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Political Vision and its Enemies in Botswana: the Argument against

Tedzani Thapelo

Botswana novelist, poet, historian, researcher, biographer, writer of short stories, travelogue and human rights campaigner, Teedzani Thapelo*, advances the critical argument that Vision 2016 failed principally because we failed right from the beginning of this political project to diagnose the nature and severity of our national crisis and then compounded the situation by tailoring it to subverted, blighted and meaningless public policies. To give Vision 2030 a better chance of success we should this time around try to do things the proper way. More important we should make sure political vision does not morph into a baiting gimmick for political catastrophe; blighting the fortunes and future of our children.

First things first, political vision is by tradition an intellectual inquiry into the problem of social order. It is rightly regarded as Plato’s greatest political programme, perhaps his greatest contribution to political art. Scholars are agreed about its centrality to political philosophy as we understand it today. I should, however, confess I’m rather surprised Botswana has become so much besotted with this thing.

First it was Vision 2016: Towards Prosperity for All, and we all know what happened to that little pet project. Now it’s Vision 2036: Beyond Tomorrow, Beyond the Stars. What next? Well, I suppose we should try to do something about the sociological landscape of our nation. Why not? We are a member of the global village. We have got neither our own philosophical tradition nor do we have philosophers to chart our way into the future; a future I should sadly admit, that looks rather bleak and perilous. It’s also interesting to find one’s country so suddenly head-over-heels in love with something so purely intellectual. Oh, yes, Botswana is charmed by Plato, it’s a first rate love affair!

But do we know what we are doing? No, Batswana, these vision things do not come from Government Enclave; ga se mananeo a goromente. The visions come from some obscure offices and corridors in the UN, very far away. We only talk about them here because we belong to that beastly old creature, and our political education cannot, of course, be anything but western. So let’s fall in love with this thing from the canon of Western political philosophy as we please, but I do think we should try at least to be certain we really do know what it is we are doing.

Utopian ideas can be dangerous in politics. We all know about the sparkling fire of communist rhetoric and what came of it. Look at Russia. Look at Zimbabwe. Remember what happened to Muamur Gadaffi and his little Green Book, and Mao Zedung and his little Red Book. Words that look too beautiful and too promising in politics generally lead to dangerous disasters.

Let’s hope these fantastic little visions that Government Enclave is embracing with so much romantic enthusiasm don’t take us the same road. 2036 is not very far. From Rwanda I understand Paul Kigame will still be in power. Mugabe is threatening to rule on earth and right on to heaven, if he does get past Saint Paul at the Golden Gate, and so he probably will still be around.

My eldest son who just started working in Canada will be a family man and the two little ones, Davis and Rabasi, will still be in school if they are foolish enough to spend twenty-one uninterrupted years collecting useless certificates from universities all over the world like their father did. Why, one might ask, am I saying these things? It’s because politics is a deeply personal thing. Many people don’t realize this, but there can never be thriving human life and happiness where there’s no politics.

This is why I am asking: do we know what we are planting in our political system and tradition by adding these little poetic visions into it? Are Batswana ready to contend with the Platonic vision? Are our institutions and belief systems ready for it? Do we have the resources, ingenuity and moral fortitude to see these visions through? Aren’t we baiting political catastrophe?

I am told Ian Khama sent out an eminently distinguished team of professors to teach Batswana about these things, hear their views and write up our next political vision. I can only hope these professors too knew what they were doing. Did Batswana know they were talking to Plato, the greatest philosopher known to mankind? Did they know this thing is not a joke? I can hear an impressed Motswana at Sekondomboro village lamenting, like Faust, “sweet analytics, thou hast ravished me.” Good work. Remember Faust wanted all the things that Botswana wants: prosperity, power, peace, immortality. We all know what happened to him.

Let’s hope the same thing does not happen to us. Let’s also hope our distinguished professors taught Batswana well. There must be a reason why Batswana accept these things. Much of Africa does not care about these visions. We have better things to do than excite the passions and interests of already highly restive populations is what one writer friend of mine said to me. Too cynical? I don’t know. What am I saying here? Let me explain.

A political vision is by definition not an easy thing. But we don’t have to resurrect Plato to understand what it is all about. The vision documents that have become the fundamental sub-texts of our political strategy, survival and destiny in the last twenty years, including the now discredited Vision 2016 Document, are products of a political imagination going back at least 2000 years. The original purpose of political vision as a project of political philosophy was aimed at addressing a set of perennial issues afflicting ancient civilizations.

I want to focus on only a few most pertinent ones; moral corruption and degeneration in civilization, and political decay and collapse of civilizations. Political vision sought to speak literally to these menacing concerns at certain levels; beginning, degeneration, end, and revival, as well as discernable moments of truth that could be recovered, and provide the necessary means for political redemption. In short political vision is born of political crisis.

This must sound familiar to any Motswana who has been watching BTV the last couple of weeks. Vision 2016 calls for a moral, compassionate, educated and informed, innovative and productive, safe and secure, democratic and accountable, and tolerant and united nation. The issue of pride is nothing but political jingoism and for the most part sentimental foolishness. The operative concepts for our purposes here are moral, educated, innovative and productive, and safe and secure. As for democracy and national unity these I critiqued in a recent widely published article concerning a public lecture by former president Ketumile Masire (Ref. 16-22 July, Weekend Post/15 July, 2016, Botswana Guardian).

More problematical, research shows that totalitarian regimes tend to deal with national crisis better than democratic ones; and that they often thrive and endure longer in moments of historical stress than democratic ones do under the same circumstances, sad but true enough. The issue is, however, still open to debate. Even Plato did address this issue in his famous political dialogues. To sum up, political vision always speaks to contemporary political crisis and the possibilities of political redemption. And here lies the greatest problem.

When Botswana authored this vision twenty years ago what political crisis did it seek to address? Was there any historical stress in the republic? If political crisis did exist, what political redemption has been accomplished?  I’ve already said the vision programme came from the UN; never mind what Madomkrag say. Our business was only to domesticate and own it. But did we do this thing well? I don’t think so. When this global discourse was first mooted I was a graduate student in the economics department at SOAS. I knew right away it would create policy problems for African countries and said so at our weekly student’s seminar.

To my surprise everybody present disagreed with me, arguing it was a great opportunity for Africans to rethink their politics and policy instruments. I was staggered. So far as I understood the debate what was at stake was the possible ruin of two phenomena: western civilization and the capitalist international economy. Africa’s existential problem at the time was located elsewhere: structural adjustment programmes and the debt trap. Our problem was one of underdevelopment and perennial political crisis; and that of the West, corpulent affluence run amuck, and institutional complacence.

We were failing to adjust to postcolonial modernity and trauma; and Europe struggling to adjust to globalization and the triumph of capitalism. How could we lump the two development trajectories together? I was furious, so implacably furious my thesis advisor, the distinguished Marxist-Leninist scholar and philosopher, Ben Fine, decided I should write a development theory paper on the subject for the next seminar. I can’t say I entirely convinced my classmates about the merits of my argument. But that was to be expected. I was the only African student in that seminar. But my supervisor was delighted when two years later my thesis examiner, an oxford economics professor, brought up the question on the day I was defending my PhD and intellectual integrity, and I calmly stood up and gave the don that document word for word; from nothing short of an astonished memory and anguished temper. One hour later I was awarded my doctorate and only a week later I arrived home a free man.

To my surprise I found Batswana here agog about the same vision thing. I did try to make a contribution but my proposition seems not to have sat well with better minds at Government Enclave so I let the thing run. No one can deny today the whole thing is a scandalous failure. Just look at the crisis in education, and productivity, and the problem of political intolerance. Consider the continuing radical income inequalities, and the political anxiety gripping the entire country. Are we really as safe and secure as we think? Are we compassionate? Are we truly educated? Are we prosperous? Are we democratic and accountable? Are we a moral and united nation? Did we properly diagnose the real problems facing this country twenty years ago?

Why were we so shy to talk about HIV/AIDS at the time and its possible spill-over consequences in the areas of human capital, market integration and growth? Why didn’t we worry about its decimation of the finest educated and trained professional elites this country ever possessed; the very people whose mass deaths and anguished existence was soon to orphan and traumatize an entire generation of our national youth? Why were we so coy to concede our own environmental weaknesses? Why didn’t we talk about our ruinous maladjustment to diamond liquidity capital? Why didn’t we talk about the cancer of corruption in public life? Why didn’t we worry about donor fatigue and departure? 

Why did we not talk about the yawning cultural vacuum that was already threatening to eat out our national soul and vitality at the time? And the question of national unity: why didn’t we realistically talk about the things that held us together and go out of our way to cement and solidify them while doing away with those that continue to divide us, eating at the heart of our national consciousness? Why didn’t we talk about these things? Why did we settle for empty borrowed words that were mostly irrelevant to our situation? Why did we borrow other people’s problems instead of acknowledging our own and trying to do something urgently about them? Look again at Vision 2016.

Even today we could give that blasted thing to Burundians, or the South Sudanese. They need it. We don’t; or at least we didn’t need it twenty years ago. We failed, dismally, to author our own destiny as a nation and a people in 1997, to seek political redemption to the crisis facing us at the time, and what a missed opportunity. We have got fewer resources today, fewer friends in the international community who really count for something, and we have got far less energy and fire in us. It’s terrible the way things are going on in this country.

But maybe we still have a chance. I see now Ian Khama has just received the Vision 2030 Document. Once again its origin is the UN, and Western philosophical disquisition. I said it was compiled by Botswana’s finest intellectuals. Well, I won’t step on their decorated feet this time. I do see, however, the UN has this time diagnosed our national crisis fairly well; social and human development, sustainable growth, and environmental protection. Yes, governance, peace and security as well. This is all proper. International relations have changed profoundly in the last twenty years. The mandate of political philosophy is now somewhat different; thanks to the third wave of globalization, the forth industrial revolution in the West, the crisis of capitalism and the 2008 world recession, climate change and crazy imans in the Middle East. In general, right now we are not a safe world. Botswana must share these extraordinary and extreme concerns and these things must be reflected in our political agenda and calendar.

But what really is our current national crisis? How should we seek to explain our contemporary politics?  And what are the possibilities of political redemption going into the future; to 2030? These are issues that require serious research and rigorous analysis. I see the professors tasked to prepare this document had clear terms of reference; to mobilise Batswana to define their national dream and aspirations, to review background materials on the subject, to produce a document built from national consultation and consensus. I am sure the experts did this competently.

What baffles me, though, are the questions put to Batswana. The kind of country they want to see built by 2030? The kind of person a Motswana should look like in terms of social standing in 1930? The first question is open to too much irrelevant waffling. The second, well, one would have to look for something between Darwin’s evolution of species theory and Dickens’s Great Expectations. It’s a most singular question to put to any person; and ridiculous questions always get ridiculous answers. This is the major problem with Batswana. We never take ourselves seriously.

I remember the questions for Vision 2016. They were just as bad. I don’t even care if these questions-God forbid!-come from the UN as well. They are bad research questions. Then; what should be done to accomplish this dream? A good political question, but the who part is suspect. Why not how, given our poor work ethic, diminishing resources, education crisis, the malice of nature on the land, possibilities for political caprice, etc.? That way you enter the province of political philosophy where the political vision project originates.

Political vision presupposes ideological purpose. It is a symbolic character of human activity. It speaks to the philosopher’s city that is at work. It presupposes rule by those who profess to know the ground of justice. It implies the end of tension between truth and politics. It is rooted in the dilemmas and social tensions of society and the disillusioning experiences of a known and lived world (Ref. my article The Trouble with Botswana: a poet speaks, in 15 July, 2016 vol. 33, No. 106, Mmegi and subsequent publication). In some cases it originates from the failure of political experience. It is a therapeutic vehicle for the possible failures of nationhood and human civilization.

It seeks answers to the problems of human order and historical existence. It is key to the fundamental understanding, not only of human beings, but of the world as well. Its greatest concern is the problem of social order and man’s relation to his natural resource base; the environment. It seeks and desires to create a cultural world that conditions historical existence. For man it seeks perfect orientation and intellectual disposition, and politics, the authority to order society. Its creative transformation draws power and strength from agreed upon political symbols. It is, in the poetic language of Heidegger, the house of Being; a beautiful thing. But like all things beautiful it is not immortal. It can be destroyed with deliberate vehemence which, sadly, I believe, is what happened to Vision 2016.

What is required for a political vision to succeed? I refuse to answer this question. It would be the height of arrogance to try to tutor the best and brightest at Government Enclave, and a possible invitation of unnecessary personal harm and humiliation. But I do think Batswana know exactly what it is they ought to do.

First, identify the national crisis to be addressed, and then go all way out to seek political redress. Word of advice, take heed of the wise words of that great poet, the author of Paradise Lost, John Milton; “there is no art that has been more cankered in her principles, more soiled, and slobbered with aphorizing pedantry than the art of policy,” and all will proceed well, bearing in mind, of course, all the time, that politics imply a certain idea of man, and not always a good idea.

 

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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
Samson

… 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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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

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 www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    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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