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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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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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Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

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.

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