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Electronic voting is a threat to our democracy!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima
EAGLE WATCH

Following Parliament’s passing of the bill to amend the Electoral Act by, among other things, introducing voting by Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), several commentators raised concerns not only about the rushed manner in which the bill was tabled before Parliament, but also by the possibility of the EVMs being used to rig elections.

These concerns are justified considering that it is unusual for a bill which touches on such an essential right as the right to vote to be brought to Parliament through a certificate of urgency. In a democracy such as ours, this bill should have been brought to Parliament in the normal course after extensive consultation with the people.

I am unable to understand what circumstances exist that made it urgent to table the bill. After all, the next general elections are in 2019, about three years away. Perhaps, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wanted to take advantage of the lull that many people may be under because of the 50th anniversary independence excitement.

In my view, the implications of this amendment are so significant for our democracy that it required to be decided by the voters through a referendum. It is beyond the scope of the BDP Parliamentarians, most of who have shown that their loyalty is not to the voter but to the BDP and President Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama.

Considering that the BDP suffered an electoral decline in the 2014 general elections, getting less than fifty percent of the popular vote for the first time since independence, such a clandestine move by the BDP dominated Parliament makes one fear that the BDP intends to use EVMs to rig elections in 2019.

Many Batswana, including some in the BDP leadership, have, for many years, called for such electoral reforms as direct presidential elections, political party funding, and stopping the Specially Elected Members of Parliament and Nominated Councillors system, but the BDP government turned a deaf ear to the people’s voice.

I cannot recall a concerted voice by Batswana calling for the introduction of EVMs, yet the BDP, of its own motion, has moved under the cover of darkness and in flagrant abuse of the certificate of urgency procedure, to amend the Electoral Act to introduce it. This unprecedented move raises the suspicion that the BDP wants to use EVMs to rig the 2019 general elections.

This suspicion is worsened by reports in Sunday Standard’s edition of 21st August 2016 that the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) has recruited an information security specialist as part of a black-operation to hack into EVMs during the 2019 general elections.

Without suggesting that other countries should dictate terms to us, reports by Sunday Standard’s online edition of 30th August 2016 that some G8 diplomats who met with Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Honourable Duma Boko, also expressed fear that the BDP may use the EVMs to rig the 2019 elections are troubling.

This is because almost all countries, including Botswana, use their embassies and high commissions to collect information and spy on the host countries. It is, therefore, likely that these G8 diplomats made these statements because of credible intelligence at their disposal.  

Electronic voting has been a subject of debate the world over. Proponents of electronic voting argue that it is convenient because, with the well-designed software and system, the voters can simply use their own equipment with the minimal time and skill to finish the voting process.

They also argue that electronic voting has the benefit of mobility in that voters can use mobile devices to cast their vote. They also argue that using electronic voting saves money because it reduces such personnel expenses as location management and administration fee.

Proponents of electronic voting buttress their argument by arguing that it is environmentally friendly since it saves on paper by using online voting, for example. They also argue that it delivers election results quickly thereby reducing post-election violence which is often caused by uncertainty of the election outcome.

On the contrary, exponents of electronic voting argue that the aforesaid advantages notwithstanding, its disadvantages far outweigh the advantages. Their major argument is that it can be manipulated by humans to rig elections. They give an example of Germany where the ES3B voting machine was hacked by a Dutch citizen group and the Chaos Computer Club on 5th October 2006.

They also argue that the election results may be tainted because of the data base’s viral attacks. They contend that though this may be mitigated through the use of specific kinds of operating systems and anti-virus software the risk cannot be eliminated. This, they argue, puts the integrity of the election results in doubt, something which jeopardizes democracy.

They also argue that electronic voting can, even without human manipulation or viral attacks, give wrong results because of system errors. They give an example of Finland where, in the October 2008 municipal elections, some voters encountered a usability flaw resulting in their votes not being registered resulting in the ordering of new elections by the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland.

Elections are about the reliability of the electoral results. Reliability is, in part, assured through a voting system that the voter trusts, and which, though error cannot be completely eliminated, has a very low margin of error. It appears to me that such a system is manual voting and manual vote counting. It cannot be electronic voting.    

Though manual voting and manual ballot counting indeed take long, it has proven to be highly reliable since it is done in a manner that allows candidates, party agents and election observers to physically witness the vote casting, vote counting and vote tallying. Consequently, the election results of a manual voting process are generally often accepted by all parties.

Manual voting is so reliable that even countries with populations hundred times more than that of Botswana use it. South Africa has a population of fifty three million compared to Botswana’s paltry two million, but it uses manual voting. In its just ended municipal elections, though the voting took the whole day and the final results were announced about three days after polling day, the results were acceptable to all the political parties and candidates with few protests.

Free and fair elections are an essential tenet of our democracy. These aspects are not always about objective facts. On the contrary, they are often about perceptions. Therefore, the mere fact that some Batswana have the perception that the use of EVMs may result in electoral fraud or rigging is troubling enough.

It is needless to say that this perception or actual eventuality of the electoral fraud or rigging as a result of the use of EVMs can result in conflicts and civil unrest in our country. If this happens, simply because of the BDP’s abuse of its Parliamentary majority to pass such an ill-advised amendment, it will be a sad day for our country.

The peace and stability that we are internationally acclaimed for is at the risk of being diminished just because of the BDP’s desire to cling to power at all costs. Why now when there is a likelihood that the UDC may win the 2019 general elections that the BDP rushes to introduce such an amendment?

What has happened that has necessitated resort to electronic voting? Is there an empirical study that has been conducted whose findings compel us to introduce electronic voting? Do we really have to incur the financial cost and the cost to our democracy associated with electronic voting? I think not.

I, therefore, commend the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC)’s decision to instruct one of the country’s finest attorneys, Attorney Dick Bayford, to commence court action to challenge the bill’s legality. All democracy loving Batswana must play any role they can to assist the court action.

All of us – individual citizens, civil society, trade unions and the media, have to pay our dues for the protection of our democracy by ensuring that the bill does not become law. If President Khama signs it into law, we all have a duty to participate in all lawful and peaceful action to have the Act set aside by the courts.

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Technology saves Lions from angry Okavango villagers

22nd November 2022

Villagers in the eastern Okavango region are now using an alert system which warns them when collared lions approach livestock areas. The new technology is now regarded as a panacea to the human/wildlife conflict in the area as it has reduced mass poisoning and killing of lions by farmers.

The technology is being implemented by an NGO, Community Living Among Wildlife Sustainably (CLAWS) within the five villages of Seronga, Gunutsoga, Eretsha, Beetsha and Gudigwa in the eastern part of the Okavango delta.

A Carnivore Ecologist from CLAWS, Dr Andrew Stein explained that around 2013, villagers in the eastern Okavango were having significant problems with losses of their cattle to predators specifically lions, so the villagers resorted to using poison and shooting the lions in order to reduce their numbers.

He highlighted that as a form of progressive intervention, they designed a programme to reduce the conflicts and promote coexistence. Another component of the programme is communal herding, introduced in 2018 to reduce the conflict by increasing efficiency whereby certified herders monitor livestock health and protect them from predators, allowing community members to engage in other livelihood activities knowing that their livestock are safe.

They are now two herds with 600 and 230 cattle respectively with plan to expand the programme to other neighbouring villages. Currently the programme is being piloted in Eretsha, one of the areas with most conflict incidences per year.

Dr Stein explained that they have developed the first of its kind alert system whereby when the lions get within three or five kilometers of a cattllepost or a homestead upon the five villages, then it will release an alert system going directly to the cellphones of individuals living within the affected area or community.

‘So, if a colored lion gets to about five kilometers of Eretsha village or any villagers in the Eretsha that has signed up for, the system will receive an SMS of the name of the lion and its distance to or from the village”, he stated. He added that this enables villagers to take preventative action to reduce conflicts before its starts.

Dr Stein noted that some respond by gathering their cattle and put them in a kraal or put them in an enclosure making sure that the enclosure is secure while some people will gather firewood and light small fires around edges of the kraal to prevent lions from coming closer and some when they receive the SMS they send their livestock to the neighbours alerting them about the presence of lions.

He noted that 125 people have signed to receive the alert system within Seronga, Eretsha, Beetsha, Gunutsoga and Gudigwa. He added that each homestead is about five people and this means more than 600 people immediately receive the messages about lions when they approach their villages. He also noted that last year they dispersed over 12 000 alerts, adding that this year is a bit higher as about 20 000 alerts have been sent so far across these villages.

Stein further noted that they have been significant changes in the behavior of the villagers as they are now tolerant to lions. “85 percent were happy with the SMS and people are becoming more tolerant with living with lions because they have more information to reduce the conflicts,” he stressed.

Stein noted that since the start of the programme in 2014 they have seen lion populations rebounds almost completely to a level before and they have not recorded cases of lion poisoning in the last three years which is commendable effort.

Monnaleso Sanga from Eretsha village applauded the programme by CLAWS noting that farmers in the area are benefiting through the alert system and take preventative measures to reduce human/lion conflict which has been persistent in the area. He added that numbers of cattle killed by lions have reduced immensely. He also admitted that they are now tolerant to lions and they no longer kill nor poison them.

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THE IDEAL QUALITY OF A MUSLIM

8th September 2022

A Muslim is supposed to be and should be a living example of the teachings of the Quran and the ‘Sunnah’ (the teachings and living examples of Prophet Muhammed (SAW – Peace be upon Him). We should follow these in all affairs, relations, and situations – starting with our relationship with our Lord, our own self, our family and the people around us. One of the distinguishing features of the (ideal) Muslim is his faith in Allah, and his conviction that whatever happens in the universe and whatever befalls him, only happens through the will and the decree of the Almighty Allah.

A Muslim should know and feel that he is in constant need of the help and support of Allah, no matter how much he may think he can do for himself. He has no choice in his life but to submit to the will of his Creator, worship Him, strive towards the Right Path and do good deeds. This will guide him to be righteous and upright in all his deeds, both in public and in private.

His attitude towards his body, mind and soul

The Muslim pays attention to his body’s physical, intellectual and spiritual needs. He takes good care of his body, promoting its good health and strength. He shouldn’t eat in excess; but he should eat enough to maintain his health and energy. Allah, The Exalted, Says “…Eat and drink; but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.” [Quran 7: 31]

The Muslim should keep away from alcohol and drugs. He should also try to exercise regularly to maintain his physical fitness. The Muslim also keeps his body and clothes clean, he bathes frequently. The Prophet placed a great emphasis on cleanliness and bathing. A Muslim is also concerned with his clothing and appearance but in accordance with the Islamic ideal of moderation, avoiding the extremes.

As for his intellectual care, the Muslim should take care of his mind by pursuing beneficial knowledge. It is his responsibility to seek knowledge whether it is religious or secular, so he may understand the nature and the essence of things. Allah Says: “…and say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” [Quran 20: 114

The Muslim should not forget that man is not only composed of a body and a mind, but that he also possesses a soul and a spirit. Therefore, the Muslim pays as much attention to his spiritual development as to his physical and intellectual development, in a balanced manner which ideally does not concentrate on one aspect to the detriment of others.

His attitude towards people

The Muslim must treat his parents with kindness and respect, compassion, politeness and deep gratitude. He recognizes their status and knows his duties towards them. Allah Says “And serve Allah. Ascribe nothing as partner unto Him. (Show) kindness unto parents…” [Quran 4: 36]

With his wife, the Muslim should exemplify good and kind treatment, intelligent handling, deep understanding of the nature and psychology of women, and proper fulfilment of his responsibilities and duties.

With his children, the Muslim is a parent who should understand his responsibility towards their good upbringing, showing them love and compassion, influence their Islamic development and giving them proper education, so that they become active and constructive elements in society, and a source of goodness for their parents, community, and society as a whole.

With his relatives, the Muslim maintains the ties of kinship and knows his duties towards them. He understands the high status given to relatives in Islam, which makes him keep in touch with them, no matter what the circumstances.

 

With his neighbours, the Muslim illustrates good treatment, kindness and consideration of others’ feelings and sensitivities. He turns a blind eye to his neighbour’s faults while taking care not to commit any such errors himself. The Muslim relationship with his wider circle of friends is based on love for the sake of Allah. He is loyal and does not betray them; he is sincere and does not cheat them; he is gentle, tolerant and forgiving; he is generous and he supplicates for them.

In his social relationships with all people, the Muslim should be well-mannered, modest and not arrogant. He should not envy others, fulfils his promises and is cheerful. He is patient and avoids slandering and uttering obscenities. He should not unjustly accuse others nor should he interfere in that which does not concern him. He refrains from gossiping, spreading slander and stirring up trouble – avoids false speech and suspicion. When he is entrusted with a secret, he keeps it. He respects his elders. He mixes with the best of people. He strives to reconcile between the Muslims. He visits the sick and attends funerals. He returns favours and is grateful for them. He calls others to Islam with wisdom, example and beautiful preaching. He should guide people to do good and always make things easy and not difficult.

The Muslim should be fair in his judgments, not a hypocrite, a sycophant or a show-off. He should not boast about his deeds and achievements. He should be straightforward and never devious or twisted, no matter the circumstances. He should be generous and not remind others of his gifts or favours. Wherever possible he relieves the burden of the debtor. He should be proud and not think of begging.

These are the standards by which the (ideal) Muslim is expected to structure his life on. Now how do I measure up and fit into all this? Can I honestly say that I really try to live by these ideals and principles; if not can I really call myself a true Muslim?

For the ease of writing this article I have made use of for want of a better word, the generic term ‘he’, ‘his’, ‘him’ and the ‘male’ gender, but it goes without saying that these standards apply equally to every female and male Muslim.

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OUR BELOVED CHILDREN

29th August 2022

“Homicide and suicide kill almost 7000 children every year; one in four of all children are born to unmarried mothers, many of whom are children themselves…..children’s potential lost to spirit crushing poverty….children’s hearts lost in divorce and custody battles….children’s lives lost to abuse and violence, our society lost to itself, as we fail our children.” “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” (Quotation taken from a book written by Hillary Clinton).

These words may well apply to us here in Botswana; We are also experiencing a series of challenges in many spheres of development and endeavour but none as challenging as the long term effects of what is going to happen to our youth of today. One of the greatest challenges facing us as parents today is how to guide our youth to become the responsible adults that we wish them to be, tomorrow.

In Islam Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has enjoined upon the parents to take care of the moral and religious instruction of their children from the very beginning, otherwise they will be called to account for negligence on the Day of Judgement. Parents must inculcate God-consciousness in their children from an early age, whereby the children will gain an understanding of duty to The Creator.

 

The Holy Qur’an says: ‘O you who believe! Save yourself and your families from the Fire of Hell’. (Ch. 66: V6). This verse places the responsibility on the shoulders of the parents to ensure that training and guidance begin at home. The goal is to mould the child into a solid Islamic personality, with good morals, strong Islamic principles, knowledge and behavior so as to be equipped to face the demands of life in a responsible and mature manner. This should begin with the proper environment at home that inculcates the best moral and behavioral standards.

But what do we have instead? Believers of all Religious persuasions will agree that we have children growing up without parental guidance, a stable home environment, without role models, being brought up in surroundings that are not conducive to proper upbringing and moulding of well-adjusted children. These children are being brought up devoid of any parental guidance and increasingly the desperate situation of orphaned children having to raise their siblings (children raising children) because their parents have succumbed to the scourge of AIDS.

It is becoming common that more and more girls still in their schooling years are now falling pregnant, most of them unwanted, with the attendant responsibilities and difficulties.

Observe the many young ladies who are with children barely in their teens having illegitimate children. In the recent past there was a campaign focused on the ‘girl-child’; this campaign targeted this group of young females who had fallen pregnant and were now mothers. The situation is that the mother still being just a ‘child’ and not even having tasted adulthood, now has the onerous responsibility of raising her own child most of the time on her own because either the father has simply disappeared, refuses to takes responsibility, or in some cases not even known.

We cannot place the entire blame on these young mothers; as parents and society as a whole stand accused because we have shirked our responsibilities and worse still we ourselves are poor role models. The virtual breakdown of the extended family system and of the family unit in many homes means that there are no longer those safe havens of peace and tranquility that we once knew. How then do we expect to raise well-adjusted children in this poisoned atmosphere?

Alcohol has become socially acceptable and is consumed by many of our youth and alarmingly they are now turning to drugs. Alcohol is becoming so acceptable that it is easily accessible even at home where some parents share drinks with their children or buying it for them. This is not confined only to low income families it is becoming prevalent amongst our youth across the board.

 

It is frightening to witness how our youth are being influenced by blatantly suggestive pop culture messages over television, music videos and other social media. Children who are not properly grounded in being able to make rational and informed decisions between what is right and what is wrong are easily swayed by this very powerful medium.

 

So what do we do as parents? We first have to lead by example; it is no longer the parental privilege to tell the child ‘do as I say not as I do’- that no longer works. The ball is in the court of every religious leader (not some of the charlatans who masquerade as religious leaders), true adherents and responsible parents. We cannot ignore the situation we have to take an active lead in guiding and moulding our youth for a better tomorrow.

In Islam Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “No father gives a better gift to his children than good manners and good character.”  Children should be treated not as a burden, but a blessing and trust of Allah, and brought up with care and affection and taught proper responsibilities etiquettes and behaviour.

Even the Bible says; ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein’. (Mark 10:14-15)

The message is clear and needs to be taken by all of us: Parents let us rise to the occasion – we owe it to our children and their future.

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