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Language politics take centre stage


Greek philosopher Aristotle once asserted that a human being is by nature a political animal and his counterpart Pericles maintained that just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics won’t take an interest in you. Even Plato cautioned that one of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.


Like death we cannot dodge politics because nothing is inseparable from it and all decisions made at whatever level are political. They can try to ban politics in the civil service, military barracks or chieftainship, but like a virus, politics will manifest itself in all forms and reclaim its rightful position.


Local politics seem to be more interesting, especially after this year’s polls. It is only a matter of time that Botswana catch up with more advanced and mature democracies like United States. Multitudes of Batswana are now becoming politically conscious as politics continue to dominate the business of the country. On this note, Batswana deserve a pat on the back because political illiteracy is now the story of the past. Recently we have witnessed another form of politics in language politics.


In the past only academics, language activists and politicians have been at the helm of language politics, but recently members of the public have joined the fray. As it stands, two camps have emerged and clashed over each other in all possible platforms. One camp believes that it is high time that the government changed its position on marginalised minority groups while the other believes that the government must maintain its position and interestingly both the camps have advanced their reasons. We take a look at these two camps.


In the academic arena, Professor Lydia Nyathi Saleshando lead this camp and her efforts are consolidated by Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and minority language activists such as Domboshaba Cultural Trust, Mukani Action Campaign, First People of the Kalahari, Lentswe La Batswapong and Kamanakao Association. All the people who make up this camp share the same sentiments, mission and core objectives.

One of the objectives is language development and the camp wants each of their ethnic languages be introduced in the school curriculum to facilitate the learning process, which, they say, is a determinant of academic achievement. In addition, members of the camp have already published their orthographies and to them the only stumbling block is the government that has refused on several occasions to advance their interests.


The mission of the camp is also cultural development of which they say if nothing is done their culture will die out. Lastly, the camp wants the government to amend all discriminatory laws including section 77 to 79 of the Constitution, the Chieftainship Act, the Tribal Territories Act and derogations in section 15(4) (d) and 15 (9) of the Constitution.


They allege that their cultural rights are being trampled upon and what add insult to injury is that their languages are not allowed in the public domain and mainstream media, hence, if nothing is done, they face extinction. They have even gone to the extent of calling on the government to imitate the Delimitation Commission by not naming land boards and districts along tribal lines. Their efforts to convince the government to establish community-based radio stations have proven futile but the fight is far from over. One of the camp members, Never Tshabang, who lost in the Nkange parliamentary elections, translated his party manifesto into iKalanga.


During the swearing-in of Members of Parliament (MP) Bagatia Arone, who forms part of the camp, deliberately made his speech in his mother tongue, Hambukushu, against the parliamentary Standing Orders, and he was forced to read his speech again in English. Arone is to table a motion in Parliament, requesting government to have news read in the so-called minority languages. The camp wants the government to benchmark in Namibia and South Africa in order to review its language policy.


One camp, as expected, wants the government to maintain its position especially on language policy. Visible on the camp is Professor Thapelo Otlogetswe, who has constantly accused the other camp of being in so much with English and hatred for Setswana. He went on to say though Setswana is spoken by 78 percent of the population as mother tongue albeit with limited usage in public domains is seen by minority language activists as an impediment to the development of minority languages.


Otlogetswe argues that though English is spoken by only two percent of the population as home language, it continues to enjoy more usage than any other language but surprisingly the so called minority language activists do not have the problem with that. English is the country’s official language and is used in almost all government businesses, including Parliament and courts of law. The Queen’s language also dominates the print and electronic media (both private and government owned), secondary schools and universities where it is used as medium of instruction.


Thapelo insists that he fails to understand this fixation and bitterness towards the Setswana language. At times, Otlogetswe and Saleshando have squared off in their academic articles. The government of the day is also the member of this camp. It has on number of occasions insisted that all languages in the country remain equal but due to financial constraints the government cannot afford to develop all the languages. In addition, the government fears that usage of all languages in the public domain might spark tribalism and threaten nation-building.


On incorporation of all 26 minority languages into the school curriculum, the government has argued that that is practically impossible because unlike in South Africa, Botswana ethnic groups are scattered all over, making it impossible for implementation. Other members of this camp have contended that the other camp envy the development of Setswana more so that it was recently recognised by the African Union (AU) as language that can be used for regional integration.


 Some have submitted that perhaps the other camp do not perceive English as a threat to their languages simply because it is an European language as such it has been detribalised. They conclude that to be part of the global village, one has to learn more international languages and in this era there is no use of mastering indigenous languages other than for the sake of preservation.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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