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.
Parliament was this week once again seized with matters that concern them and borders on conflict of interest and abuse of privilege.
The two matters are; review of MPs benefits as well as President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s participation in the bidding for Banyana Farms. For the latter, it should not come as a surprise that President Masisi succeeded in bid.
The President’s business interests have also been in the forefront. While President Masisi is entitled as a citizen to participate in a various businesses in the country or abroad, it is morally deficient for him to participate in a bidding process that is handled by the government he leads. By the virtue of his presidency, Masisi is the head of government and head of State.
Not long ago, former President Festus Mogae suggested that elected officials should consider using blind trust to manage their business interests once they are elected to public office. Though blind trusts are expensive, they are the best way of ensuring confidence in those that serve in public office.
A blind trust is a trust established by the owner (or trustor) giving another party (the trustee) full control of the trust. Blind trusts are often established in situations where individuals want to avoid conflicts of interest between their employment and investments.
The trustee has full discretion over the assets and investments while being charged with managing the assets and any income generated in the trust.
The trustor can terminate the trust, but otherwise exercises no control over the actions taken within the trust and receives no reports from the trustees while the blind trust is in force.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, has defended President Masisi’s participation in business and in the Banyana Farms bidding. His contention is that, the practise even obtained during the administration of previous presidents.
The President is the most influential figure in the country. His role is representative and he enjoys a plethora of privileges. He is not an ordinary citizen. The President should therefore be mindful of this fact.
We should as a nation continue to thrive for improvement of our laws with the viewing of enhancing good governance. We should accept perpetuation of certain practices on the bases that they are a norm. MPs are custodians of good governance and they should measure up to the demands of their responsibility.
Parliament should not be spared for its role in countenancing these developments. Parliament is charged with the mandate of making laws and providing oversight, but for them to make laws that are meant solely for their benefits as MPs is unethical and from a governance point of view, wrong.
There have been debates in parliament, some dating from past years, about the benefits of MPs including pension benefits. It is of course self-serving for MPs to be deliberating on their compensation and other benefits.
In the past, we have also contended that MPs are not the right people to discuss their own compensation and there has to be Special Committee set for the purpose. This is a practice in advanced democracies.
By suggesting this, we are not suggesting that MP benefits are in anyway lucrative, but we are saying, an independent body may figure out the best way of handling such issues, and even offer MPs better benefits.
In the United Kingdom for example; since 2009 following a scandal relating to abuse of office, set-up Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)
IPSA is responsible for: setting the level of and paying MPs’ annual salaries; paying the salaries of MPs’ staff; drawing up, reviewing, and administering an MP’s allowance scheme; providing MPs with publicly available and information relating to taxation issues; and determining the procedures for investigations and complaints relating to MPs.
Owing to what has happened in the Parliament of Botswana recently, we now need to have a way of limiting what MPs can do especially when it comes to laws that concern them. We cannot be too trusting as a nation.
MPs can abuse office for their own agendas. There is need to act swiftly to deal with the inherent conflict of interest that arise as a result of our legislative setup. A voice of reason should emerge from Parliament to address this unpleasant situation. This cannot be business as usual.
The 490-hectare campus researches the world’s deadliest pathogens, including Anthrax (in 1944, the Roosevelt administration ordered 1 million anthrax bombs from Fort Detrick), Ebola, smallpox, and … you guessed right: coronaviruses. The facility, which carries out paid research projects for government agencies (including the CIA), universities and drug companies most of whom owned by the highly sinister military-industrial complex, employs 900 people.
Between 1945 and 1969, the sprawling complex (which has since become the US’s ”bio-defence centre” to put it mildly) was the hub of the US biological weapons programme. It was at Fort Detrick that Project MK Ultra, a top-secret CIA quest to subject the human mind to routine robotic manipulation, a monstrosity the CIA openly owned up to in a congressional inquisition in 1975, was carried out. In the consequent experiments, the guinea pigs comprised not only of people of the forgotten corner of America – inmates, prostitutes and the homeless but also prisoners of war and even regular US servicemen.
These unwitting participants underwent up to a 20-year-long ordeal of barbarous experiments involving psychoactive drugs (such as LSD), forced electroshocks, physical and sexual abuses, as well as a myriad of other torments. The experiments not only violated international law, but also the CIA’s own charter which forbids domestic activities. Over 180 doctors and researchers took part in these horrendous experiments and this in a country which touts itself as the most civilised on the globe!
Was the coronavirus actually manufactured at Fort Detrick (like HIV as I shall demonstrate at the appropriate time) and simply tactfully patented to other equally cacodemonic places such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China?
THE FORT DETRICK SCIENTISTS’ PROPHECY WAS WELL-INFORMED
About two years before the term novel coronavirus became a familiar feature in day-to-day banter, two scientist cryptically served advance warning of its imminence. They were Allison Totura and Sina Bavari, both researchers at Fort Detrick.
The two scientists talked of “novel highly pathogenic coronaviruses that may emerge from animal reservoir hosts”, adding, “These coronaviruses may have the potential to cause devastating pandemics due to unique features in virus biology including rapid viral replication, broad host range, cross-species transmission, person-to-person transmission, and lack of herd immunity in human populations … Associated with novel respiratory syndromes, they move from person-to-person via close contact and can result in high morbidity and mortality caused by the progression to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).”
All the above constitute some of the documented attributes and characteristics of the virus presently on the loose – the propagator of Covid-19. A recent clinical review of Covid-19 in The Economist seemed to bear out this prognostication when it said, “It is ARDS that sees people rushed to intensive-care units and put on ventilators”. As if sounding forth a veritable prophecy, the two scientists besought governments to start working on counter-measures there and then that could be “effective against such a virus”.
Well, it was not by sheer happenstance that Tortura and Bavari turned out to have been so incredibly and ominously prescient. They had it on good authority, having witnessed at ringside what the virus was capable of in the context of their own laboratory. The gory scenario they painted for us came not from secondary sources but from the proverbial horse’s mouth folks.
CDC’S RECKLESS ADMISSION
In March this year, Robert Redfield, the US Director for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee that it had transpired that some members of the American populace who were certified as having died of influenza turned out to have harboured the novel coronavirus per posthumous analysis of their tissue.
Redfield was not pressed to elaborate but the message was loud and clear – Covid-19 had been doing the rounds in the US much earlier than it was generally supposed and that the extent to which it was mistaken for flu was by far much more commonplace than was openly admitted. An outspoken Chinese diplomat, Zhao Lijian, seized on this rather casual revelation and insisted that the US disclose further information, exercise transparency on coronavirus cases and provide an explanation to the public.
But that was not all the beef Zhao had with the US. He further charged that the coronavirus was possibly transplanted to China by the US: whether inadvertently or by deliberate design he did not say. Zhao pointed to the Military World Games of October 2019, in which US army representatives took part, as the context in which the coronavirus irrupted into China. Did the allegation ring hollow or there was a ring of truth to it?
THE BENASSIE FACTOR
The Military World Games, an Olympic-style spectrum of competitive action, are held every four years. The 2019 episode took place in Wuhan, China. The 7th such, the games ran from October 18 to October 27. The US contingent comprised of 17 teams of over 280 athletes, plus an innumerable other staff members. Altogether, over 9000 athletes from 110 countries were on hand to showcase their athletic mettle in more than 27 sports. All NATO countries were present, with Africa on its part represented by 30 countries who included Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Besides the singular number of participants, the event notched up a whole array of firsts. One report spelt them out thus: “The first time the games were staged outside of military bases, the first time the games were all held in the same city, the first time an Athletes’ Village was constructed, the first time TV and VR systems were powered by 5G telecom technology, and the first use of all-round volunteer services for each delegation.”
Now, here is the clincher: the location of the guest house for the US team was located in the immediate neighbourhood of the Wuhan Seafood Market, the place the Chinese authorities to this day contend was the diffusion point of the coronavirus. But there is more: according to some reports, the person who allegedly but unwittingly transmitted the virus to the people milling about the market – Patient Zero of Covid-19 – was one Maatie Benassie.
Benassie, 52, is a security officer of Sergeant First Class rank at the Fort Belvoir military base in Virginia and took part in the 50-mile cycling road race in the same competitions. In the final lap, she was accidentally knocked down by a fellow contestant and sustained a fractured rib and a concussion though she soldiered on and completed the race with the agonising adversity. Inevitably, she saw a bit of time in a local health facility. According to information dug up by George Webb, an investigative journalist based in Washington DC, Benassie would later test positive for Covid-19 at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.
Incidentally, Benassie apparently passed on the virus to other US soldiers at the games, who were hospitalised right there in China before they were airlifted back to the US. The US government straightaway prohibited the publicising of details on the matter under the time-honoured excuse of “national security interests”, which raised eyebrows as a matter-of-course. As if that was not fishy enough, the US out of the blue tightened Chinese visas to the US at the conclusion of the games.
The rest, as they say, is history: two months later, Covid-19 had taken hold on China territory. “From that date onwards,” said one report, “one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 15, the total number of infections stood at 27 — the first double-digit daily rise was reported on December 17 — and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60.”
TWO CURIOUS RESEARCH HALTINGS
Is it a coincidence that all the US soldiers who fell ill at the Wuhan games did their preparatory training at the Fort Belvoir military base, only a 15-minutes’ drive from Fort Detrick?
That Fort Detrick is a plain-sight perpetrator of pathogenic evils is evidenced by a number of highly suspicious happenings concerning it. Remember the 2001 anthrax mailing attacks on government and media houses which killed five people right on US territory? The two principal suspects who puzzlingly were never charged, worked as microbiologists at Fort Detrick. Of the two, Bruce Ivins, who was the more culpable, died in 2008 of “suicide”. For “suicide”, read “elimination”, probably because he was in the process of spilling the beans and therefore cast the US government in a stigmatically diabolical light. Indeed, the following year, all research projects at Fort Detrick were suspended on grounds that the institute was “storing pathogens not listed in its database”. The real truth was likely much more reprehensible.
In 2014, there was a mini local pandemic in the US which killed thousands of people and which the mainstream media were not gutsy enough to report. It arose following the weaponisation at Fort Detrick of the H7N9 virus, prompting the Obama administration to at once declare a moratorium on the research and withdraw funding.
The Trump administration, however, which has a pathological fixation on undoing practically all the good Obama did, reinstated the research under new rigorous guidelines in 2017. But since old habits die hard, the new guidelines were flouted at will, leading to another shutdown of the whole research gamut at the institute in August 2019. This, nonetheless, was not wholesale as other areas of research, such as experiments to make bird flu more transmissible and which had begun in 2012, proceeded apace. As one commentator pointedly wondered aloud, was it really necessary to study how to make H5N1, which causes a type of bird flu with an eye-popping mortality rate, more transmissible?
Consistent with its character, the CDC was not prepared to furnish particulars upon issuing the cease and desist order, citing “national security reasons”. Could the real reason have been the manufacture of the novel coronavirus courtesy of a tip-off by the more scrupulous scientists?
President Mokgweetsi Masisi may have breathed a huge sigh of relief when he emerged victorious in last year’s 2019 general elections, but the ultimate test of his presidency has only just begun.
From COVID-19 pandemic effects; disenchanted unemployed youth, deteriorating diplomatic relations with neighbouring South Africa as well as emerging instability within the ruling party — Masisi has a lot to resolve in the next few years.
Last week we started an unwanted cold war with Botswana’s main trade partner, South Africa, in what we consider an ill-conceived move. Never, in the history of this country has Botswana shown South Africa a cold shoulder – particularly since the fall of the apartheid regime.
It is without a doubt that our country’s survival depends on having good relations with South Africa. As the Chairperson of African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe once said, a good relationship between Botswana and South Africa is not optional but necessary.
No matter how aggrieved we feel, we should never engage in a diplomatic war — with due respect to other neighbours— with South Africa. We will never gain anything from starting a diplomatic war with South Africa.
In fact, doing so will imperil our economy, given that majority of businesses in the retail sector and services sector are South African companies.
Former cabinet minister and Phakalane Estates proprietor, David Magang once opined that Botswana’s poor manufacturing sector and importation of more than 80 percent of the foodstuffs from South Africa, effectively renders Botswana a neo-colony of the former.
Magang’s statement may look demeaning, but that is the truth, and all sorts of examples can be produced to support that. Perhaps it is time to realise that as a nation, we are not independent enough to behave the way we do. And for God’s sake, we are a landlocked country!
Recently, the effects of COVID-19 have exposed the fragility of our economy; the devastating pleas of the unemployed and the uncertainty of the future. Botswana’s two mainstay source of income; diamonds and tourism have been hit hard. Going forward, there is a need to chart a new pathway, and surely it is not an easy task.
The ground is becoming fertile for uprisings that are not desirable in any country. That the government has not responded positively to the rising unemployment challenge is the truth, and very soon as a nation we will wake up to this reality.
The magnitude of the problem is so serious that citizens are running out of patience. The government on the other hand has not done much to instil confidence by assuring the populace that there is a plan.
The general feeling is that, not much will change, hence some sections of the society, will try to use other means to ensure that their demands are taken into consideration. Botswana might have enjoyed peace and stability in the past, but there is guarantee that, under the current circumstances, the status quo will be maintained.
It is evident that, increasingly, indigenous citizens are becoming resentful of naturalised and other foreign nationals. Many believe naturalised citizens, especially those of Indian origin, are the major beneficiaries in the economy, while the rest of the society is side-lined.
The resentfulness is likely to intensify going forward. We needed not to be heading in this direction. We needed not to be racist in our approach but when the pleas of the large section of the society are ignored, this is bound to happen.
It is should be the intention of every government that seeks to strive on non-racialism to ensure that there is shared prosperity. Share prosperity is the only way to make people of different races in one society to embrace each other, however, we have failed in this respect.
Masisi’s task goes beyond just delivering jobs and building a nation that we all desire, but he also has an immediate task of achieving stability within his own party. The matter is so serious that, there are threats of defection by a number of MPs, and if he does not arrest this, his government may collapse before completing the five year mandate.
The problems extend to the party itself, where Masisi found himself at war with his Secretary General, Mpho Balopi. The war is not just the fight for Central Committee position, but forms part of the succession plan.