It is now common and also in the public domain that, there are certain entitlements and privileges which accrue to us by virtue of us being human; these entitlements have been commonly called universal, fundamental or human rights. Among the myriad of human rights that we have is the ever illustrious ‘freedom of expression’. This right is not by any means complex; even the most immature of minds can lightly or readily comprehend its constituents and possibly the aftermath of its violation.
Freedom of expression means or includes the right to have ones thoughts known, to disseminate them, also the right to receive and be given information of whatever sort. Information has been hailed in most parts of the world as the lifeblood and the oxygen for any mature and responsible democracy. In the western world and other mature democracies of the world there has risen talk and endorsement of freedom of information and laws and their implications.
Customarily governments conduct their business in utmost and dire secrecy. It did not come as a shock to discover that among a legion of epithets in different languages used to describe government, there is in Swahili a word referring to government that means deep/fierce secrecy.
The ordinary person seldom knows what is deliberated upon in those dreadful corridors and high offices. The little that he knows is the bread crumbs that the pressman divulges to him after trying with extra-human effort to solicit and extract information from those who are at the helms of power, its supposed custodians.
Should it occur that a certain soul charged with the mandate of keeping ‘confidential’ government information decides to whisper its contents into the ears of his neighbor, his fate would have by then been long decided upon, judgment upon him will be swift, he shall be a castaway, an abomination to those who once entrusted their lives to him. How pitiable!
This culture, like a warm and humid environment for germs, is a perfect breeding place for a specie of a pathogen; which is reputed for sucking the life out of even the once glorious mighty democracies and models of good governance, it does not stop at the command of the faithful few zealots, who profess knowledge in good governance, the Rule of Law and Constitutionalism, it is a trailblazer in its path, only full disclosure will rid government and its various permutations of this horrid and dangerously cancerous creature commonly known as corruption. Corruption, not only breeds and grows in secrecy, it thrives and forges against all odds in secrecy.
These remarks do not stand in isolation and have been raised in international fora. The UN Standards recognise the need for both measures to inform the public about their right to information and to “to address the problem of a culture of secrecy within Government”. Commonwealth Principle 2 recognises this as a positive need, namely to “promote a culture of openness”.
The Joint Declaration of the special mandates calls on the government to “take active steps to address the culture of secrecy that still prevails in many countries within the public sector”. It also calls for steps to be taken “to promote broad public awareness of the access to information law” and generally for “the allocation of necessary resources and attention” to ensure proper implementation of the right to information laws.
Progressive democracies have therefore in light of the discontent arising from the governed attributed to the continued secrecy of government affairs, ventured out to enact Freedom of Information laws (FOI). The move by these select forerunning countries is intended to sensitize governments and citizens alike that information from every sector of the government; be it from the Judiciary, Executive and or the Legislature should be decentralized and disclosed to any concerned or interested member of the public at their request.
The purpose of such initiative being also to state further that governmental information of whatever nature does not belong to those who govern alone as they are but mere custodians, but that it also belongs to the governed, that the former also have an inherent right to know and have access to such information recognizing that if such access is granted to them they will have a meaningful participation in national issues and projects of national concern.
Also reminding those who hold the reins that age old Jefferson mantra that, government is by the people for the people and none should ever think of himself as having some sort of ownership over any of it sectors. This has in its spirit the enduring and inescapable need for public oversight of public institutions.
It is from these premises that Freedom of Information laws gained their prominence. In our hearing these propositions sound almost preposterous and one may hasten to dismiss us as overly imaginative and ambitious. It is after this discourse that we hope that the ordinary man eating tripe and fat cakes at the main mall will know of his right to governmental information, it is hoped that analogies will help whosoever may read of the need for us as the Republic of Botswana to have our own FOI law.
Entitlements (Executive and Public Bodies)
Today when government officials, say the Executive conduct their meetings and there pass or adopt resolutions on certain upcoming national projects, the ordinary Motswana cannot and will not under any circumstances know why those projects were approved. This is so because those deliberations are more often than not, classified and shrouded in deep secrecy. It is often a possibility that in those deliberations there were some dissenting voices and reasons for whatsoever resolution.
Under an FOI law, one is entitled to write a request to the appropriate officer to be granted access to the deliberations of Cabinet and know why that particular decision was adopted by Cabinet. In this way there can be a control on dangers such as insider trading by ministers, particularly those who have business interests as most of them in Botswana do.
With such a law the public can be rest assured that no minister can use information on tenders to his own enrichment (as some stand accused), to the detriment of the ordinary Motswana and later turn to state that they also as Batswana is also entitled to tender and share in the wealth of the country like us all. That being a clear case of conflict of interest and duty which arises from the fact they are not ordinary Batswana, but custodians of certain pieces of information which come into his possession by virtue of his high office.
Further on, with the advent of an FOI law other public bodies will be rendered duty bound to disclose and or to publish the contents of their deliberations, this requisition comes up in FOI laws of other countries and International standards. The UN Standards, for example, state that Freedom of information implies that public bodies publish and disseminate widely documents of significant public interest, for example, operational information about how the public body functions and the content of any decision or policy affecting the public. Briefly put an FOI law in Botswana would entitle us to information from our various public bodies.
If ones seek to know why a certain company in which a minister is a Director continues for a disturbing number of years to win tenders, they as a citizen or even a non citizen like in other countries; will be entitled access to the contents of the PPADB minutes which awarded those tenders, to get the rationale, and the decision to award. Today when the pressman darkens the Board Secretary’s door he’ll be fed useless and shallow bread crumbs when he seeks to know what informed the decision of the Board to continuously award tenders to a single company.
It is now a matter of public knowledge that administrative governmental procedures were brutally violated to procure funds set for disasters in establishing the now notorious spy agency DIS. Who really abused the said procedures? What did they do that they ought to have not? Members of the public are only left to wonder why the agency was against all odds hurriedly established.
Were there no other effective agencies before the arrival of DIS? What of Special Branch? Was it ineffective to combat other forms of advanced crime? Who recommended its eradication to give way to DIS? Was a consultant involved to compile a report on the state of our national security? Was the report one to debate in Parliament? Is it worthwhile that the public be left in the dark? Can’t a disclosure to them be more beneficial than any risk that may ensure from not knowing what is in the said report?
These matters which present themselves for determination are not mere yappery but are deep seated questions which need be addressed lest government continues even further to act in reckless abandon and in the end unleashing upon the citizenry. This concern must be even seriously considered in dealing with such a powerful and loaded institution like the Executive. No wonder in the US FOI law focuses more on disclosure of information by the Executive.
Legislature, Judiciary etal
Parliament sessions are generally open to the public, but the common man should not forget while sited in that air-conditioned pristine environment, that while on those grounds he is deem a stranger by the very law enacted, by persons he voted into power who is there at the mercy of the Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly.
She may, by powers vested in her clear the public attendage and bar the doors. Behind those doors the law making body may then deliberate and those deliberations will ever remain secret until they are rendered useless by lapse of time then disclosed.
The contents of those debates of will forever be shut from public perusal, we ordinary men will be left wondering what the people we voted to power were deliberating upon in our absence. An FOI law if it be adopted shall entitle the citizen to petition the relevant officer to be granted access into those records of Parliament that she is desirous to peruse.
In terms of FOI law principles which will be dealt with in another installment of this article; only limited exceptions to access to information are allowed, that is to say in some instances even national security considerations will not pass unless they are brought under serious scrutiny to see if the need for the public to know overshadows to a great extent the risks that may ensue from the disclosure.
In the Judiciary where the business of judging and interpretation of laws is carried out, the public is normally allowed to sit in and observe justice in administration; this is in accordance with the principle of fair and open justice also with the undying need for public oversight of government.
The pressman enjoys coverage of all matters that he is allowed to attend as a member of the public; he may also with the permission of the Registrar and or the Court bring his cameras into the court room and capture those sacred moments. However if the proceedings be in camera like those deemed to be so sensitive as to not qualify for public consumption, the citizen can only fantasize about what was deliberated upon.
In other matters such as the appointment of judges of both the High Court and the Court of Appeal the ordinary man only learns from his neighbour that His Excellency the President is the one who appoints judges of both the High Court and the Court of Appeal acting in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission. He is left clueless and is sent to sea as to what those mysterious characters on the Commission may have said or opined to warrant the endorsement or appointment of a particular person to the Bench.
To him these matters are a ‘holy cow’ he even fears to imagine what the members of the Commission may have said to motivate their case before His Excellency. Why shouldn’t the ordinary Motswana be informed on matters that affect him personally? Shouldn’t he know what was said of the man who will later adjudicate upon his case?
Will the knowledge not give him a sense of ownership in his government? Can this practice of deep concealment guarantee these structures insulation against nepotism, politicization personalization and manipulation? Is it not disclosure of their affairs that would insulate them from these evils or worse? Without such antecedents the contribution of the citizen to the good governance of his Republic can never be meaningful.
In a not so distant past a number of High Court judges left the bench. The powers that be were shockingly tight lipped as to what necessitated the departure of those judges. It is said that judges enjoy the most awesome treatment in most matters which we ordinary men cannot attain.
From this background one is left but to wonder as to what may cause one to leave such gracious and plump place like the bench. No report was published by the Registrar to the public as to why they left; any publication by the pressman speculating on their reasons of departure was hastingly dismissed by him as untrue, ill-founded and not worthy of publication. That was how far he could go. With all fairness to the man, how could he possibly go any farther? He is not obliged, only FOI law will place upon him this heavy burden to disclose.
In the wake of major cases such as Kalafatis’ case, CMS case, Nchindo’s case and Kgafela’s case two major public figures were appointed to the High Court bench namely Regional Magistrate Lot Moroka who as he then was presided over the case and Director of Public Prosecutions Leatile Dambe who in that capacity prosecuted the case.
That the duo is competent and qualifies and are worthy of the appointment they now enjoy admits of no argument. But one is left to wonder, didn’t this appointment affect matters which already handled by these officers? Had they have sufficiently completed the said matters when their time to ascend to the bench came? Was it not appropriate to appoint them after such matters were truly and clearly acted upon by them?
These questions are only natural to the common man; his rescue from wonder and misery lies with a Freedom of Information Act, which law will grant him the right and entitlement to governmental information and would have the opportunity to read even further why some decisions are taken. We only hope that such an Act will not as is proposed in South Africa limit access but allow access to information.
Leonard Sechele became the DPP, he succeeding Leatile Dambe, (who established herself then as a Prosecutor of renown) it is said that the former was legal counsel of the spy agency. The Law Society of Botswana pleaded no knowledge to these set of facts.
Shocking it was! Why Sechele? Did he pass as the most able person in matters of prosecution? Would his prior involvement with the embattled and much resented DIS not compromise his objectivity when he is called upon to inherit the files of Mma Dambe who had already initiated prosecution against some of DIS officers or when he is seized with new matters involving his former colleagues at DIS? What informed the highest office in coming to such a decision? It is in the minds of many to know why the most immediate officer at DPP was not appointed to the seat of the national prosecutor.
Truly a myriad of questions would not find their answers; it is in these circumstances that the author is bold enough to state that Botswana needs an FOI law which is in his opinion long overdue. Procrastination, sitting and only wishing that certain things could not happen in our beautiful Botswana is only suicide. There is need for Parliament to act now and avert even worse dangers. Time has never been so opportune for Botswana to adopt such a law.
Other entities in information
Professional bodies such as Botswana Health Professional, Council of Nurses and Midwives, Botswana institute of Accounts, Association of Engineers and all the related shall all come under scrutiny or are they not some sort of a bodies entrusted to see to some interests of the public? The rumors that when a member of the public reports one of their colleagues for dishonorable and unethical conduct, the report is hurriedly brushed aside and not thoroughly considered would all come into the open with advent of a Freedom of Information law because it and only it will not countenance damaging secrecy.
In other Jurisdictions, persons; both natural and juristic, are allowed to have access to government records and archives which contain information about them, they can correct and edit information about themselves; the law obliges them to state matters which are confirmed truth. This is for the simple reason that this way crime can be combated easily as the State will know who to look for and where. Further this gives the citizen a sense of security, belongingness and ownership. He would feel that the government is surely looking to his interests not its own interests or the interests of another to his detriment.
If there are private companies which have courted government on national projects such as the construction of roads, buildings, or any joint partnership that government has any company; the public will as a rule and a principle of FOI law be entitled to access the particulars of such agreements and memorandums. This way you can know the terms under which the public school that your child will go to was built.
The culture of serial prohibitionism, gagging and reckless intimidation by the present government, through certain objectionable Forms to be signed under the clout of national security that now prevails in government enclave needs to cease, but it is only by virtue of an FOI law that these utterly disturbing matters can be tackled. Should we as a nation fail in this regard then we might as well forget about the having a public with unremitting vigilance and oversight of government action, then we should relegate our victory against corruption to fairy tales having no place in real and modern society.
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.
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
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.