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Let’s be Utopian about our nationhood

Vincent Matumo

Somebody once asked what is wrong with this world. The most apt response which was rather philosophical but simple at the same time, was that the world does not have a religious problem or a social problem or an economic problem; rather the world has an evil heart problem.

Love is the ingredient that is missing from history. The self interest of man has led him to kill, maim, imprison and dominate another to fulfil their own selfish interests. But provision has never been in short supply neither has space for everyone to live in peace and liberty. Individualism has now pervaded even the traditional nuclear family system to a point where there are oligarchies within a family set up.

Genocides have erupted in many places around the world, slavery in all its forms, including the Cross Atlantic slave trade and the racial segregation have dealt a painful blows to people but pure resilience has ensured that people emerge scarred but alive. But Botswana has remained unscathed. Do we appreciate who we are?

A country like Botswana has the answer for Africa and the rest of the world with regards to what constitutes living together in harmony and love.

One cannot be faulted for singling out that obscure but expansive country in southern Africa, as a beacon of hope for a continent under siege; Botswana. Botswana with ease becomes an exception whenever the less complimentary aspects of our continent are mentioned. But Batswana seemingly do not as a whole appreciate the uniqueness of their environment and the opportunities that prevail in it.

This country is yet to industrialise, diversify its income streams and economic activity as well as to secure its own food. This situation dictates that we revisit and review our status regularly and not be caught unawares. We are uncertain about the Southern African Customs Unions revenue formula and its future; there are only mumblings from our major partners, South Africa but cards are being held close to peoples’ bosoms.

How about we throw away the ‘we can’t’ and ‘no money’ excuses and excel together as a nation? There are just over two million people in our country who apparently resemble a step family scenario where one has all they ever need while the other has to struggle just to get by.
Yes it is easy for the haves to say the have-nots are lazy and they have failed to utilise their chances at a better life. But this is all stems from the way we were exposed and socialised and the socio-economic circumstances surrounding the way we were raised, whether these were in our control or not.

The national vision, the Vision 2016 is an embodiment of the aspirations of a nation. However, it this Vision, though hugely positive and full of vitality, has been cast aside as a pipe dream that is removed from reality. Where did it all go wrong? Some mistakenly see the Vision as a ruling party gimmick that is not working anymore. Not true.       

Though the target year is next year and the goals are unattainable as it were, the ideals embodied in the vision should remain the guiding principles going forward, even in the drafting of the next Vision.  In case one needs to be reminded, the pillars talk of:

  • An Educated and Informed Nation
  • A Prosperous, Productive and Innovative Nation
  • A Compassionate, Just and Caring Nation
  • A Safe and Secure Nation
  • An Open, Democratic and Accountable Nation
  • A Moral and Tolerant Nation
  • A United and Proud Nation

We should start with the constant impasse with regard to relations between Government and the teaching fraternity. This is a very unwelcome scenario that has brewed beyond cool tempers and looks to affect the quality of education that is availed to learners; a direct attack on the knowledge economy future that we so dream about. This pillar cannot be discounted even for a second. Yet we see egos at play with regard to this particular matter. At this point, distributing blame will not help to ease the situation but tolerance, consultation and compromise are key if we are to reach win-win solution for all.  

When President Ian Khama said he will aim to eradicate poverty, many people snickered. The thought of eradicating poverty in an African country seems to be farfetched. But what would be so wrong about deliberately vying for zero poverty levels in Botswana? It is not be entirely a pipe dream, provided everybody who has a role to play, cooperates. The world is at least speaking about poverty eradication, not alleviation.

However, the poverty card has been overplayed and the time for action has long elapsed. While we wait for the G8 countries to act fulfil pledges made to developing countries, we should be a reflection of a country that wants to pull out of poverty situations. We have since joined the world in tolerating the existence of exclusion of certain pockets of our society, something that is evident in the way we treat our own brethren, the Basarwa.

Here is another are where we can be idealistic and try things that have never been tried anywhere else. We do not need a precedent; we have a unique situation of having wealth that is unfortunately not nearly distributed equitably. What can we do about it?  We can let Batswana dream outrageously. Besides the very welcome phenomenon that is social media, where are the forums where people of all backgrounds can have public discussions and share solutions about the challenges that besiege this country?

While, as a country we have only had the odd riot here and there, without major upheavals and mass violence, ours is still a very volatile situation. Yes we are known the world over as an oasis of peace in a continent that has until very recently been known only for its instability and wars. But of late there have been allusions to the citizenry living in fear. Ours is too small a country to be living in fear. Though the leadership of the country has quashed the allegations of people living in fear of their Government, it is still evident that this perception is not going away, that in itself is a problem.

With regards to living standards and conditions, the Initial Public Offering of Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited, when it does actually happen, is a great scenario of such deliberate thinking in action, whereby ownership of the national asset is transferred into citizen hands. Communities should unite and act collectively to create livelihoods for all to avoid social and economic exclusion. The vicious cycle of ignorance to poverty must be curtailed.

Where are the deliberate efforts to sell our home grown artists and musicians in other parts of the world? Where are the citizen owned business consortiums that are go out into the world to conquer? Where are the business research and development agencies that identify opportunities and ensure that they are monetised to the benefit of this country’s people?   

Lastly, one should ask why we are so polarised as a nation because of partisan politics that we fail to draw the line when it is time to be one nation? We now see scenarios where people’s deaths are cause for celebration because of differences in political opinion. It is always a good time to reflect and appraise ourselves and get back onto the right way of doing things, the way that will ensure development for all.

We came together as a nation and raised funds for Abbie Ntshabele and she is off to get her medical treatment in China. What is it that we can’t do together as a nation?

We should not be afraid to dream and we should be unhindered in pursuit of those dreams. A nation is considered great because of the philosophies that it teaches the world. The whole cross section of society, including the national leadership and the ordinary citizenship, has a huge role to play in that. Let us be idealistic about how things can be and the ‘realistic’ world will soon catch up with us.

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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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