Last week, we celebrated our 50th independence anniversary with great verve and gusto.
Our national flag fluttered magisterially from every wayside lamp post. At the national stadium, the citizenry, all clad in our bland national colours, sang their voices hoarse, clapped and cheered till their palms were calloused and their vocal chords dulled, and danced every style in the book to music rendered by local and foreign artistes alike till their legs buckled.
The President conferred special honours on those he deemed deserving, many of whom have long gone to Glory.
If there’s one country that lends demonstrable legitimacy to a verisimilitude of political and economic independence on this ill-starred continent, it is indeed Botswana. From a pauperish country 50 years ago that one colonial authority scorned as “this useless piece of territory” through gritted teeth, we have made phenomenal economic strides whilst some of our neighbours who in fact set sail way better-off than we were at independence have actually regressed and become the quintessence of a basket case.
As one of only 8 African countries who belong to the prestigious Upper Middle Income fold, we have earned the rather tenuous right to call ourselves an elite economy, one of the few tritons among a myriad of minnows with which our continental landmass teems. Better still, we have garnered an extra, personal-to-holder accolade – that of the economic poster boy dubbed the “African Miracle”.
I will not here launch into a laboured enumeration of our distinctive economic feats one by one: economic pundits, as has my own duo-volume book Delusions of Grandeur, have waxed so lyrical about them they now border on outright tautology.
MONEY GONE DOWN THE DRAIN
That is not to excuse the profligate lengths to which we went in gyrating and cavorting to the thrills and spills of the Golden Jubilee razzle-dazzle. For what it is worth, my take is that we over-celebrated: there was disproportionately too much fuss and fanfare.
In fact, I would go as far as to recommend that we from now henceforth simply passively observe the national day, like the Americans do, and not spoil ourselves with costly pomp and circumstance.
We set aside a whopping P100 million for this single day when our ministry of education is as broke as a church mouse, Selebi Phikwe desperately needs an economic uplift, and our chancellor of the exchequer has served notice that a budget deficit of the order of P7 billion is looming on the horizon with many more to follow in the coming years.
At a time when we’re supposed to gird our loins and use money frugally or devote it to purely productive purposes meant to stimulate our dismally stalled economy, we’ve had to splash a tenth of a billion Pula on some fleeting festivities which only serve to stroke the national ego.
This would have made sense at the height of the diamond boom when we had stacks of cash in central bank vaults and not in these trying times where every thebe ought to count.
Why have we gone up not by one bar but several in playing Father Christmas? Where has our vaunted “fiscal prudence” of yesteryears gone? Who says our economic stewardship is one of the soundest on the globe? Not anymore.
After all, this is a country, if you recall, where a state-owned corporation effectively donated a billion Pula toward setting up a brief case company from the orient in business amid cries of “wolf” from people with only a modicum of common sense.
Whilst it was clear to every individual Motswana that with shoddy “infestors” piggybacking on that corporation’s chuckleheaded goodwill the venture in question was doomed to fail, the corporation embraced the infestors with the vow “till death do us part”, an undertaking which was so spectacularly fulfilled and in record time!
It was the stuff of Cloudy Cuckoo Land, where every fancy, fantasy or whim is attainable, except in the corporation’s case, and by extension our case as a nation, the fantasy boomeranged horrendously, without a single head having to roll oddly enough.
SINGAPORE WAS HEADED FOR THE ABYSS…
As all the shindigs and musical soirees were ringing round, I was one of those who refrained from twisting my decrepit frame into knots: after all, it is not as supple as it once was, when in my teen age it housed the maestro dancer for miles around in my native Kweneng.
Rather than get carried away with the hysteria of the occasion, I trained my thoughts on how short we had fallen in registering economic milestones proportional to an economy of our prowess.
My frame of reference were the so-called Tiger Economies of East Asia, most notably Singapore, which having turned 50 in August last year is a virtual agemate of Botswana but which is now light years ahead economically.
If you were to time-travel back to the Singapore of the 60s, you would be amazed at how economically backward the country was: your eyes would practically pop out of their sockets in disbelief. Its economic situation was by far direr than that of contemporary Botswana. Botswana at least had cattle, a huge swathe of territory with barely explored potentialities, and for those in the know a crust with breathtakingly promising mineral wealth.
Singapore on the other hand was without a single one natural endowment that made for a viable country. It was a mud-flat swamp, its only tangible claim to sovereignty being a pint-sized 700 km2 of real estate, 1/800th Botswana’s size. This “tiny red dot” on the map was a slum country, with two-thirds of the population living in shacks and squatter, refugee-like camps.
The only employment there was for its 2 million inhabitants was a flourishing entreport trade at the mouth of the Malacca Straits, on the shipping lanes between Britain, India and China, and a British military outpost that employed 70,000 people.
It was filthy, crowded, and hopeless. Water was so acutely scarce it was, and still is, defined as a precious resource, having to be imported from neighbouring Malaysia.
To quote Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s case was of “a journey along an unmarked road on an unknown destination”.
… NOW THE LION CITY-STATE HAS SOARED BEYOND REACH
Today, Singapore is a First World country whilst Botswana remains very much part and parcel of that vast, godforsaken wasteland known as the Third World, by all appearances in perpetuity. It is a gleaming global hub of trade, finance, manufacturing, and transportation (for a detailed exposition on the subject, I refer you to Chapter 16 of Delusions of Grandeur Vol. 2).
Singapore is the third richest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita, after Qatar and Luxembourg. Its reserves stand at over $300 billion. Inflation is only 1 percent and at 1.9 percent unemployment (contrast that with Botswana’s official 20 percent, though in truth probably double that) verges on zero as any citizen who wants to work can find a job without breaking a sweat.
The country is said to be the “least miserable” in the world, which simply means it enjoys the highest quality of life.
As of 2015, it had 142,000 millionaires and 28 billionaire out of a population of 5.5 million. That translates to one millionaire (in US dollar terms folks: not in Pula terms) for every six Singaporeans you brush past in a wayside bustle.
Only Switzerland, Bahrain, and Qatar have more millionaires per capita. Singapore also has the highest home ownership in the world, with 90 percent of residents living in dwellings they own in a concrete jungle of tower blocks mainly as land comes at a premium in the byte-sized country.
Singapore’s stunning economic transformation, a miracle proper as opposed to the dubious miracle we’re hyped as by shallow-minded Western imbongis, took place in a single generation. In fact, for 30 straight years – irony of ironies – Botswana’s rate of economic growth outpaced Singapore by a significant 2 percent.
In statistical terms, our economy grew at a gallop folks, whereas that of Singapore did so at a canter. Our economy raced at a whizzing Usain Bolt-pace; that of Singapore did so at a comparatively low-key, Justin Gatlin-like tempo. But look at the gulf in our fortunes today: it is of Grand Canyon proportions.
Singapore has become a paradise it could take Botswana multiple incarnations to attain given our now one-step-forward, two-steps-backwards economic locomotion.
OF THE DIAMANTINE CURSE AND MORE
What did Botswana omit to do that Singapore did with a flourish?
First, we were our own self-inflicted victim of what I have called the Diamantine Curse in Chapter 6 of Delusions of Grandeur Vol. 1. The proceeds from diamonds were such a deluge we suffered a brain fade. They disorientated us from seriously contemplating alternative engines of economic growth.
In diamonds, we had a hot-cake commodity that was not only bankable but abounded in the soil we trod upon. We took as gospel truth the clearly mendacious De Beers’ tagline, “Diamonds Are Forever”, which totally blindfolded us and scrambled our sense of foresight.
On the other hand, Singapore from the get-go sought to create a modern economy, a utopia if you will, using labour-intensive manufacturing as a springboard and conveyer belt to more skill-intensive manufacturing, and finally to a lead player in the global knowledge economy, with emphasis on more research- and innovation-intensive industry, not to mention being a pulsating financial nerve centre of East Asia.
Second, we were stalled by a congenital handicap I would call the Neighbourhood Principle. Fate had placed us in the same geographical locus as countries whose economies were almost wholly resource-driven.
Without models or archetypes in our vicinity, we strained to incubate alternative means of propelling our economy forward. Maybe South Africa was a shade different in that it was a fairly diversified economy but it’s very proximity exacerbated our sense of complacence: since we had a surfeit of diamond dollars and could buy whatever we wanted next door just by the flick of a finger, our mindset became one of, “why rush into broad-basing our economy when Big Brother can supply all our needs and we can afford them to boot?”
We even changed our agricultural policy, on the advice of the economic fundis at the exchequer, from self-sufficiency to food security as we had the pocket power to splurge on every produce imaginable from a leBuru’s farm across the Limpopo.
In other words, we lacked ambition, initiative, and finesse, whereas Singapore from the very outset determined to transcend its regional peers and be on par with the more sophisticated and accomplished economies of the Western world.
Third, we were not keen on beneficiating our mineral resources when that is where real wealth-creation stems from. For example, De Beers kept pouring cold water on intimations on the part of our leaders to set up a slew of cutting and polishing firms, the reason obviously being that that would have an adverse impact on the economy of Israel, the ancestral home of the Oppenheimers.
Israel does not produce a single gemstone but it can export up to $7 billion worth of polished diamonds in only one year.
Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore who ruled the country for 30 years, was wiser. He made, perfected, and virtually patented the art of “re-exportation”, whereby Singapore imported potentially lucrative raw materials of every sort, refined them or re-processed them and then re-exported them.
Up to 50 percent of Singapore’s exports are re-exports, making it the 14th largest exporter in the world ($346.8 billion in 2015 alone). Indeed, last year, Singapore exported $6.7 billion worth of precious metals it doesn’t mine (the third-highest export) and $43.8 billion worth of oil it doesn’t produce (the tenth major export).
Singapore means “Lion City”. Whoever coined that name was prescient. The city-state has all the hallmarks of an economic King of Beasts. Botswana, meanwhile, remains no more than a paper tiger and that is putting it politely.
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.
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.
“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.