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Bogadi: A call for national debate


One of the main features of social advancement, from hunter gatherer to tribal chiefdoms and eventually to nation states, is that the family has evolved into the foundation of society, its main social unit. As human social organization became sophisticated, the institution of marriage came into operation to ensure family stability and provide a conducive atmosphere in which the young could be nurtured into responsible members of society. A major advance in strengthening the family, pioneered mainly but not entirely by early Christianity, brought about monogamy. Most societies prior to Christianity were polygamous.

Our own society in Botswana has gone through all these stages. By the time most of us who are contemporary in the country were born, monogamy was getting entrenched. I would posit that this was brought about by a combination of the establishment of Christianity in the country as well as the transition of our society from a rural agricultural base to a cash based one.

The tradition of Bogadi is one aspect of marital practice in Botswana that has persisted, although with time it has developed rather negative features. Different forms of this practice exist in many societies in Africa and other parts of the world, especially in traditional societies. In Southern Africa it is commonly known as Lobola and is widely practiced in various forms, and in other parts of Africa and the developing world it has been referred to as Dowry or Bride price. It generally consists of the family of the groom paying something to the family of the bride. In a few societies, and one hears this mainly about India, the dowry is paid by the family of the bride. I haven’t heard of this in Africa, definitely not in Southern Africa.

In the Botswana context, idealists and traditionalists have described bogadi as a form of “thank you” to the family of the bride for bringing her up properly and I presume thus making her into a potentially good wife. Detractors of the system have however described it as exploitation of the family of the groom, and even worse, as a form of selling the daughter for a price. Historically we know that Christian Missionaries (European) in their early contact with Batswana discouraged the practice as they maintained it amounted to selling a daughter. This led to at least one of the Kings/Chiefs, Khama III, banning it in his territory on being converted to Christianity.

The practice has however demonstrated strong elements of survival and staying power. Bogadi is still virtually universal in Botswana, and has even made a come-back in Serowe, Khama III’s capital base, where it had disappeared for a long time, or was practised covertly by charging for other things such as leobo or demanding a lot of clothes.

Botswana belongs to a number of pastoral societies in East and Southern Africa that are strongly pastoral, where cattle ownership has historically been a sign of not only wealth but prestige and power. In such societies, bogadi or lobola, is highly valued, and is traditionally paid in cattle, usually a large number of them.

Unfortunately the system gives the groom and his family very high powers over the wife and the children, virtually taking the wife away from her family and absorbing her into the husband’s family, and making her and the children virtual properties of the husband’s family.

This has been known to encourage abuse, especially of the wife, on the premise that she has been paid for; “re go ntsheditse bogadi, dira se kgotsa dira sele”.  Stories of abuse of wives by their in-laws, especially mothers in law and sisters in law, abound. This is what prompted the early missionaries to regard bogadi as tantamount to buying the wife.

After being involved in a number of marriages of relatives, I have become quite disturbed at the direction the practice of bogadi is taking in our society. Whether it was ever as good as its advocates claim I don’t know- it is a universal tendency of human nature to glorify the past.  But it has now certainly developed very negative features, and it is having quite a negative impact on family formation in our society. It has become so commercialized that it has consequently become a major impediment to couples getting married.

As a background, let us look at changes that have taken place in our society. Firstly, the proportion of families that own cattle has declined severely over the latter half of the 20th century. Few families now own cattle. I will not go into the reasons for that. However, what it means is that a young man who wants to get married has to raise cash to pay bogadi.

Secondly, the percentage of adults married has also declined progressively over over the last couple of decades. On the corollary, this has resulted in the majority of children in our society being born out of wedlock. I would posit that these phenomena are all connected; few people can now afford bogadi as few families own cattle, and many are not earning enough to pay the demanded bogadi in cash. Most are just not earning enough to pay the going price.

Therefore couples tend to just maintain a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship and start having children hoping that at some point the man might just accumulate enough money to pay bogadi. With the low incomes that are earned by most of the working population this day never comes.

The graph below illustrates what has been happening to marriage in the country. The graph analyses males and females in two age groups (25-29 and 45-49) in three censuses (1971, 1981, 1991) and shows a progressive decline in percentages of persons ever married. (This is from a paper I presented in 2006, and unfortunately I have no figures for the 2001 and 2011 censuses, but I would be surprised if the declining trend has been arrested. This is a serious problem, as it aggravates the problem of single parent households. I reiterate my statement that bogadi is a major if not the major contributor to this decline in percentages of adults ever married.

In the last few months I have been involved in the organization of the traditional part of marriages (patlo, go ntsha bogadi etc.), including the demands made by the girl’s side. The following is the typical demand I have encountered: Bogadi 8 head of cattle, Kgomo ya metsi(called different things in different parts of Botswana such as kgomo ya motlhakanelwa, serufo etc.), kgomo ya tlhagela (if you already have a child ), making ten cattle in all. It would then be specified that if you pay in money, each beast translates to P3,500 or P3,000. This translates to more than P30,000 in all.

In addition, most tribes would demand a whole host of clothes, including a suit for the father of the bride and a costume for the mother with shoes etc., as well as a tsale, tukwi, and other things for other relatives. The bride herself has to be outfitted in clothes. In my experience this is another P20,000 or so. So, before the marriage itself takes place, about P50,000 is needed from the groom. The marriage feast itself will be several tens of thousands.

Now, how many men can afford this? Most of our men are in middle or low income categories of income. This kind of money is just beyond them, even most young men who have graduated from University in the last five or more years cannot afford this.

Their families are usually not in a position to help. So, the young couple is likely to postpone marriage indefinitely and cohabit, or just to have one or two children and go their separate ways.

In view of the discussion above, I would suggest that the leadership in this country, the Royal Establishments especially, seriously engage their people and relook at bogadi. While completely abolishing it may not be a practical way to go, at least modify it drastically to enable young people to afford it- make it affordable for the low income men and potential middle income men who have just entered the market. The long-term goal should be to encourage and facilitate young people to marry, and thus reduce the proportion of children born outside the secure atmosphere of married parents.

I believe, and I have stated this before, that as a nation we have not developed the culture of debating social issues deeply. This kind of topic needs to be debated by our society, facilitated by appropriate bodies, including the traditional and political leaderships, and the academic world.

There are other issues relating to family life that need similar discussions, e.g., what is the impact of new policies like the role of biological fathers where at marriage the man said he is taking kgomo le namane? How do families share responsibility where the girl who bears a child out of marriage and her parents dump the child at the father’s parents place and then suddenly demand the child back when it is grown up?

These are issues needing in-depth discussions, and I hope our society will give them due attention.

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Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

“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

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Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

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.

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Is it possible to make people part of your business resilience planning after the State of Public Emergency?

12th October 2020


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.

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