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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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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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