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Fire and Ice, The Devil is the Detail

Jeff Ramsay


This column not infrequently casts a spotlight on comparative survey’s profiling our society and its institutions. This past week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released the 2014 edition of its annual Global Gender Gap Index, reporting both considerable progress and sectoral stagnation in our country’s gender equality indices.

But, before looking at the latest WEF results, some comment is in order about another study whose findings were recently covered in this space, the Phase 1 data of Afrobarometer’s Round 6 public polling.

For some, the poll’s findings have been rendered invalid given the contrast between its figures for party political support and the final results of last week’s election. While the poll had pegged support for the BDP at 52%, BCP at 20% and various parties constituting the UDC at only 13%, the final aggregated vote tallies for Members of Parliament was, in rounded figures, 47% for BDP, 20% for BCP and 30% for UDC, with another 3% for independent candidates.

How can the survey with a reported plus or minus 3% margin of error, be valid if it predicted the UDC getting less than half of its ultimate share of the vote? In this author’s view the answer lies in the fact that while the poll’s results were released in mid-September the actual polling was carried out in late June early July 2014.

Based on this and other evidence one can reasonably extrapolate that there was a surge in support for the UDC, that was driven not only by the party attracting voters to its message but also its brand. The importance of brand identification is underscored by the fact that Afrobarometer had found that by the beginning of July the majority of UDC supporters still identified themselves as either BNF or BMD.

The fact that Afrobarometer's figures for both the BCP and BDP were on the mark, in the case of the latter even more so if one takes into account reports that the party achieved above 50% in the local authority elections, suggests that the real story was the success of the UDC in mobilising nascent supporters through what was a highly successful campaign, an assumption supported by additional empirical evidence such as social media support, as well as rumoured tracking polls by private parties.

The value of any polling lies in the depth and consistency of its data, which in the case of the still incomplete Afrobarometer Round 6 findings already reveals a wealth of information that should of interest to anyone seriously concerned about domestic trends.

Turning to the Global Gender Index, Botswana’s overall rank in this year’s index was 51 out of 142 countries with an aggregate score .778, which is a major improvement over 2013 when our rank was 85 with a score of .675. The aggregate score is made up of four “Pillar Indices”, which are:

“Economic Participation and Opportunity” which looks at wage equality as well as labour force participation, including percentage of women in leadership positions;

“Educational Attainment” which examines at female literacy and primary through tertiary enrolments patterns;

“Health and Survival” which is largely based on female life expectancy; and

“Political Empowerment” which is narrowly focused on the percentage of women legislators, members of cabinet and number (if any) of female heads of state.

For the fifth year in a row we were ranked (albeit this year alongside 24 other countries) as first in the world in terms of gender balanced educational attainment.

With respect to Economic Participation and Opportunity we are now ranked 8th in the World, up 40 whole places from last year. Within this category we are also among the countries ranked first in the world in terms of gender balance among professional and technical workers with near absolute equality. Here one strongly suspects that the extent of our reported surge is a product of the WEF belatedly taking onboard previous progress (as measured elsewhere) rather than a sudden twelve month spike in progress.

For Pillar for Health and Survival, we are now ranked 112, up thirteen places from 2013. Our still relatively low position is due to our reported life expectancy of 53 for females and 52 males, which in each case are well below current domestic figures of over 60. While the WEF figures are thus contestable they are, nonetheless, a product of international estimates driven by our continued high rate of HIV infection.

As for Political Empowerment, at 124 out of 142 countries we rank nearer the bottom due to our relatively low percentage of female Parliamentarians and the fact that we have yet to have a female head of state.

The devil in any survey ultimately lies in the old adage that if one sticks one’s feet in a fire and head in ice, one’s medium temperature will hardly be a true reflection of one’s actual distress.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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