When the UDC was founded some of us were apparently fooled into thinking that we were pursuing the idea of a United Front which has always been a BNF strategy of bringing about genuine independence to this country by mobilizing all democratic and patriotic forces. I personally dismissed as a conspiracy theory what some BNF members told me that the leadership of the three parties, the BNF, BMD and BPP had a grand plan to eventually make the UDC a political party that would substitute for their disparate political organizations.
Only now is it becoming clear that indeed while the rank and file members of the BNF had in mind a United Front some of their leaders had a grand plan of ultimately disbanding the BNF and or merging it with the BMD and BPP. The proposal of a merger has caused something of a stir within the BNF membership who clearly understand that in the fight against imperialism, neo-colonialism and the remnants of feudalism disbanding the BNF has never been and will never be an option. Clearly, our leadership failed the test of accountability to their members on this score.
The main purpose of this article is not try and rekindle the debate per se but to draw the attention of the BNF members, particularly its leadership, to the time-test position of the party on the United Front. This position dates back to 1965 when the BNF was founded and therefore it is absolutely unacceptable for the BNF leadership to be either ignorant or oblivious of it. My views against a political merger were clearly articulated in an article in penned in response to a statement made by the late Gomolemo Motswaledi to the effect that in 2015 the congresses of the three UDC parties will meet and decide whether to merge into one political party (see Sunday Standard , 0109/2013). Let me add that further details on my objection to a merger will be carried by my forthcoming book titled, In Defense of the BNF: Volume One.
Subsequently, I wrote several newspaper articles designed to help the founders of the UDC to consummate the organization as a United Front. None of that advice was taken on board, and strictly speaking, the UDC is not structured or constituted as a United Front. Though BNF is numerically the biggest party in the UDC its leadership within the UDC is at best, far too weak, and at worst, non-existent, not least because the leadership is not focused on strengthening the BNF. The fact that UDC campaigned for the 2014 general election on the basis of a liberal manifesto which was completely silent on traditional BNF policies, including Social Democratic policies endorsed by all three cooperating parties, was clearly indicative of a grand plan to dismantle the BNF.
Regarding the so-called UDC manifesto I must take this opportunity to set the record straight, regarding my role or the lack of it. I deliberately ignored this matter during the campaign because I wanted us to stay focused on fighting the BDP. With elections gone I must clarify my position. The general impression BNF members were given was that I was part of the team that wrote the UDC manifesto. As a matter of fact, I was part of the team that negotiated and wrote UDC policies, not the so-called UDC election manifesto. The UDC policies were not even used to write the UDC manifesto.
The two documents are poles apart. Some comrades go to the extent of accusing me for the liberal so-called UDC manifesto because it is alleged that after being invited to join the manifesto team I walked out. Nothing could be further from the truth – I was not invited to join the UDC manifesto team, which, to all intents and purposes, was apparently single-handedly authored by the BMD. Those behind these maneuvers reckoned that it would be easier to persuade the BNF members to disband their party had UDC won the elections on a banner that was not even BNF.
How can the BNF leadership be focused on defending the BNF when their ultimate aim is to disband it? Consequently, it is ironical that while the United Front is a BNF concept as a political party we are losing ground to other parties within UDC. The BNF leadership lacks the basic understanding of the United Front and the fact that to strengthen UDC they must concentrate more on strengthening their party (the BNF), and not UDC. And as a matter of principle all BNF members must be BNF first and only UDC second. Some of them have confused loyalties.
When article 8.4 of the UDC constitution states that ‘the structures, authority and powers of group members of the Umbrella shall be subordinate to the power and authority of the Umbrella’ it effectively establishes the UDC not only as a political party, but a super political party whose authority cannot be challenged by the individual Central Committees of the BNF, BMD and BPP. This article runs counter to the principle of a United Front. Furthermore, Article 3.3 defines the Umbrella ‘a registered political party’ and yet none of the central committees of the three cooperating parties was mandated by their congresses to form a new ‘political party’.
On the contrary the BNF Mochudi Congress resolution of 2010 was loud and clear in mandating its Central Committee to go and negotiate some form of cooperation with other parties subject to one fundamental condition – never to compromise the ‘soul’ or political integrity of the BNF. The other anti-United Front clause is Article 7 on the Individual Member. A party is formed by individual members hence this article. To the best of my recollection BNF members at different fora rejected the idea of individual membership of the UDC. In Botswana everybody is free to form a party of their choice. What is unacceptable is for some people to mischievously try to form a new party at the expense of the BNF. Again why is the UDC constitution already operational before it is formally adopted and debated by party structures?
In its headline story titled ‘UDC partners may merge in 2015’ Mmegi, (June 11, 2013) reported that, ‘The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) will hold a congress in 2015 to determine its destiny, president of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), Gomolemo Motswaledi has said. He told Mmegi that at the congress, the UDC partners, BMD, BNF and BPP will decide whether to merge and form one party or maintain the status quo. Motswaledi is UDC secretary general’. This statement by Motswaledi has now been fully restated by the UDC (see Sunday Standard 15/03/2015 ) which envisions the holding of the last congresses of the three parties before the 2019 general elections and their merger into a single party.
At the just ended BNF Leadership Forum the proposal to disband the BNF and merge it with the BMD and BPP was formally presented as an agenda item but without proper consultation of the general membership. The agenda item only vaguely stated ‘UDC- the Way Forward’ as an item to be motivated by the Central Committee. The BNF Constitution is silent on how much time the Central Committee must give members to mull over agenda items and no accompanying notes are provided for members to know exactly what the items are about The tendency to give members short notice is part of the strategy of stifling debate so that the ideas of the leadership should prevail.
Thankfully, although BNF members were ambushed they were vigilant enough – they actively deliberated on the matter in three groups and unanimously rejected it outright, including the proposal to have a shared office of the three cooperating parties. A shared office would have been one step towards merging the parties – exactly what BNF members do not want. There was not one dissenting voice from the floor. So far so good, but I suspect that this non-issue will again rear its ugly head at the July conference and it must again suffer tissue rejection.
What then is the position of the BNF on the United Front as expressed in the basic document of the party, Pamphlet Number 1? We quote lberally from Pamphlet Number 1 in order to illustrate this critically important point. After describing the modern petty bourgeoisie or ‘Elites by education’ Dr Koma provides this advice regarding the United Front; ‘From this characterization, it is clear that the section of the Botswana nation which forms the basic force in the United Front should maintain its autonomy within the Botswana National Front’ (page 26). Here Dr Koma had in mind the ultimate assumption of the working class leadership of the Botswana National Front that the founders of the BNF envisaged – maintaining their organizational and ideological independence both within the BNF and the broad United Front of democratic and patriotic forces. This was considered impossible by the founders of the BNF in 1965 because, as Dr Koma goes on to explain, ‘their class consciousness is as yet non-existent.
They are not politically organized and where there is some nucleus organization, they have fallen under the influence of the pro-colonialist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. It is obvious that unless and until it can join the United Front as a force independent from the political parties, the working class in Botswana cannot and will not play the role of a basic force in the United Front. And it is obvious that without a working class ideology, the working class in Botswana will remain on the level of trade unionism – concerned with wages and conditions of service’ (page 26).
Getting to the crux of the matter Dr Koma states that; ‘They (the basic force in the United Front) should unite with their allies in the national democratic front (currently these are the BMD and BPP, to some extent BOFEPUSO), but they should not merge, except under very exceptional conditions favourable to the independence of their orientation. This means that while we are certainly for unity, we are not for a merger. We are not for a single party. Here we disagree with those protagonists of national unity who disseminate the thesis that it is in interests of the struggle that in all cases there should be only one party. We are for independence and autonomy within the United Front. We reject the one party system as a general panacea’ (page 23).
The quotation above is the central message of this article. The BNF leadership must be fighting for the independence and autonomy of the BNF within the UDC, not a merger. I have no doubt in my mind that had Dr Koma not met his untimely demise and managed to compete his book, The Vietnamese Experience of the United Front he would have driven this massage further home on the concept and application of the strategy of a United Front. It is however reassuring to learn that one comrade is working hard at trying to get this book completed and published. We look forward to reading it.
Since a proper United Front requires working class leadership Dr Koma then sounds this warning, mainly to the revolutionary intellectuals and the class consciousness working class, on the dangers of lack of a working class leadership of both the BNF and the national democratic front, ‘We submit that form the elements which constitute the basic force of the United Front not to have their own party or organization, not to maintain the purity of their orientation, is to condemn the whole movement to the pace of a snail and to obscure the fact that the national democratic front is an organizational weapon for specific tasks at a specific phase of the movement… for the basic force to join the United Front without their organization is like a general who shouts hysterical slogans about going to the battle when he has neither a gun nor an army’ (page 23).
The current BNF leadership is absolutely nothing about this second and admittedly difficult condition for a successful United Front. Surely any BNF leader who has read and internalized these words cannot make the suicidal mistake of trying to persuade his party to disband so that UDC becomes their party. But these are not just mere words because in its practice or attempt to forge a national democratic front with other democratic and patriotic the BNF (with the exception of the current leadership) consistently applied these principles. We do not seem to learn any lessons from our past.
An important historical point that merits our attention at this juncture is that from the Peoples Patriotic Front (PPF) of 1991, to the Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) of 1999, through to the much looser Electoral Pact of 2003 (with the exception of the UDC of 2012 within which the BNF leadership is inclined towards a merger) the BNF has consistently opted for a United Front which guarantees and protects its organizational independence and autonomy as a party within the national united front of other democratic and patriotic forces.
In all attempts at forging a united front with other parties the BNF has steered clear of a merger because ideological differences between these parties cannot be wished away. When other parties started calling for a political merger the PPF and BAM collapsed because as far as the BNF leadership of that time was concerned they had crossed the red line. Today it is the rank file who are to the left of their leadership as demonstrated by their historic resolution at the Leadership Forum.
This is exactly what the BNF congress resolution of 2010 sanctioning talks that led to UDC meant when it mandated negotiations with other political parties subject to one condition – ‘not to sell the soul of the BNF’. Tragically, it is not only the ‘ soul’ of the BNF that is threatened but the party’s very existence is under threat, and most ironically, from the very people entrusted with the role of leading and defending it! Given this state of affairs it is important to emphasize that it is the bounden duty of every BNF member to stand up and be counted and do everything in their power to defend their party so that the sacrifices of so many comrades, dead and living, were not in vain.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.