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Umbrella not the only option to defeat Domkrag!

For the first time in history, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) got less than 50% of the popular vote in a general election. The BDP did not only experience a considerable regression in popular vote, but it also saw a diminished representation in parliament.

This is pretty telling for a party that was well resourced coupled with an extensive abuse of state media and state resources for its campaign- we have not forgotten the use of a Botswana Defence Force (BDF) aircraft by BDP functionaries to attend a party event in Gantsi.

It is a clear indication that the party is gradually losing its grip on power. The question that now needs to be answered is whether we still need to go through the intricately convoluted process of attempting to unite opposition parties to topple the already tired and fragile BDP? 

There have been a lot of uncoordinated ramblings in some quarters to the effect that the only way the BDP can be toppled is when all opposition parties in the country can come together and join forces with the sole intention of achieving what some have termed a regime change.

Proponents of this school of thought have contended that there are no ideological differences in local opposition parties; hence their strong view that they should come together. This school of thought though can be challenged-opposition parties; especially those that have existed for more than a decade are diametrically different in their moulds and characters. Forcing them to fuse is like attempting to mix oil with water.

Firstly, it was demonstrated beyond doubt during the campaigns and radio debates that there are sharp contrasts between the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) manifestos. For example, the BCP spoke of Land Audit which is also in its manifesto.

But the UDC is strongly opposed to this idea and supports the BDP led government LAPCAS exercise which according to our comprehension is a mere stock taking exercise without any in-depth analysis and prescription of action to be taken where there is a commission of wrong identified. What boggles the mind is the fact that those who want to dismiss the BCP initiative do audit their business books, despite having all the information on how they have spent money in a given financial year.

The BCP also spoke of bringing back the jobs that have been exported by the BDP government through exportation of raw materials without any value addition. The BCP position here is that raw materials extracted in this country should be beneficiated locally so as to open up industries that will employ the many unemployed youth of this country who roaming the streets.  Hereto, the UDC hold a different view, despite this being a view that the old Botswana National Front (BNF), an essential constituent partner in the umbrella espoused in the past, at least before its split in 1998.

The UDC believes that the country is not ready to bring the more 35 000 jobs in foreign lands that have been created by our raw materials. Their main reason is that Batswana do not possess the necessary skills to do those jobs. How implausible! Is someone telling us the many graduates who are roaming the streets are not trainable to work in the industries that would be opened through beneficiation of our own God given resources? This is indeed a fundamental difference between the BCP and the UDC.

The BCP spoke of a coded foreign policy, while the UDC believes in a fix as you go approach to foreign policy. This is not different from what the current regime practices. There was also sharp contrast on foreign direct investment, where the BCP believes in using embassies and foreign mission as advocates and promoters of foreign trade partnerships.

That is why the party has proposed in its shadow cabinet a Ministry of International Relations and Foreign Trade. The advantage of using this platform is that we have embassies and foreign mission all over the world and they will be active in promoting trade partnerships wherever they are. Currently the role of selling the country outside and promoting trade partnerships is left to bodies such as BEDIA; and UDC supports the status quo.

The BCP spoke about using mother tongue as a medium of instruction during the formative years of learning. This is in line with international organisations and our own Kedikilwe Commission of 1992 recommended it. No other party besides the BCP has advanced this.

These are but some of the noticeable fundamental differences in policy between BCP and UDC. There is also the question of stability that is still a big question mark with regard to the UDC post-election. Talk that the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) used the BNF and that BMD candidates were voted by barata-phathi who are still within the BDP, cannot just be dismissed as feeble talk.

The BNF received only seven seats while the rest went to BMD. The Botswana People’s Party (BPP) which did not even win a single council seat feels betrayed by its partners because its candidates did not receive as much support as was given to others during campaigns.

Having said that, it is important to note that multi-party democracy means just that-having more than one party competing. The BCP should be applauded for having successfully amalgamated BNF splinter parties under one and solid unit called the BCP.

For starters, the current BCP brought together six parties, being the former Botswana Progressive Union (BPU) which was founded by the late Daniel Kwele in the 80s; Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) which was a merger of Independence Freedom Party (IFP) and Bosele Action Party which were founded by the late Cde Lepetu Setshwaelo and Cde Motsami Mpho respectively (initially BNF and BPP were part of BAM before they reneged against a project they started); Social Democratic Party (SDP) which was founded by the late Mareledi Giddie; and New Democratic Front (NDF), founded by Dr Kenneth Koma and Cde Dick Bayford. All this parties have merged with the BCP. This can be said to be a superior type of cooperation as compared to the current arrangement under UDC where constituent parties still exist as separate entities.

It needs to be noted that the UDC made some strides during the last election, not on account of superior policies, but because of the yearning for change by many Batswana who believed that a united opposition, regardless of the policies thereof, can usher in the change.

The BCP failed to inform Batswana that in-fact it is a bigger umbrella than the UDC because it has amalgamated six parties against the UDC three. The UDC capitalised on this fold and devised a "moono" slogan which is akin to the 2004 one of "Stop vote splitting, vote pact” which clearly targeted at the BCP than the BDP.

The “moono” was a call for hatred against the BCP by the UDC with the help of its friends in the media and labour movements. They were busy damaging the party with insinuations that it should be punished for not being part of the umbrella, the BCP failed to read the mischief thinking that the adage “lies have got short legs” will catch up with the peddlers. The BCP did not give its version, the correct version of what led to the collapse of the umbrella talks and that it did not abandon the talks as alleged.

With no party having achieved over 50% of popular vote in the last elections, the race is now open and I believe that any of the three main parties can win in 2019. What the parties need to do is to focus and convince Batswana that they can lead better. This time we ought to know that though Batswana want change, they want a change that they can cherish. Mo ga meono e e senang boleng ke maithamako fela.

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The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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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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