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BOT’50: is there reason to celebrate?

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

EAGLE WATCH

After fifty years of independence, which coincides with the end of Vision 2016, and the commencement of Vision 2036, it is apposite that we take stock of our successes and failures. As shall be shown below, though Botswana has done well in most facets, there are certain arears that need improvement.

Various international rating agencies such as the Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) have ranked Botswana highly. The LPI has, for many years, ranked Botswana top of the 142 African countries. In 2013, the African Leadership Index (ALI) placed Botswana 1st in Africa and 41st in the world in good governance while emerging 32nd out of 162 countries in the most peaceful index.

Even our leaders have been ranked highly. In 2008, former president Festus Mogae won the Mo Ibrahim prize which is given to a democratically-elected African head of government who leaves power peacefully, according to their nation’s constitution.  In 2013, the ALI ranked President Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama as the best leader in Africa, getting an A grade.

Consistently, under personal wellbeing, which encompasses freedom of speech, and religion, national tolerance for immigrants and ethnic and racial minorities, Botswana has fared well. The area of freedom of press and speech has, however, not been without fault.

Notable was the 2008 enactment of the infamous Media Practitioners’ Act, which, if fully implemented, could curtail both freedom of press and speech. Also of note is government’s refusal to enact the Freedom of Information Act which allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by government.

That notwithstanding, Batswana generally enjoy freedom of press and speech. People are rarely persecuted for criticizing government. There are, however, instances where some government media talk shows have allegedly been censored because the hosts or guests propagated anti-government views.

There has been reports that some journalists, e.g. Sakaeo Jane and Joshua Ntopolelang, have been victimized, maliciously transferred, sidelined and suspended from Botswana Television because they are believed to be pro-Opposition. Fortunately, in both cases our courts, which are truly independent, intervened.

In 2014 Sunday Standard Editor, Outsa Mokone, and reporter, Edgar Tsimane, faced sedition charges for publishing a story which alleged that President Khama was the driver of a car that was involved in a night-time road accident. While Mokone was arrested and charged, Tsimane fled to South Africa to seek asylum.

According to Sunday Standard’s online edition of 3rd May 2015, this resulted in Botswana’s press freedom rankings dropping by three points, from 41 to 44, something which, no doubt, tainted our democratic credentials. 

Also, in the past, private media regarded as sympathetic to the opposition were denied government advertising under the guise of cost saving. In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) declined to participate in Parliamentary debates hosted by a private radio station, Gabz FM, accusing it of being pro-Opposition.

Not even the most fervent of government and Khama’s critics can claim there is no freedom of religion in Botswana. All religions practice their faiths without censor. Almost all the world’s religions are taught from primary level though this is contradicted by the fact that school events, e.g. assemblies, are conducted in terms of the Christian faith.

There is, therefore, room for improvement since this suggests Christianity is the state religion. For instance, while in courts Christians make an oath in terms of the Holy Bible, non-Christians, including adherents of other religions, make a non-religious affirmation. Further, only Christian festivals, e.g. Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are recognized as holidays. 

Though some immigrants, e.g. Professor Kenneth Good have been declared Prohibited Immigrants for being critical of government, there is national tolerance for immigrants. Even illegal immigrants, once arrested, are put under secure custody, and are provided with basic needs until repatriation. However, government needs to improve in terms of allowing immigrants access to health care, including AIDS treatment.

It was an embarrassment when our government fought all the way to the Court of Appeal (CoA) to deny non-citizen HIV positive prisoners access to Anti-Retroviral (ARV) medication and treatment. This stood against what our country is renowned for, Botho and respect for human dignity.

Thankfully, in 2015, the CoA upheld these values, and ruled in favour of the prisoners, saying the constitutional declarations that the foreign inmates sought only served to bolster the central complaint, which was that they were being denied the right to medical care as per the provisions of the Prisons Act.  

Botswana has fared badly regarding respect for ethnic minority rights, especially Basarwa. Government has trampled on the rights of Basarwa by, among other things, in 1986, attempting to forcibly relocate them from their ancestral land, the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR). Even after the courts ruled that as unlawful government attempted to force Basarwa out of their land by ceasing the provision of such basic services as water.

Mother tongue education and recognition of cultural diversity can go a long way in improving respect for ethnic minority rights. That notwithstanding, government has resisted calls to introduce mother tongue education. However, government needs to be commended for amending the constitution to entrench ethnic parity though tribal discrimination still subtly exists at a practical level.   

Under the Social Capital sub index, which includes the percentage of citizens who volunteer, give to charity, help strangers and feel they can rely on family and friends, Botswana has, over the years, also fared well. This is in fact the hallmark of our being as Batswana.

It is these attributes that form the basis of such institutions as Home Based Care, Village Development Committees, Parents Teachers Associations, Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations. In fact, it can be argued that were it not for such attributes our economic prosperity and peace and stability would have been diminished.  

Under the Economy sub index, which measures performance in the areas of macro-economic policies, economic satisfaction and expectations, foundation for growth and financial sector efficiency, Botswana has also fared well. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and such rating agencies as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have repeatedly rated Botswana as one of the most stable economies.

That notwithstanding, Botswana needs to do better in such areas as economic diversification, poverty reduction, employment creation, rural development, etc. While government hand-outs and such relief programmes as Ipelegeng are of assistance to the poor and vulnerable, emphasis on them at the expense of real economic development can only be to our detriment.

Under the Entrepreneurship & Opportunity sub index, which measures entrepreneurial environment, innovative activity and access to opportunity, Botswana has also fared well. Though corruption hampers delivery, such agencies as Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency, Local Enterprise Authority, Youth Development Fund and Young Farmers Fund, avail entrepreneurial opportunities for Batswana.

The easing of the company registration process; tax regime liberalization and establishment of such regulatory entities as the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority and the Competition Authority have also gone a long way in entrepreneurship development. There is, however, need to improve access to entrepreneurial opportunities for the youth, women, people with disabilities, and those in remote and rural areas.

Under the Governance sub index, which measures effective and accountable government, fair elections, political participation and the rule of law, Botswana has also fared well. We have regular elections; there is multi-party democracy; no political party has ever been banned and we do not have political prisoners.

However, Botswana needs to deepen its democracy through political party funding; direct presidential elections; abolition of Specially Elected Members of Parliament and Nominated Councilors; fair delimitation of constituencies; making the Independent Electoral Commission truly independent of government; respect for trade unions, and increased representation in governance for women, the youth and other marginalized groups.

The Ombudsman, though in existence, is toothless and has not effectively addressed issues of maladministration within government. For instance, despite the then Ombudsman, Lethebe Maine, in 1999, finding that it was wrong for the then Vice President, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, flying Botswana Defence Force (BDF) aircraft, his finding was not taken heed of.

That there is access to justice and judicial independence means there is respect for the rule of law. However, the rule of law is threatened by politically motivated presidential pardons, and the occasional disregard for procedural propriety by the Directorate on Public Service Management, especially in relation to trade unions.

One issue which has left a stain in our judicial independence was the 2015 suspension of four judges, justices Key Dingake, Modiri Letsididi, Ranier Busang and Mercy Garekwe, who were suspended on allegations of misconduct and bringing the name of the judiciary into disrepute.

According to Mmegi online edition of 23rd September 2016, “The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has challenged President Ian Khama’s government to respect the independence of the judiciary following the suspension and impeachment proceedings…” We can, however, not comment more on the matter since it is still before the courts.

Under the Health sub index, which measures performance in basic health outcomes, health infrastructure, preventative care, physical and mental health satisfaction, Botswana has also fared well. There are health posts and clinics in almost all villages and settlements; hospitals which include 16 primary, 7 district, 3 referral, 2 mission and 2 private hospitals.

There is free preventative vaccination; there is free treatment for such diseases as AIDS, etc. We also have such world class mental and/or psychiatric health care facilities as Jubilee and S’brana hospitals in Francis town and Lobatse respectively.

Under the Safety & Security sub index, which measures performance in national security and personal safety, Botswana has also fared well. There is no civil strife; no civil wars; no curfews; no terrorist attacks, etc.

There has, however, been troubling incidents of torture and extra judicial killings, notably the 2009 murder of John Kalafatis by security agents. That when the Directorate of Public Prosecutions prosecuted the accused the BDF paid for the accused’s legal fees, and following conviction, President Khama pardoned them, diminished some Batswana’s sense of security and safety. It also brought into question the President’s respect for judicial independence.

In view of the aforegoing, one can conclude that though there is much to celebrate as we look back at fifty years of independence, there is need for improvement in the areas highlighted above if we are to celebrate our independence in full.

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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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