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Size doesn’t matter!

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE


It’s now a week since the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics and that’s it wrapped up for another 4 years. It’s an event that never fails to impress and inspire me. I love everything about it; what it means for the athletes to see the reward of their sacrifice, dedication and perseverance and the amount of pride countries take in the athletes who represent them. It’s a reminder that as human beings we love to play games and compete and this celebrates how similar we are as opposed to what is different about us.

The event never fails to deliver with thrills and spills and these games were no different; Mo Farah won the double and I was ecstatic; Chad le Clo lost his duel with Michael Phelps and I felt devastated; watching Usain Bolt make it to 3 consecutive Olympic Gold medals in the 100, 200 and 4 x 100m relay – I felt a part of history in the making!

What was my highlight? Undoubtedly Botswana’s participation in the final of the men’s 4 X 400m, it was thrilling to say the least. 3 minutes of sheer adrenalin (2.59.06 to be precise) and that was just me, never mind the runners – Makwala, Sibanda, Nkobolo and Maotoanong. I don’t know how the rest of Botswana felt watching the race but I was on the edge of my seat screaming and shouting…oh God we are going to get a medal. 

I couldn’t believe what was playing out before my eyes. I knew the team was good – you have to be to get to an Olympic final – but these boys were on fire.  Pipped literally at the post, it was wonderful PR for the country. ‘Look at the Botswana team’, said the commentator’, and ‘what a brave attempt’.

I wonder if at home we fully appreciated the greatness of the achievement. We came fifth and quite frankly it’s almost unfathomable. However I was really disappointed to see a Daily News article entitled ‘ Team returns empty handed…following an unsuccessful expedition to Rio…’  and comments on radio about our team’s mediocrity. Not since Mpule Kwelagobe won the Miss Universe title in 1999 have I felt so proud of Botswana on the international stage as when I watched that race.

So just how significant of an achievement is it? You might ask how is it even possible from a tiny country like ours, with a population of just over 2 million, to be able to run alongside the best Olympic team and third most populist country in the world, the United States of America?

To get perspective the USA has a population of 322million, while we have less than 1% of that. Consider the USA’s first world status and obvious benefits, sports funding, excellent school and college sports programmes, coaches, depth of 400m runners’. The cards were surely stacked against us.  Doing the math, it just doesn’t add up, or does it?

Surely we have something truly remarkable when it comes to our DNA which produces world class 400m runners (I haven’t even mentioned Amantle Monsho and Boboloki Thebe). Just like the Ethiopians or Kenyans who dominate world middle and long distance running with populations of 99 & 47 million respectively, perhaps we can be to the 400 what they are to the 5000 and 10,000  thousand meters and marathon?  Maybe it’s something about our size that makes great success possible.

If we were to look at medals per capita, the real stars of the Rio Olympics might be the Bahamas who came first (and incidentally third in the 4x400m) with 2 overall medals in the games, achieved with a population of just 390 000. And what about Jamaica who came second overall per capita and was 2nd in the 4 x 400 with a population of less than half a million? What we know is that small nations can take centre stage if they find out where their talent lies and do something about it.

Growing up I never missed the Olympics and my memory was always of my home country Great Britain hardly ever being on the medal table. In those days we were so overshadowed by Eastern Europe. Our worst performance was in Atlanta 1996 when team Great Britain with a population of 58 million achieved only 15 medals and finished an embarrassing 36th on the overall medal table. Fast forward and Team GB placed 10th in Athens, 4th in Beijing, 3rd in London and 2nd now in Rio. 

This improvement was a result of action taken post Atlanta when British Olympic sport had reached rock bottom and the government, realising the importance of sport and that to fund it you need long term sustainable revenue, introduced national lottery funding and the results speak for themselves.

But it is not the British funding alone which is credited for the results, it is also the effectiveness of the system – sports that win medals get funded, the others are cut and that is the key to success – it’s a bit like putting your money where your mouth is.

So medals are targeted on a wide range of sports. Facilities, equipment, training and coaching are put in place to facilitate success and there's ruthless financial monitoring . Under the UK’s funding system, sports which have hit their medal target over the past eight years — such as athletics, boxing and cycling – receive an increase in investment. The others, such as basketball, wrestling and volleyball, have their funding cut.

Olympics’ guiding principle is a quote by Baron de Coubertin:

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

We did all that at these games – Daily News, please take note!. What we have established is that we can compete with the best, so let’s put our money where our mouth is, start really grooming this talent we have by getting our athletes on to the best programmes with the best coaching;  then Tokyo here we come and USA be afraid – be very afraid!

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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started

and

  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. ..so they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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