rights. The right of individuals to do whatever they want to do, even at the expense of other human beings.
This is why at the time of bo Sir Seretse khama & Sir Ketumile Masire we used to have price control department to ensure that prices were not set to exploit people. Goods and services shouldn’t be produced for the simple purpose of making money at the expense of the consumer.
As Steve Biko said,” we are tolerated because our cheap labor is needed. I will add,”also because our money is needed”. Biko is right to say that in rejecting the western values, therefore, we are rejecting those that are not only foreign to us but that seek to destroy the most cherished of our beliefs or that the corner stone of our society is man himself – not just his welfare, not his material well being but just man himself, with all his ramifications.
We must reject the power based society of the west that seems to be ever concerned with perfecting their technological know- how while losing out on their spiritual dimension. We believe that in the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be on this field of human relationship.
The great gift is not money, industrial or even a military look but the greatest gift to the world which can only come from Africa is to give the world a more human face. It is from this background that when we talk of our culture and how to preserve it we must know what we are talking about because it is the culture which will serve the world.
It seems in Botswana we are busy destroying our culture. Because if we are really serious about preserving our culture we must start with the teaching of our languages in schools, like Sekalaka, Seyei, Sesarwa and many more found in this country.
The good thing is that we are surrounded by countries where these languages are taught. We can easily take teachers & text books from Zimbabwe to teach Sekalaka, take teachers & textbooks from Namibia to teach senaro, Seyei, Sembukushu; take textbooks and teachers from South-Africa to teach seXhosa & Afrikaans. We can take teachers & text books from Zambia to teach Serotsi & Sesubiya.
In my view music, art and dancing are means to communicating in our culture and are not as central to our culture. At the center of our culture is the Human Being.
“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
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.
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.