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Changes occurring in Botswana society, are they leading to a defining moment?

Societies are always changing. A society that is static cannot develop. So it is no surprise that Botswana society is changing. What is worrying many people, especially various categories of leaders, is that the changes our society is undergoing seem to be largely negative.

Recently there have been debates on national Radio and TV, where these negative changes have been debated. Attracting most debate has been the behavioural tendencies observed among the youth, especially the ones at school or of school-going age. 

This change in behaviour among the youth includes such things as their behaviour to adults (e.g., not greeting adults, smoking and drinking in front of adults, boys and girls showing amorous behaviour etc.), the way they behave in schools (such as vandalism and disrespecting teachers, including being aggressive or threatening to teachers), abuse of alcohol and other drugs, involvement in delinquency and crime, and generally not applying themselves to school work.

Many aspects of this behaviour can be seen also in adults, especially young adults who are no longer in school. There is excessive use of alcohol and other substances in our society, early and extramarital sexual activity, and general criminal activity.

Many explanations are being offered for this apparent unravelling of our society. Some say that these things are a sign of, or a result of the people of Botswana having abandoned their culture and tradition. They quote for example that tribal societies have abandoned institutions that used to instil good behaviour and promote culture such as initiation ceremonies (bogwera and bojale). Some on the other hand feel the problems are with us because we have abandoned God; by that meaning Christianity.

As an example, during a discussion in BTV recently in a programme called Molemo wa Kgang, when progress towards the attainment of Vision 2016 was being debated, a church leader stated that the youth who are active Christians and have given their lives to Christ do not participate in those bad behaviours that are described above.

But is that true? Do we find less crime, less extramarital sex, less teenage pregnancies, less drug abuse and less delinquency in general among youth and adults who are active Christians than among those who are not active Christians, or among the general population?

Studies so far have not shown that active Christians engage in these negative behaviours or suffer from their consequences any less than the general population or their counterparts who are not active in religion. Things like HIV infections and teenage pregnancies are evenly spread in the population and are not any less among the active Christians, showing that negative behaviours are widespread among the youth and the population in general.

Societies have been changing since human beings started organizing themselves in social groups- from small hunter-gatherer groups through tribal chiefdoms to the nation states that are now the common form of social and political organization. Economic organization has of course also been changing continuously in tandem with social and political organization, e.g., from hunter-gathering, to subsistence agriculture, to commercial agriculture, to commerce, industrialization and the sophisticated economy we see now.

Changes in social organization and social relations, including relations at family level, have been mostly determined by modes of economic production in society. In turn these modes of production have influenced urbanization, which has had a profound impact on the family.

In the Radio and TV debates I have referred to above, people have largely blamed the break-up of the extended family system  for the social problems we are facing, especially bad youth behaviour. However, it should be remembered that these changes have faced every society that has “modernized” from being a tribal/agriculture based peasant society to an urban society dependent on commerce- the cash-based economy.

Urbanization and the cash-based economy promote individualism and the desire to accumulate wealth based on the money economy; hence the growth of the influence of the Middle Class and the decline of the influence of the nobility and the feudal classes.

We should remember that urbanization is not a new phenomenon. The ancient empires such as the Babylonian, the Greek and the Roman Empires had considerable urbanization. Hence the existence of City States in those Empires. In fact the word “civilization” in a way relates to urbanization [the word civilization comes from the  "Early modern France" 16th-century French civilisé (civilized), from Latin civilis (civil), related to civis (citizen) and civitas (city)]. So, when we talk of people abandoning their culture to adopt “foreign” culture, we actually mean that our society is undergoing reorganization to become more urban and its economy to become more cash oriented.

A good example is our major villages; they have had to be reclassified urban (euphemistically called urban villages) since the 1981 census because it was realized that the majority of people in these localities no longer rely on agriculture for day to day survival or as their main occupation.

Globally, this phenomenon of change of dependence on agriculture started in Europe from about the 16th century with the growth of commerce and the Middle Class, and gained momentum with the industrial revolution. All these changes promoted urbanization and its attendant social organization.

These changes have also led to the growth of the “nuclear family” as the main basic unit of society, with the accompanying decline of the extended family system. The family now consists of the parents (or parent) and their children, usually living away from their traditional home (the husband and the wife may be coming from different villages), working in an urban area.

Their contact with their relatives is generally minimal, so the children only know their uncles and aunts peripherally. Unlike in the past, these relatives have little or no influence on this nuclear family, and as the children become adults, the role of the extended family declines progressively.

The developed countries are now living in such a system. We in Botswana, as is the situation in many developing countries, are slowly but inexorably moving to that situation. We are in a state of  transition, with the extended family slowly collapsing and the nuclear family slowly becoming the norm.

This situation obviously has a profound effect on the way our children are socialized. Our children don’t spend a lot of time with their cousins and other peers playing in the dust of the patlelo in the village. They spend time alone or watching TV, and they meet their relatives only occasionally.

Another complicating factor on the socialization of the children is that many, probably most of them, are born out of wedlock. So they do not have a balanced family with a father and mother to guide their socialization.
These changes are inexorably marching on.

The wheel cannot be turned back to a situation where life will be like it was during the primacy of the tribal system.  So, instead of crying for the return to past cultures and traditions  that have faded away , our leaders should work towards managing change, because the change will keep happening.

Our leaders- political, tribal, social- should aim at managing this change and not stopping it, as that is not practical. Those who advocate the reintroduction or strengthening the tribal system to reflect the situation of many decades ago are likely to be very disappointed. In the same way, those who think Christianity can be the main factor in arresting the negative effects of modernity and change in our society are not being very practical. Instead, both tribal culture and Christianity should learn to live with this new culture and influence it from within.

One cannot help but feel the sense of despondency, frustration and desperation that seem to grip many young Batswana as they face their future. What hit most Sub-Saharan African countries from the late 1970s or 1980s is to some extent hitting us now. While Botswana is not facing the economic collapse they faced at the time, the other problems are with us- unemployment, especially graduate unemployment being the most visible problem.

When most of these African countries faced economic collapse and were pushed by the International Finance Institutions and donors to undergo Structural Adjustment Programmes as a condition to be rescued with aid and debt forgiveness, Botswana was riding the crest with rapid economic growth, despite the fact that two decades earlier, at the time of its independence, it was regarded as a hopeless case while the other countries had promising economies.

Botswana did not have to undergo the HIPC initiative (Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative), that was used by the International Organizations and donors to implement massive aid and debt forgiveness to restart the collapsed economies of the fellow African countries.

Botswana grew to become a Middle Income country, while a few of its peers actually dropped from Middle Income status to Low Income or under-developed country status. These countries have now been revived, thanks to aid and debt forgiveness (neo liberal economics?) and Botswana is now having some of the problems they had and still have- small economies that cannot absorb all their people into productive jobs. Contrary to what some people are peddling around, there are no ready-made solutions to these problems.

In view of these problems, many, including the youth, seem to believe that Botswana is facing a “defining moment”. One cannot help but feel that this feeling is largely deliberately orchestrated by some organizations and individuals. What is a defining moment? It is a feeling that something drastic is about to happen. It can be defined as an event which typifies or determines all subsequent related occurrences. Such an even can determine the subsequent occurrences to be negative or positive. While many advocates of a defining moment for Botswana seem to be expecting the negative, many of us hope that if such a moment does come, it will determine positive occurrences for the future.

Our future is in our hands, but with challenges that face us, such as a small population, some of it scattered in a large area of desert, being landlocked and having a small economy, we should accept that it will be a hard slog.

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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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Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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