The recent pronouncement by honourable judge Tebogo Rannowane for the government to register and recognise Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGAGIBO) deserves applause. Surely Botswana as a country needs progressive people like him who uphold the constitution and the rights of all citizens.
Traditional ideologies that do not reflect democratic and progressive credentials cannot be used as a veil to perpetuate transgression of people’s rights and stifle the principles of democracy. All concerned citizens must join in to break the myth about homosexuality and any other acts that are contrary to democracy. It is on this backdrop that I am compelled to pen down this article to further articulate on the issue of same sex.
The question of ‘unnaturalness’ of homosexuality in our contemporary society, not just in Botswana raises the question of what exactly we mean by nature. Globally countries are grappling with whether to legalise homosexuality or continue persecuting those who subscribe to it.
Mind you dear reader, I do not claim to be an expert in this field, but rather just inviting your thoughts on the issue. We really need to take time and ponder about issues of this nature openly and logically without necessarily being emotional about it; by the way it is not yet illegal to think.
Experts on this field avers that what is natural implies anything that is in conformity with the descriptive laws of nature or rather that which man has not imposed his will and tamper with its original actuality. My petite comprehension of the concept suggests am not far from the truth.
The gripe then is where really some moralist and theologians contend that homosexuality is against the law of nature. Which nature do they lay claim to for their judgement or objection to homosexuality? I still need to be convinced as to how homosexual activities violate the laws of nature. Prescriptive laws of nature which in most instances moralist and theologians base their objections on are merely from human laws and have nothing to do with what is perceived natural.
Some aspects of our constitution need to be applauded for the liberal democratic dispensation that is reflected in it. Comparatively, it beats some of our African sister countries hands down, no doubts. A glance at it indicates that it has enshrined and embraced the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of each individual to enjoy. Furthermore, it has articulated the individual fundamental freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association.
Contrary to constitutional aspirations, the issue of sexuality and sexual orientation still seems to be relegated to the lowest echelons of the constitutional ladder. It seems the constitution in forbidding some sexual acts specifically homosexuality, the legislators have also relied on prescriptive nature. In this case they are interested in governing and describing human behaviour rather than prescribing what it should be like.
The question that lingers is whether it caters for those who are more inclined to homosexuality. Are we a society that shuns those who happen to be more inclined to homosexuality even when sexual orientation is embraced in the constitution? The notion that homosexuality goes against nature cannot be used as a moral weighting. Is there anything wrong with going against nature? The claim by human beings that we are more developed and techno sophisticated is our ability to manipulate and tamper with what is natural. Is there anything wrong with that, obviously no since it makes life more bearable and happy.
A lot of people will agree with me that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that since we seem to be gratified in man-made habitat and all that is at our disposal is artificial e.g. houses, clothes, cell phones, money you name it all they fulfil our lives. Are we then not being hypocrites to deny homosexuals the liberty to express their sexuality on the pretext of ‘unnaturalness’ whereas heterosexual community finds nothing wrong in accessing artificial amenities. This is a mere reflection of a double pronged principles that our society find solace in to castigate homosexuality.
Are we ever going to achieve one of the vision 2016 pillars which advocates for a caring and tolerant nation? Attitudinal or a complete paradigm shift is inevitable for this to be realised lest this remains an unattainable dream. Our reactions to homosexuality as a society reflect our intolerance for a divergent sexual orientation. What happened to the idea of uniqueness or do we limit its understanding where it suits us most?
During his 2010 and 2011 interview with the British Broadcasting Company, former Botswana President Festus Mogae spoke out strongly against sexual discrimination. His observation could not be far from the truth that preconception was dissuading determinations to combat HIV in a country where one in four adults is presumed to have the disease.
"We do not want to discriminate. Our HIV message applies to everybody. If we are fighting stigma associated with sex, let's apply it to sexual discrimination in general." Simply put being an open and more progressive society would enable us to accept and even amend laws that are unfavourable to those who indulge in so called ‘unnatural sexual activities’.
Ministry of Health recently released a report which associated the rampant spread of HIV with homosexual behaviour. Since this has been acknowledged by all stakeholders there is no question about the route to be pursued, but for the legislators to go back to the drawing board and make accommodative laws for bisexuals and homosexuals.
The interrogation remains if we are going to continue living in denial as a nation and risking more spread of the virus under the façade of ‘unnatural behaviour’. Are we then as a society using issues of ‘unnatural acts’ given our malnourished understanding of the concept to chastise those with different sexual inclination contrary to heterosexual?
Unnatural acts are but societal perceptions that chose to believe in a fallacy that God had ordained heterosexual. Let us have a moment and just think about it. By engaging in heterosexual activities, are we implying that gays and lesbians are engaging in something unnatural? Is this not some sort of imposed morality of traditional theologians and legislators on those who do not subscribe to their ideologies and values?
Who are we to judge and dictate how they engage in their private life. Situation Ethics advance that we ought to look at individual situation and our judgement of their actions must be premised on what love dictates for them. By breaking any conventional rule along the way does not in any way reflect immorality on their actions since it is their privacy and they derive happiness from that.
Socially constructed ideas must not hamper our endeavour to progress in every aspect of life including even how we conduct ourselves sexually. To remain a truly shining example of democracy in Africa, there is need for individuals to liberate themselves from bondage of ignorance.
A complete overhaul of our mind-set should reflect a society willing to change its attitude and embrace principles of democracy. Emancipation from the traditional dogma takes a willing, progressive and an open minded society to catapult it forward. Nurturing true democracy is a meandering and labouring journey that takes time and perseverance therefore let us all soldier on and build a truly all rounded democratic nation.
How ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ of me to ask for a more open minded and democratic society?
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.