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Freedom of Expression versus Restraint

Freedom of expression has come to the fore of debate nowadays more than it has ever appeared in our history as a nation. We are not surprised at the developments surrounding this inalienable freedom for obvious reasons.

One among many facts is clear. Botswana of 2014 boasts 20 mainstream media outfits. For a population estimated at two million, the ratio translates to 100, 000 people per media outfit, essentially. This scenario presents both an opportunity and risk where freedom of expression is mentioned. There are 13 newspapers, two television channels and five radio stations. The question should not be whether there is or no freedom of expression in Botswana; rather, what should freedom of expression be about in a democracy as ours is the question? Of course freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution should be about people’s opinions, beliefs, ideals, analyses, facts, reflections and so forth and should be exercised uninhibited. Freedom of expression should not be about outright insults, inciting public indecency, provoking violence or instigating hatred against others on the basis of ethnicity, sexual orientation, creed, political persuasion or religious heritage. As a plural democracy, one such hefty price that nations in this mould inevitably pay is unequivocal embrace of the freedom of expression by citizens and individuals.

God-fearing ministers can boldly declare their intolerance and apparent hatred for homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered humans, yet preach ‘Jesus is love’ whom the Bible consistently depicts as having embraced immoral beings. What about politicians who publicly state that criminals deserve cruel deaths at the hands of security agents without a day in court, or worse still, citizens who make known their hatred for Zimbabweans to ruthlessly obliterate them with gunshots because they demanded a wage for their hard labour? These are clear examples of where freedom of expression is abused. These days, reading newspapers, listening to the radios or watching television; one realizes just how far off we have come to understand the freedom of expression in the things we say or do to others.

The truth is that all of us resent freedoms of others when their beliefs or opinions clash with ours. I remind myself whenever I listen to the phone-in shows in the morning, when the notorious voices call in and their viewpoint on any subject is a foregone guess by regular listeners. But no matter how much these callers are annoying to wear the same lens in gazing upon life in general, they are simply expressing their freedoms in an open Republic. It thus serves no purpose to show anger and intolerance of other people’s dissenting viewpoints.

In short, life will be utter boredom if everyone praised and glorified certain things and people without question or some degree of cynicism. But should our expressions necessitate enmity, or in some cases hatred to the extent that nowadays it is common to hear Batswana fearing that our nation is falling apart at the centre? Recently, the brief statement from the American Government to Botswana Government on the detention of Sunday Standard Editor Outsa Mokone made me realize how close a friend we have so much that America cared to remind Botswana of her moral high pedestal from where she probably is slipping into the darkness that defines African nations. But what came from the Government enclave was vitriolic and completely misplaced. In the exercise of our freedom of expression as a sovereign Government, we overreacted. When governments speak to one another, they are encapsulating the nation’s aspirations and beliefs.

We are likely divided on the appropriateness or lack thereof of the Government’s response, and that is to be expected; but in our freedoms of expression, we should never lose sight that we are Batswana. Weeks ago, the Btv entertainment show beamed one of our local artists with a hit ‘Ke kenta basadi fela’ and my family like many others during prime time-viewing was watching. I imagined the impact of the lyrics and sexual gestures on impressionable minds who are the primary target of the show. Not long after that, the national broadcaster played another hit titled ‘Leso la Monnamogolo le mpereketse’ and as I listened attentively, there was no ambiguity as to the glamorization of sex and promotion of sexual immorality. Both songs are about sexual intercourse and nothing about healthy relationships between men and women. They are about exploitation of the female species by the masculine males, who are edified by the many sexual escapades, whether such intimacies demean those they are in contact with is not relevant, much less important.

These two songs are examples of freedom of expression gone haywire because they depict a society that is misogynist and sexist in as far as relationships between men and women are concerned. It is thus disappointing that our broadcasters and even regulators in BOCRA do not seem to pick on such creativity to steer our composers to focus on nation-building themes. No parent wants to raise a boy-child who shall for lack of a better word, turn into a womaniser or player. Both songs run contrary to our moral ethos and botho as we know them to be fundamental pillars of this great nation. How can the death of a grandfather benefit a grandson who inherits the widow and indeed his own grandmother for sexual pleasures? It is an abomination of the worst order in our Setswana culture as this is an act of incest and violation of observance of seniority, where boys know their age limits where intercourse is concerned.

But the artist might have an argument that his composition is in fact a rendition of life in the fast-decaying moral fibre of Botswana. Haven’t we seen cases of incest in this form brought before our courts? Any person must and can exercise the freedom of expression, so long that freedom does not infringe upon others’ freedoms to express their opinions, beliefs, ideals and facts. Since we are in an election year toward the D-day, politicians’ statements are often times classic examples of how freedom of expression is put to the litmus test. Any politician who is unable to tackle the real issues of service delivery and how he can improve the lives of his voters usually finds character assassination the only weapon. Such a man or woman cannot be prevented from speaking his mind regarding the opponent, but in so doing, such a politician must make sure that whatever he says of another person is relevant, factual, fair and truthful comment. But cheap politicking across parties is what we are treated to on a daily basis and some make comments you can never figure out what fuelled them in the first place.

For example, political opponents in one constituency during radio debate disagreed on who between them as past members of Parliament can be credited for the landmark infrastructure in their area, which is the pride of the voters. One in a desperate move to score points told his opponent that he advocated for the particular development because the construction of the landmark was during a moment when his opponent attempted suicide and was hospitalized following his loss. Picking on such a painful and personal moment in someone’s life might smack of insincerity on the other party, but politicians seize every moment to score mileage, and skeletons concealed in closets come out rattling during an election year! The onus is on the one being attacked to clear his name by stating facts to defeat the disparaging remarks, or bring into focus what the attacker has done or said in the past to denounce him in similar fashion. Clearly from this case, the freedom of expression might have been overstretched to vilify another person, but the nicety about democracy is that the attacker cannot remain immune from similar disparaging remarks. It is thus morally expected to freely express one’s opinion about others because others can freely express their impressions about you.

The news article that led to the flight of Edgar Tsimane was in fact projecting President Ian Khama as a fugitive from [the] law after being reported to have had an automobile accident. Should the President not be the torchbearer when it comes to upholding the laws of the Republic? The President is the embodiment of Democracy and all values underpinning democracy, the respect of law being prominent. Should the newspaper have exercised restraint in publishing such an article with high risk of a backlash, if its truthfulness was to be doubted? Yes. But we hear from the editors that they ran the checklist of a factual story before publishing it. Like anybody who must fight to have his dignity and reputation intact, the President must not be restricted from approaching the courts to prove his innocence and seek redress in a defamation suit. But then there is a problem, we are cautioned; Khama cannot take off a layer of his office and present himself as an ordinary citizen 365 days in a given year, therefore, approaching the courts is tantamount to opening a Pandora’s box in that he shall be cross-examined like any witness! If he is immune from civil prosecution, it suffices he may not sue because he does not enjoy a personal capacity like the rest of us. So, bad things can be said about him and he cannot have a recourse? Presidency costs too dearly!

On the other hand, the matter does not need to reach the courts if the publishers were to satisfy areas that can point clearly in the direction that the article was well researched with ample evidence and proof that can be shared with the public without coercion from any quarters, for example a picture of the other vehicle involved in the accident, since our President [is alleged to have] fled immediately! I think such evidence would in fact have been the most appropriate to be splashed on the front page because it would support the story in terms of the exact location of the accident, and the owner of the vehicle would have to prove that it was not the President’s car that he hit. I think in as far as proof is concerned, the President’s office must be commended for sharing with the nation their version, where one of the fleet used by His Excellency was involved in an accident, but in Dibete, some 100 kilometres away from the capital. In journalism, it is not enviable practice to disclose news sources if they volunteered information on anonymity basis, hence the hotel employee from whom the story is alleged to have originated should not be revealed under any circumstances because of the confidentiality clause.

In exercising our freedoms of expression, therefore; creative writers, journalists, performing artists, composers and politicians must observe moral ethos over and above our professional codes of conduct to remind ourselves of the need for restraint, where in doubt of information in our possession to pass for facts. As it has been said countless times; freedoms and civil liberties do not exist in a vacuum; those in the enjoyment of such freedoms must make sure they reciprocate with high degree of responsibility, otherwise we are recycling an heirloom that is too much for us to handle in the now and future. Where we have been reckless, we must not cry foul but dance to the music, especially if we cannot humble ourselves to beg for pardon and mercy from those we have violated. After all; to err is human, to forgive is divine!

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Opinions

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

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosis 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 Pelosis 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.

Pelosis visit to Chinas 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 Communiqus. 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 Chinas 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 Peoples 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 Beijings position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwans administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the Peoples 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, Bidens 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 Pelosis 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 Chinas Peoples Liberation Army to safeguard Chinas 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 Chinas overseas investments, projects and personnel. It then follows that President Xis administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector Chinas 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 Peoples 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.

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

As Chinas military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit Chinas 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 Antnio 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 Peoples 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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Opinions

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 Botswanas 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, Mogaes 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 theBulela Ditswedispensation, 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 Ditswewas 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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Opinions

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 consumers piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswanas, 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 dont imagine that their one download will do anything to the production houses 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 musicians 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 Botswanas 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 Africas 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 Botswanas economy are being diverted.

Why cant our local creative industry grow? Why dont 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 Botswanas 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 countrys 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, its 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 economys growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artists 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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