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The Social Breakdown Syndrome

How Behaviour on Botswana Roads is a Fair Reflexion of What Happens in Our Society
 

Many things happen in public roads in Botswana that provide a good reflection of what is happening in society at large. The state of our society, especially as reflected by the negative characteristics that generate topics of discussion in many fora, is a major source of worry for many people in the country.

In recent months many fora have discussed the deteriorating behaviour and social trends in the country, especially as reflected in the behaviour of the youth, but not by all means confined to that important section of our society.

Just to name a few worrying things that generate a lot of discussion: lack of respect by the young for adults such as failure to greet adults and exhibitions of amorous behaviour in public, drinking of alcohol by the under-aged, irresponsible drinking by the older ones, other substance abuse by both groups, sexual activity resulting in teenage pregnancy and dropping out of school which is a sign of early sexual debut and the widespread indulgence in unprotected sex, a tendency to vandalize public property etc.

On another front, there is the poor work ethic that compounds the lack of jobs, and there are general signs of irresponsible behaviour, including small things like urinating in public, deliberately littering in roads and other public places and vandalizing public/government property as happens in schools.


So, I thought I would take a slightly different direction in discussing these oft-discussed topics and tackle them from a different angle, just to get people thinking. My approach is to look at behaviour in our roads and to see to what extent such behaviour can be used as a proxy of what is happening in our society in general. In other words, is behaviour in our roads a good reflection of what is happening in our society in general? I will look at drivers, pedestrians, and indirect users of the roads such as cattle farmers.


Let us look at the drivers. There are many laws and rules that are daily flouted on our roads that the law enforcement agencies seem to have given up on. One needs to drive on any busy Gaborone road for only a few minutes to see i) drivers openly talking on their cell-phones, ii) children playing around in the cars or standing next to drivers without any restraining seat-belt or child seat, or iii) drivers nonchalantly driving through red lights; in fact when the traffic light turns green for you, you have to wait for a few seconds as several cars from the direction that has turned red will pass before you can go on.

Minibus and taxi drivers do fascinating things; they will either cut in front of you and then drive very slowly, or too fast! Weaving between lanes irrespective of how much the other drivers are being inconvenienced by having to slam on their brakes is very common as well, and this is universal, not just done by the taxis.


Many drive under the influence of alcohol- just look at the number of vehicles parked at bars and similar establishments and wonder where the drivers are. Even more interesting, if all those involved in accidents were to be breathalysed, we would get a much truer picture of the actual incidence of accidents caused driving under the influence, than currently when only those who are suspected are breathalysed.

Those in the alcohol industry should stop quoting current figures and then claiming that driving under the influence only accounts for a small percentage of accidents, because we cannot know the actual figure unless all those involved in accidents are breathalysed or tested.


Gaborone has the distinguishing feature of being the only city I have personally been to, (and I have been to virtually all the capital cities of SADC, and many in the rest of Africa and around the world) where a large number of traffic lights have simply been knocked down by motorists.

It is a character of drivers very typical of Botswana! In addition, our motorists will gladly drive through traffic circles and also knock down walls near such circles. One cannot help but sympathize with the University of Botswana authorities; their wall next to the traffic circle nearest to them (the UB circle as it is called), is routinely knocked down by motorists during weekends. It must be costing them a pile to keep repairing the wall; I notice nowadays they leave it unrepaired for long periods, one can’t blame them.


In the highways things are not any better- the Gaborone-Lobatse road is a case in point. Drivers do amazing things. The most common and irritating one is to go very slowly, sometimes as slow as 50KPH, and completely ignore the traffic jam they are causing.

This is despite the fact that the road has a shoulder in most parts where slow-moving drivers can drive and allow faster drivers to move on. At night, and this is in all the roads, drivers do not switch on lights long after sunset. Such cars are dangerous, one can hardly see them even when one has one’s own lights on. Recently a correspondent wrote to the press expressing disgust that the Gaborone-Lobatse segment of the A1 is not a dual carriageway.

I sympathize with him, but I also sympathize with the Government. The Government has to prioritize where to use our taxpayers’ money, and believe me, prioritization is a major problem. Do you want to dual this particular road while many roads are not even tarred at all?

At what point does the balance of priorities favour this one? Motorists are a major problem here, they could make the road much more tolerable, by driving professionally and being courteous to others, and where there is a shoulder, moving there and facilitating smoother traffic flow.


In our dual carriageways, there seems to be no rule regarding left and right lanes. It is not unusual to find a very slow-moving car in the right lane which is supposed to be the fast lane. Drivers seem to select the lanes randomly- the drive left and overtake right seems not to be operative at all.


So much for drivers, now for pedestrians. Pedestrians using zebra crossings can really be irritating. Many of them will make a driver stop and give way to let them cross, and then they will take a leisurely walk across the pedestrian crossing while the driver waits. In many cases, and this is common with Secondary School students, you can see they are doing it deliberately to annoy you the motorist, as they chat and laugh.


Pedestrians do other terrible things; they walk along the roads and deposit all sorts of nasty litter on the road. It is not unusual, especially during weekends, to find empty beer and other beverage bottles nicely put next to traffic lights. All other litter is thrown about the roads, such as empty take-away food cartons.

To be frank, motorists also contribute to the littering. I have followed and seen motorists and their passengers throwing all sorts of litter through windows onto the road, from beer and other beverage tins to all sorts of cartons. It is usually the young well-to-do; of course they are the ones who can afford to drive cars.


Finally, cattle owners. All the roads in Botswana have the problem of stray cattle, but the problem is particularly irritating in the A1, as it is our major road, and is most annoying in the Gaborone-Lobatse segment. The interesting thing with cattle on the roads is that the Government could do something about it but lacks the political will to do so. All that is needed is for cattle in gazetted roads and in towns to be impounded and be auctioned off in a week or so.

In addition, the charges for keeping impounded cattle (and other livestock) should be enough to be deterrent. The current charges are cheaper than engaging a herdman. Cattle owners actually let their animals roam the streets of Gaborone and other towns, and major roads like the A1, with impunity, because the charges are convenient.


So, going back to our original question, can all this behaviour outlined above be used to judge the extent of our social breakdown status, or anti-social behaviour? Let’s look at the various categories of behaviour described above, and see what they suggest in terms of negative behaviour:


Lawlessness and anarchy: The drivers in our roads obviously don’t care for the law- the use of cell phones, driving with unrestrained children in the cab, jumping red lights, driving under the influence etc. typify this. Knocking down traffic lights and driving into walls, especially under the influence of alcohol, would also fall under this category.

Lack of professionalism: Drivers on our roads don’t care to be courteous to other drivers- not allowing for faster flow of traffic by moving to shoulder, weaving in traffic between lanes or going very slowly in a fast (right) lane, all demonstrate this.


Lack of respect for older people and for others generally: Pedestrians contribute to negative behaviour. Strolling across pedestrian crossings is very discourteous, especially as it is done largely by young people. They also tend to do things like holding hands and behaving intimately in public roads.


Public disorderliness and lack of pride in one’s country or society: A good example of this is pedestrians placing beer and other beverage bottles on the roads, not uncommonly at traffic lights. The same applies to throwing other litter all over the roads. Motorists also do this, especially young drivers under the influence of alcohol, trying to demonstrate defiance.


A culture of entitlement: Livestock owners, especially cattle owners, demonstrate an unbelievable sense of entitlement by simply allowing their animals to roam in towns and road reserves. They say that these roads and towns are situated where their cattle posts used to be. In many cases this is not true.

Where it may be true, surely they know that there are always areas where livestock is not allowed. They actually open gates of the road reserve fence to let their animals in!
So, all in all, our modernity is fostering many negative behaviours. Parents, adults and society in general seem to be unable to handle the attendant changes.

As I have said a few times before, the challenge is change management. Our society (led by various categories of leaders- traditional, political, public servants etc.) needs to manage these modernizing changes among the people of Botswana and minimize the negative behaviours, because the changes will come whether we want it or not.

While we may be able to resurrect some positive things from the past, we can never move our society back to what it was centuries or even decades ago. Being nostalgic about traditional or cultural practices whose time has passed will not help us in this particular challenge.

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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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Opinions

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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