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

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

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

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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