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Was Bot-50 Showboating Warranted?

David Magang    
VIEW FROM MANA HOUSE  
 
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.

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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