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A storm in a coffee cup

Stuart White

Way back in 1946 the late, great Frank Sinatra sang a song called The Coffee song, which went like this:

Way down among Brazilians
 Coffee beans grow by the billions
 So they've got to find those extra cups to fill
 They've got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil

There are a number of other versus with very witty lyrics and worth a listen if you’ve never heard the song before;  and of course  no guesses that coffee was a major crop and export item in Brazil back  then.   Interestingly, 70 years on not much has changed and they still have an awful lot of coffee in that South American country.

What brought the song to mind was two seemingly-unrelated items on the online version of the UK Daily Mail this week.  The first was an apparently innocuous comparison of Starbucks’ prices in different parts of the world for what Americans like to call ‘a cup of Joe’.  

Unsurprisingly Brazil is by far the cheapest cup of what Starbucks calls a ‘grande latte’ – literally large milk, or coffee with milk’, coming in at a modest $1.49, or about P16.  Hop across to nearby Peru and the price about doubles to $2.89 or P32.  In Cairo, Manila, Santiago & Buenos Aires and it’s just a fraction more, at an average of P33.  Thereafter the price rises steadily to a maximum of P77 in Zurich, though it’s not much cheaper in Cancun, Mexico at P66, even though Mexico and Brazil aren’t that far apart geographically.  And even more curiously, you’ll have to fork out (or should that be ‘spoon out’?) P55 in Miami, Florida, even though Starbucks is a US-based company.  But the all-time record for the most expensive coffee order ever in the chain goes to a Florida resident, albeit a self-professed connoisseur, who ordered a 101-shot latte costing $83.75 or P920, thereby smashing the world drinks records in 2014 for the biggest and most expensive Starbucks drink.

Juxtaposed with this story was another on the issue of slave labour in the Brazilian coffee industry.  An investigation by media and research centre Danwatch found that slave-like conditions were still widespread across Brazil's coffee-producing industry.  The Denmark-based group claimed workers were trafficked for little or no pay, forced to live on rubbish heaps and made to drink water alongside animals. Danwatch says workers are often trapped in 'debt bondage', not given contracts or protective equipment and forced to live in accommodation without mattresses, contravening Brazilian and international law.  The group claims Brazilian workers earn just $2 (P22) to fill a 60-litre sack of coffee, representing just two per cent of the retail price.

Julie Hjerl Hansen, lead researcher on the Danwatch investigation said: “When the companies don't even know what plantations they're buying from, I think the problem is much bigger than what we've seen here – it's just the tip of the iceberg.”

And it emerged that two of the world's biggest coffee companies have admitted their beans may have been harvested on the same plantations in Brazil.
Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts, which together account for 40 per cent of the global market, said they could not rule out human rights abuses in their supply chain because they don't know the names of all the plantations that grow their coffee.  They sometimes buy from the middlemen in a muddled supply chain, so the precise origin is unclear.  Nestlé did confirm that it bought coffee from two plantations where workers were freed from slave-like conditions by Brazilian authorities last July.  However both companies were quick to point out that they took Danwatch's allegations seriously.

Nestlé said: “We do not tolerate violations of labour rights and have strongly maintained that forced labour has no place in our supply chain. Unfortunately, forced labour is an endemic problem in Brazil and no company sourcing coffee and other ingredients from the country can fully guarantee that it has completely removed forced labour practices or human rights abuses.”
Jacobs Douwe Egberts said: “We are committed to working with governments, non-governmental organisations, suppliers, farmer cooperatives and the entire coffee supply chain to improve the working conditions for coffee farmers throughout the world.  We currently support 15 such programmes in nine countries, including Brazil.”

But of course the guilt-by-association has a trickle-down effect to the end-user.  The Danwatch report also cautioned ordinary coffee consumers, saying “This means that when you buy coffee in the supermarket, you risk taking home beans that were picked by people whose accommodation lack access to clean drinking water or by workers who are caught in a debt spiral that makes it practically impossible for them to leave the coffee plantation.”

Something to think about when you next take your morning caffeine shot.  If it wasn’t such a serious subject I might joke that it is grounds for objection.  But that would definitely be in bad taste.

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC

Something to think about when you next take your morning caffeine shot.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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