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The Wretched of the Republic: Students, Youths, Workers and Election Oblivion

Teedzani Thapelo


Institute of International Education Fellowship Award Winner, and runner up national poet to the 2016 Share Botswana Tourism Fiction Award, Teedzani Thapelo*, argues that by sheer force of numbers and the level of political commitment students, youths and workers will determine who wins elections in 2019. He cautions if their decision is going to do Botswana any good they must root for proper and most efficient guardians of the republic, and they must ignore what politicians say, go with what they see, what they experience and what they fear most. They must learn to judge and punish politicians, and in their struggle for national renewal they must take no prisoners.


The avid reader will immediately note the first part of the article is borrowed from two great classics; Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and The Wretched of the Earth by Martinique revolutionary prophet and dialectician, Frantz Fanon. The French connection is obvious, and the political symbolism no less important and the story might have ended there; for here I am writing about Botswana.

It occurred to me though after reading Hugo’s 1269 pages 2012 Canterbury Classics edition for the third time, alongside Fanon; my 1961 penguin edition is prefaced by French existential philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. How appropriate. How fitting. The Botswana we live in today evokes powerful memories of all the characters, episodes, incidents and major themes that inform these works by Hugo, one of the finest French poets and novelists, Fanon, a medical doctor turned revolutionary, and Sartre, a Nobel Award winning dramatist, philosopher, and writer; he refused to accept the Nobel Prize on moral and political grounds. Such scholars are rare. They certainly don’t exist in Botswana.

But all apprehended our human condition with such fierce an intellectual grasp, with such frightening spiritual contemplation, one could be forgiven to think they already knew what would happen to us, what would happen to our country, what would happen to our lives, what would happen to our children, and what would happen to our future. Scholarship does not reach more universalism than this.


To say our lives are miserable is to state the obvious. So many Batswana just don’t bother to think about our condition, and declining circumstances. I have been following the growth of our political literature this past couple of months with great interest. Everybody knows what is happening to students in this country. Everybody knows what is happening to the youth in this country. Everybody knows what is happening to workers in this country.

All of us, excluding BDP of course, know these things very well. What surprises me is in our writings we seem to pay too much attention to the electoral fortunes of political parties, and we seem not to notice who really counts in the coming elections; voters. I am guilty of this omission myself, and I apologise. Look at things this way. The 35 000 students who wrote form five last year will be voting in 2019, and so the more than 40 000 who sat for form three exams.

All form five leavers for the past three years and next three years will vote in 2019, and so a considerable number of those who fall off at form three. Our unemployed youth number somewhere in hundreds of thousands. Government alone employs more than 140 000 workers, and thousands work in the private sector or for themselves. We are talking here altogether about almost 400 000, and perhaps more people, and BDP does not notice these people; it cares not for them, it scorns their expectations, undermines their efforts at mere survival, derides their complaints and concerns, ignores their pleas for help, despises their political opinions, laughs at their lamentations, impugns their sorrows, and censure their demands for justice, freedom and happiness; and all these people are going to vote come 2019.


In the last election only about 600 000 Batswana registered to vote and not all of them cast their vote. Of those who voted more than half the number went with the opposition. As I write official statistics indicate a fifth of our population, that is about 420 000 people, are roaming the streets looking for jobs, more are on temporary and insecure employment, and more than 30 000 college and university graduates join the unemployment lines every year; and our population stands at only 2000 000. 

We know this excludes thousands of discouraged workers who are now alcohol and drug addicts, prisoners who are victims of this catastrophic social landscape, structurally unemployable Batswana who have been rejected by our small and inflexible labour market thanks to wayward economic policies and workers who though still willing to work are now so deskilled, illiterate even (most of these are young mothers who dropped out of school, single mothers, and housewives) they feel ashamed to even apply for any jobs and are quietly wasting away in the animal jungles of our towns and cities or waiting for death in bucolic villages and settlements, some of which BDP only recall when it wants their votes.

What is happening to Batswana is a sombre nightmare that would make even black hearts bleed. But at BDP they sleep easy in comfort and debauchery, laughing at us all. Yet these appalling statistics are actually a language, and they speak a lot. What does this tell us? What is the meaning of these numbers?


One obvious thing BDP has no mandate to rule this country. The numbers clearly show the opposition won in the last election but BDP stayed in office because our electoral system is rigged in favour of the political establishment. Second, and more significant for the coming elections, Batswana are obviously beginning to ask themselves serious questions about the direction things are taking in their country. Yes, there certainly is change in political temperament and temperature in this country.

 

People are worried about their lives, and livelihoods, about their declining fortunes, the absence of opportunities in life, the bleak, humdrum, and drudgery of everyday existence, the meaningless routine of monotonous life with its endless troubles, the boredom of BTV, the rude pretentiousness of BDP politicians; there really is nothing exciting about life in this country anymore. Every day that the sun rises in this country all human potential goes to waste. We really are no different from people who live in a war zone.

 

Under such conditions people ask themselves: who am I? What am I doing here? What is the meaning of my life? Where am I going? What will happen to me if things continue this way? What will happen to my life? What will happen to my children? What will happen to my country? Will I too end up without a life like so many unemployed people? Will I too end up without a country like so many refugees? Will I start aging at the age of twenty? Will I ever be truly free and independent? Will I ever own anything that is truly mine, earned through my own labour and intelligence? Do I count for anything in this life? Do I count for anything in this country?


Our poor and brutalized students, our unemployed youths who face shame and humiliation at every turn of life and our workers who earn, and live on peanuts, ask themselves such questions every day, and only one thing can bring a semblance of response to their agitated minds; the voting hour, the voting day. It is on this day that many people try to square their miserable fate and chose a better and more meaningful path into the future. In that hour, on that fateful day, Batswana must judge for themselves what needs to be done.

2019 gives every voter the right, and might, to make that most fundamental decision in their life: who is going to direct my future? Who is going to manage my public affairs? Who is going to be guardian of the fate and destiny of my nation, my republic, and fellow citizens? It is the most important day in our life, and in the coming election the decision made by our students, youths and workers is going to bind us all and redirect the fate and fortunes of all citizens.

 

But in making this decision, I do think, it is critical they consider in detail how much more risk they are prepared to take with their lives. How much more they are prepared to lose in terms of the great possibilities of life offered by modern society, possibilities and opportunities that fail to reach many because of bad politics, bad policies and indifferent officialdom.

 

Is our economy competing well? Do we possess accurate information about the state of the nation? Is the country prepared to deal with the risks and crisis of today? Are we investing enough in the education and health of the nation? Do Batswana have confidence in their economy? Do they have confidence in the BDP? Are we comfortable with the rising level of the national debt?

 

Do Batswana have good and secure jobs? Are the incomes of workers rising? Are we comfortable with our standards of living? Is enough being done to protect the environment and rural livelihoods? Is BDP promoting the best use of our natural resources? Is the use of our natural resources sustainable? What is the best way of building strong resilience in terms of managing the economy?

 

Does the BDP understand the facts, risks, and uncertainties of managing the economy in a rapidly globalising and fervently unpredictable world? Are BDP public policies informed by good choices? Are BDP policy instruments agile and adaptable enough to respond to the management of serious risks and crisis in modern society?

Are Batswana comfortable with BDP philosophy of fast-fail projects that put us top of the flops in policy sciences; BDC, BMC, Air Botswana, BCL, what next? Are these people really capable of making economics work in this country? Do they care about the welfare of Batswana? Do they care about the future of this country? Can Botswana ever be a safe, efficient and sustainable economy under the watch of BDP?

 

Can we ever develop effective speed for responding to fast-changing circumstances and learn to create opportunities from the crisis that befall us so frequently? Can we ever be a dynamic, entrepreneurial nation that creates good, secure jobs, with rising incomes? Can BDP ever manage to envision, enable and engage Batswana so they can fully participate in public life as moral citizens determined to recapture and redefine their future lives and the destiny of the nation? Does the country have a clear plan to match into the world of tomorrow confident, prosperous and secure in the knowledge we can even go further and surpass our own expectations?


Questions like these make people to sit up and think, and it really would be a good thing if Batswana could think this way before they cast their vote. Look at your country. Look at your own life. Look at the lives of your children, the lives of friends, family members and the state of your community. Consider your own future.

 

Consider the future of your country, the future Botswana that is going to be the home of your grandchildren and their own children, and ask yourself; is enough being done to protect all these people, to secure and protect the world of tomorrow? If the answer is no, then forget about BDP. Don’t vote on the basis of what politicians tell you, what they promise.

 

Worse, don’t even bother about what they claim to have done for you in the past; they got paid for that, and always remember you too do your bit in your own small way to build this country every day. Accomplishments of the past belong to us all. We all take credit for that. What is important is to look at missed opportunities, and ask yourself; but why? Why don’t we have six cities the size of Johannesburg that could be employing our children today as per the gigantic diamond wealth that disappeared into thin air?

 

The best way to think about the future is to look ahead, not to think about the past; the past belongs to another country, and it becomes foreign and irrelevant the older you get, and the more troubles you have to deal with just to cope. But remember crimes of the past can still ruin the future. So never forgive political actions that ruin the future of your country.


In short before you cast your vote you really have to give yourself time to think things out on your own. Writing this article right now, thinking the way I do, I too am still thinking about how I am going to vote in 2019. Voting is a terribly serious decision; just like thinking of getting married. Don’t rash things. Think hard and then vote in the knowledge you are really doing the right thing at the right time for yourself and your country.

 

Voting is key to social innovation. A radical transformation of political direction overnight in a small country like Botswana can have a strong bearing on how things are done in government. If we are to succeed in solving social and economic problems we must first understand that this is best done through social learning, and politics is a learning process. Politically active citizens always find solutions for the problems they face.

 

The best politics encourages mutual learning and a dialogue of trusting relationships between people. Social movements and loose coalitions in communities are always strong forces in the struggle for structural change. In America, for instance, political parties always encourage voters to recruit each other on voting day.

 

If you support a certain political party they always ask you to invite no less than ten friends and family members to accompany you to the polling station on voting day and make sure they vote the party that you support. If a school PTA committee, for example, is angry about the way educational issues are being handled at their local school they are encouraged to canvas and vote out the local council authorities. If the sheriff is incompetent an entire community can vote him out of office. Rooting for your party as a local activist is very important even if you are not running for office yourself.


People in government fear genuine grassroots politics because it is the most effective way of destroying corrupt and incompetent political administrations. Politicized public life requires a community that is active, that exercises some control over the conditions of its livelihood, and that can hold the state accountable. It is the best way of making a direct contribution towards the transformation of the structures of political governance. It is through such struggles that people engage in the social production of their lives.

 

It is not enough that people remain consumers at the end of a delivery process as it happens in Botswana every day. BDP is teaching Batswana very bad politics. In a true democracy power, politics and participation reside with the people in living and vibrant communities, communities with strong voices. In a true democracy people learn about themselves and about the material conditions of their lives through doing, through hard work and personal sacrifices. In a true democracy public policy is a process of public learning, a means of finding ways of improving the capacities and opportunities of people, a means of doing a better job of ameliorating the human condition.


It is time Batswana learned these things. It is time Batswana learnt the real value of politics. Politics is supposed to encourage and support people in solving their own problems, and not giving them food parcels and blankets. The job of a government is to make the laws of a country, make the economy work, grow, create jobs, expand the tax base and regulate all public conduct; working together with law courts, security personnel and communities and citizens.

 

A government that fails to do these things must immediately be kicked out of office. Voting day is a day of output judgements of political conduct. On voting day citizens sit the bench as judges over politicians. It is the day voters decide if rhetoric matches up with reality, a reality that they themselves understand well. It is a day of reckoning, a day of self-public assessment. It is not just a ritual. On voting day citizens directly measure the value of their participation in the political process by grading the quality of public policies, public servants, political parties and the political process itself through the casting of their vote.

 

Many questions are asked and answered by each voter on that day; has the economy been growing, do people have jobs, are workers and households making more money, do all people live well, are the lives of citizens safe, do children get good quality education, are hospitals doing well, is the use of the environment and natural resources done well, is there justice for all in society, are there thieves in government, is everybody paying taxes as they should, is the country’s money used well for the benefit of all in society, is the future of the country in safe hands?  


In other words, has the policy process improved, solved problems or made things worse? Has the ruling party delivered on its mandate as governor and have they fulfilled their promises as custodians of public goods? If the answer is no, vote the party out of office. Replace them with another party. It is as simple as that. This is how things are done in every country. Why should we do things differently in Botswana? People must always remember they can only reward good political behaviour.

 

If politicians are nasty, arrogant, and stupid rascals use your vote to kick them out. If they steal, benefit only their friends and relatives, use your vote to kick them out. If they treat you like dirt vote them out. If they are too old to do things well kick them out. If they are out of touch with reality kick them out. There is no point in keeping a politician who is not civil and considerate in office. Such people will always sit on your rights and expectations. Always watch what a political party is doing and judge the things they do. This will always tell you a great deal about politicians and the way things are going in country. The one mistake we do is to forgive bad behaviour in politics. Never do that.

 

Everything that happens in politics is done wilfully and deliberately. Punish a political party for every bad thing it does. Discipline politicians the way you discipline naughty children. If they steal a penny from the treasury send them to jail and then vote their political party from office. Never allow them to explain bad behaviour. They will never tell you the truth, and they always laugh behind your back. Naughty children. Don’t forget that. Political parties have important impact on public policy. Voting a different party into office means you are choosing new values, beliefs, and expectations.

 

It means you are looking for a different way of solving problems, a different way of doing things, a different way of going into the future. Voting the same political party into office again is a different thing altogether. It means you remain stuck with the same politicians, the same policies, the same rhetoric, the same values, the same everything, and worse the same gravity of domestic and global risks and threats to the national economy and the environment.

 

There are always severe limitations on what such a party can do to change or improve anything in public life; the same commitments of the past, the same policies and attitudes, the same interests, the same sense of purpose. If they hate a particular person or community they will keep on hating and harassing those people, if they love foreigners and despise their own people they will continue favouring foreigners over Batswana, if they enjoy stealing public money they will continue doing the same thing and if they have no respect for the laws of the country and no respect for judges of the high court they will keep on doing as they like.


In short there is no incentive for a political party that has been returned to political office to change things around. People are always comfortable with things as they are if they live well. If you vote for BDP again, for example, don’t expect them to stop dinning with Indians, watching birds with white foreigners and dancing polka at Khawa village while BCL group of companies are crushing to the ground leaving close on 60 000 Batswana facing ruined livelihoods and ever greater threats of death from hunger and diseases like HIV/AIDs.

 

Political parties are terribly important to policy and outcomes. Batswana must understand the simple fact that in times of difficulties the need for movement is more than just important; it is critical. If you want things to start moving, if you thirst for change, vote for a different political party. A new political administration can have an impact on economic policy, it can remove a lot of constraints that act against economic growth, find better and different markets for local products, start working with all Batswana and not just a bunch of well entrenched foreigners, fight corruption in public life, direct public expenditure to the most deserving sectors of the economy, create better jobs, raise incomes and forge a new direction in national life and public expectations; giving every citizen new hope and ambition to succeed in life.


Never underestimate the number and quality of things a new political administration can do. As they say in policy sciences a new party in power stimulates a Moving Consensus in which the need for movement to deal with problems is as important as consensus. A new party in office also promotes a new re-assessment of democracy by citizens in the new faces in politics, and new entrants into office are usually more approachable to ordinary people, and more eager to help.

 

They also want change like you and they are more likely to work better with you to start doing things properly. They bring a breath of fresh air in public life. They are more likely to distribute resources in a more equitable way, especially in areas of public expenditure and more importantly only a new party can terminate unpopular public policies and introduce radically new development programmes.


As things stand right now BDP has no working policies at all. Their daily political behaviour is reactive; concerned only with getting out of difficulties and crisis, things which they do not even understand. Is it proper to govern a country in this way? Public policy cannot operate by escape seeking. It must be based on potential possibilities of success. So what is it going to be?


Students, youth and workers, the future of this greatly troubled country is in your hands. What direction must we take? What future must we envision and pursue? Who will be the leaders of Tomorrow? To answer these questions properly and sufficiently on voting day keep your eyes on all the things going on around you, the things happening in your life, the things happening to your life, and if you really do that well then this great nation has nothing to fear.


We shall survive. There will be another tomorrow, and in the brave new world our children will thrive and live well.


Novelist, poet and historian, Teedzani Thapelo*, is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science and the School of Oriental and Africa Studies, University of London. He is author of Seasons of Thunder, and the forthcoming books; Battle Against the Botswana Democratic Party: the beginning of the point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, and Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe.

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Internet Connectivity in Botswana: Time to Narrow Digital Divide

19th October 2020
Elon Musk

On Friday October 9, 2020, President Masisi officiated at a function that most appositely spoke to his passion and desire to kick-start the crystallisation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or 4IR in short, in Botswana. In his keynote speech, the President hailed the partnership between Gaborone City Council and BoFiNet to launch free Internet access of one-hour duration daily in selected “Wi-Fi Hotspots” across the city for all and sundry.

The pilot project has actually been years in the making, having been initiated in April 2014, when the BOCRA-supported Universal Access and Service Fund (UASF) was established. UASF levies 1 percent on the gross annual turnover of flourishing ICT outfits and is now using this to subsidise the Internet access price in the Hotspots of Gaborone, which are to be found at shopping malls, bus stations, hospitals, and airports in the main. The facility, which is provided courtesy of the BoFiNet Wi-Fi infrastructure, will in the fullness of time be rolled out in Kasane, Maun, Francistown, Palapye, Serowe, and Mahalapye too. As of the end of 2019, UASF collections totalled P43.2 million according to BOCRA’s latest Annual Report.

A point President Masisi underscored at the launch was the imperative that “all citizens have access to the Internet so that the ideal of leaving no one behind as envisioned by the sustainable development goals is realised”. It also exhilarated me that the President underlined that “innovation and creativity will be the bedrock of economic diversification in our country”, a priority I besought government to pursue with impassioned as opposed to rhetorical resolve in one of my earlier articles under this very column.

Certainly, Pillars 1 and 2 of the only minimally accomplished Vision 2016 goals envisaged, amongst other things, an informed and innovative Botswana. With the Wi-Fi Hotspot dispensation now upon us, are we on course to deliver on this sooner rather than later?

FREE INTERNET COULD FULFIL MEGA DREAMS FOR THE CITIZENRY

Granted, one hour of free Internet per day is not that bad as a starting point, but it is a drop in the ocean when juxtaposed with the larger global picture, whereby some countries, which include the industrialised West, the Scandinavian countries, and the Baltic states of Lithuania and Estonia, offer qualitative public Internet service free of charge all-day long. In Finland for one, broadband (high-speed Internet access) has been a legal right since 2010. In other words, if a citizen for one reason or the other does not have the opportunity to surf the web, he or she can sue the state for redress.

For the impecunious individual who wishes to do meaningful and comprehensive research, however, one hour can be very limiting. To just give one example, it takes me up to two full days to gather material for a single one instalment of the contents of this column, of which Internet-sourced data is key. This is because not every bit of worthwhile information is available at just one click of the mouse. In some cases, the requisite information is simply not available at all and by the time that dawns on you, a full day will have gone by.

There is also the question of whether the Hotspots are amply equipped with desktops, let along being sizeable enough, to cater to the stampede of the city residents who will want to be one of the earliest birds to catch the worm given that access is certain to be on a first-come-first-served basis. An Internet Hall under the auspices of government would serve the purpose best, with the unused Orapa House as a possible venue proposition.

As for nationwide and limitless free Internet access, we still have a long way to go being a Third World country but the earlier we get there, the greater the rewards we reap in the long-term. Google, Facebook, Twitter, to mention only a few, are today multi-billion operations thanks to the added benediction of the Internet epoch. Years back, Elon Musk and five others started PayPal – a means of sending money, making an online payment, and receiving money – using the Internet medium. In 2002, E-Bay acquired PayPal for an eye-popping $1.5 billon, with Musk personally garnering $165 million. As I write, Musk is the 6th richest person on Earth, with a net worth of $82.3 billion.

It is the ready platform of the Internet that helped catapult him to the dizzying pecuniary heights he has since scaled.  We will probably never be able to mint a dot.com-facilitated dollar billionaire in Botswana, but even mere Pula millionaires or part-millionaires can do as half a loaf is better than nothing. If Internet was freely available to every citizen, such chances would be greatly enhanced.

WE LIVE OUR LIVES ONLINE

In the past, Internet connectivity may have been a luxury but the advent of COVID-19 has made it an essential component of the new normal – a lifeline. Students have had to receive lessons online amid stop-go lockdowns of huge swathes of a country. Executives have had no option but to network or collectively liaise using teleconferencing or by way of Skype. Telemedicine, or caring for and consulting with patients remotely, has become the order of the day, especially in the developed world. We have seen live-streamed religious services and of course some people have been working from home.

Even before COVID-19 struck, we were routinely conversationally engaging with family and friends on social media platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp. Some of our monthly transactions, like telephone bill settlements and DStv subscriptions, were effected online. Needless to say, we have literally been living our lives online. Electronic transacting in any case, whether by mobile phones or via the web, substantially curtail queuing time at banks and precious other pay points anywhere, gets people to spend more time in the workplace than out of it, and therefore boosts productivity as personal errands to do a thing or two are notorious for eating into invaluable man-hours.

There’s also government’s espoused vision of having Botswana transformed into a knowledge-based economy. Without universal access to the Internet, this aspiration will remain a pipe-dream. Knowledge certainly is power, whether this be political, economic, or scientific. Botswana will never come to be anywhere near the economic might of Singapore or the technological feats of South Korea if it relegates knowledge attainment to the back burner of its core aspirations. An Old Testament prophet was spot-on when speaking on behalf of his god Yahweh lamented that “my children perish for lack of knowledge”, HOSEA 4:6.

The paradox is that the digital divide both on the continent of Africa and in Botswana is as glaring as ever. Only four out of ten people in Africa have Internet access and according to the global business data platform Statista, which has insights and facts about 170 industries and more than 150 countries, Botswana has an Internet penetration of only 47.5 percent. It lags 20 other countries on the continent, who include Kenya (the continental leader at 87.5 percent); Mauritius (67 percent); Nigeria (61.2 percent); Swaziland (57.3 percent); Zimbabwe (56.5 percent); South Africa (55 percent); and Zambia (53.7 percent).

A study by the Mc Kinsey Global Institute postulates that if Internet use proliferates in Africa at the rate mobile phones did in the early 2000s, the continent stands to add as much as $300 billion to its economic growth by 2025. The World Bank also says achieving universal, affordable, and good quality Internet access in Africa by 2030 will require an investment of $100 billion. In Botswana, the National Broadband Strategy (NBS) aims to achieve universal broadband by 2023. It is aligned to BOCRA’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan, whose main goal is to deliver the NBS aims at an affordable price tab. Is the time frame realistic?

THE PRICE OF AN ARM AND A LEG!

For universal Internet access to be tenable, first both the access and the medium of access have to be affordable to every literate person out there. Sadly in Botswana, smart phones, which allow for Internet access anywhere where there is a cellular network, do not come cheap. The asking price at the very least is upwards of a thousand Pula. That is a prohibitive price for the greater majority of our population who struggle to eke out a living just to keep body and soul together. The likes of BOCRA and BoFiNet should help out here by subsidising the price of these devices, at least for a period of time till economies of scale result in a natural reduction of the price.

As for the going price of Internet access in Botswana presently, a study of 228 countries earlier this year by cable.co.uk found that Botswana was among the 14 most expensive countries in this regard. I can attest to this myself as I have to fork out a minimum of about P400 a month to enable me the use of the Internet without any hiccup save for the sporadic network downage or the now endemic power outages. To many a people, P400 a month amounts to the proverbial cost of an arm and a leg as it constitutes a substantial proportion of average monthly income. In countries such as Egypt and Mauritius, one can have Internet use every day of the week at any time of the day for only 0.5 percent and 0.59 percent of average monthly income.

In a bid to ameliorate the prohibitive Internet access price in our country, the University of Botswana was forced to shell out a whopping P7.8 million to provide the student populace with free SIM cards to enable them download teaching material under the restrictive COVID-19 climate. Botho University also entered into an arrangement with Orange whereby their students could have online access to learning materials and teaching instruction at only P2 a day, P10 a week, or P30 a month, though data was capped at 200 megabytes a day. Both these initiatives by two of the country’s premier institutions of higher education must be lauded.

If the cost of mobile broadband data has to organically come down drastically, it is essential that we move from a consolidated market – the triopoly of Mascom (with 51 percent market dominance), Orange (34 percent), and Be-Mobile (15 percent) we have in Botswana – to a multi-operator market. In its latest annual report, BOCRA reports that in 2018, the three operators had combined revenues of P4.4 billion and combined profits of P826 million. One wonders why this rather brisk bottom line does not translate to a proportionate paring down of the consumer price or does it have to do with the fact that the operators’ greed knows no bounds?

BOTSWANA NEAR TAIL-END OF GLOBAL BROADBAND SPEED LEAGUE

If the truth may be told, Internet speed in Botswana is no longer as glacially slow as it was a year or two back. That does not mean it is lightning swift. In fact, it is among the slowest both on the globe and on the African continent.  At the download average of 1.92 megabytes per second (mbps), Botswana ranks 165th in the world and is 22nd in Africa according to statistics furnished by cable.co.uk. Our case is all the more stigmatic as we trail even comparatively poorer countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Sudan.

Taiwan has the fastest Internet in the world at 85.02 mbps, followed by Singapore at 70.86 mbps. Whereas it would take 22 hours for one to download a 5 gigabyte movie in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, the worst-ranked African country, and 6 hours for Botswana, it would take only 8 minutes in Taiwan.  In Africa, it is not South Africa (8.4 mbps, 75th in the world), the wealthiest country, which leads the pack. It is Madagascar at 22.57 mbps (33rd globally). This is one of the poorest countries on Earth, with four out of every four citizens living on less than $2 a day.

Botswana in fact is way below the minimum speed of 10 mbps required for consumers to fully participate in a digital society according to tech experts. I need not emphasise that time is money. It is time BOCRA and BoFiNet saw to it that we pulled up our socks in broadband speed to serve on trawling time. Regrettably, in Botswana things move very slowly and it will probably be another ten years or so before we come to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Madagascar. As for ever catching up with Taiwan, well, the less said the better.

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The Babylonian Captivity Ploy

19th October 2020

Nebuchadnezzar has the Jews exiled to his own domain to sabotage Jerusalem’s prospects of hosting King Anu, “Our Heavenly Father”

In 590 BC, General Atiku, King Zedekiah decided he would no longer be the puppet of Babylon. Just like Nebuchadnezzar, he wanted to be in full and unmitigated control of the Holy City in the event King Anu pitched. But he was under no illusion he could throw off the yoke of Babylon singlehandedly. So in the fourth year of his reign he – once again against the advice of the far-sighted prophet Jeremiah – joined a coalition that was being formed by Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon resist Nebuchadnezzar.

Upon getting wind of the rumours of this scheme, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Zedekiah to Babylon to administer to him a warn and caution statement but it seemed he took no heed. The following year, Nebuchadnezzar decided to pounce: he captured all the cities of Judah except three, one of which was Jerusalem and which he proceeded to besiege for the third time.

Finding himself in dire straits, General, Zedekiah made an alliance with Pharaoh Apries of Egypt and indeed the latter rushed to reinforce him. In the ensuing lull in hostilities, Nebuchadnezzar pulled a stunt by lifting the siege and Apries withdrew. No sooner had Apries done so than Nebuchadnezzar hemmed in on Jerusalem once again: Zedekiah was on his own. Jerusalem was under siege from January 587 to July 586 BC. The following, General, are the circumstances and aftermath of the siege according to one chronicler:

“Conditions in the city became increasingly desperate. Although the people had had time to prepare, their food supplies eventually began to run out. Cannibalism became a grim reality. Despite Jeremiah’s counsel to surrender, the King refused to do so and just as the last of the food in the city was exhausted the Babylonians broke through the wall.

“Zedekiah fled with remains of his army, but was overtaken and captured near Jericho. From there, he was brought before Nebuchadnezzar at his field headquarters at Riblah, his sons were executed in front of him, and he was blinded. From there, he was taken in chains to Babylon. The key members of his cabinet were executed before Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah shortly afterwards.

“A large part of the population of Jerusalem was put to the sword and everything of value plundered. The bronze articles from the Temple were cut up and removed and the building together with the palace and the important houses were set on fire.  “In order to ensure that the city would never rebel against him again, Nebuzaradan, the commander of the Imperial Guard, ordered that the walls be demolished. All who survived in the city were carried off into exile in Babylon, with the exception of the very poor of the land.

The starving population exchanged whatever riches they had left for food, its leadership and priesthood were gone and the Temple burnt. The Babylonians soldiers oppressed the survivors and forced them to work for their food.” The remnant of poor people that were spared, General, were meant to serve as farmers and wine dressers. These people had previously been landless peasants and presented the least risk to the Babylonians, but were required to work the land to prevent the fields falling into disuse.

WOULD KING ANU CONDONE NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S ACT?

Nebuchadnezzar was not the first King to deport a people from their own country, General. The pace was actually set by the Assyrian King Adad Nirari I (c. 1307-1275 BC), who thought the best way to prevent any future uprising was to remove the occupants of the land and replace them with Assyrians. But Nebuchadnezzar, General, had an ulterior motive for the deportations, which only the “Illuminati” of the day were privy to. He wanted to make Jerusalem desolate and decrepit so that when King Anu arrived, he would avoid it like the plague and instead focus on the glittering Babylon.

His aim was to kill off entirely the competition posed by Jerusalem. Says Zechariah Sitchin: “The expectation, it seems, was that the arriving god (Anu) of the Winged Disk (symbol for planet Nibiru) would come down at the Landing Place (Baalbek) in Lebanon, then consummate the Return by entering Babylon through the new marvelous Processional Way and imposing Ishtar Gate.”  But in the event that he indeed pitched, would the pro-Enlilite Anu take kindly to being deflected to a city (Babylon) other than Jerusalem when it had been specifically designated for his ultimate hosting on the planet by virtue of its geometrical centrality?

Having taken over Nippur’s prediluvial role to serve as Mission Control Center after the Deluge, Jerusalem was located at the center of concentric distances to the other space-related sites. Aptly calling it the “Navel of the Earth” (EZEKIEL 38:12), the prophet Ezekiel had announced that Jerusalem had been chosen for this role by God himself. “Thus has said the Lord Yahweh: ‘This is Jerusalem; in the midst of the nations I placed her, and all the lands are in a circle round about her,” EZEKIEL 5:5. “Determined to usurp that role for Babylon,” Sitchin further notes, “Nebuchadnezzar led his troops to the elusive prize and in 598 BC captured Jerusalem.”

CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE EXILE SITUATION

Altogether, General, the Babylonian captivity – the deportation of the Nation of Israel to Babylon – spanned 70 years counting from the first deportation of 598/597 BC.  Meanwhile, Judah was renamed Yehud Province by the Babylonians and a puppet Jewish governor was appointed to administer it. (The post of King was abolished, making Zedekiah [reign: 597-586 BC] the last substantive linear King of the Jews.) His name was Gedalia, whose father had been an advisor to King Josiah (reign: 640-609 BC).

Gedalia set up his capital not in Jerusalem but in Mizpah. That, plus the fact that he didn’t have a drop of Davidic blood in him, made him a marked man to Jewish nationalists and traditionalists from the word go. Not long after his appointment, Gedalia was assassinated by a family member of the deposed king Zedekiah. From that point on, General, no Jewish governor was installed until after the end of the Babylonian captivity.

Exactly what were the circumstances of the deportees, General? The image that immediately comes to mind is that of a concentration camp kind of setting reminiscent of the Jewish people’s fate at the hands of Nazi Germany. That, General, is a gross misconception. In Babylon, the Jews enjoyed every privilege, including citizenship if they so desired. They were not enslaved or in bondage of any kind. Their own individual abilities were even tapped into to help advance Babylon in one way or the other.

Reading PSALM 137:1–2, the surface impression one gets, General, is that the Jews in Babylon were beset by a most disagreeable set of circumstances. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, sat and wept, as we thought of Zion (Jerusalem). There on the poplars we hung up our lyres.” Well, that was pure nostalgia, which is a natural impulse when a people have been displaced, General. A notable historian presents to us the more accurate picture in the following words:

“The deportees, their labour and their abilities, were extremely valuable to the Babylonian state, and their relocation was carefully planned and organised. We must not imagine treks of destitute fugitives who were easy prey for famine and disease: the deportees were meant to travel as comfortably and safely as possible in order to reach their destination in good physical shape.

Whenever deportations are depicted in Babylonian imperial art, men, women and children are shown travelling in groups, often riding on vehicles or animals and never in bonds … Deportees were carefully chosen for their abilities and sent to regions which could make the most of their talents. Not everyone in the conquered populace was chosen for deportation and families were never separated. Those segments of the population that had actively resisted the Babylonians were killed or sold into slavery, but the general populaces became absorbed into the growing empire and were thought of as Babylonians.”

Another historian has this to say, General: “It is assumed that the Jews had to render labour to the Babylonians, but generally they enjoyed a great deal of freedom. Some of the exiles, like Daniel and his three friends, rose to positions of power within the Royal Court of Babylon and many others became wealthy. Later, during the Persian period Jews like Mordecai, Esther, and Nehemiah all found themselves in key positions in the government and were able to act on behalf of their people because they took Jeremiah’s advice.” Indeed, General, Nehemiah rose to become the cup-bearer of the King, that is, the King’s most trusted official.

The King-in-exile himself, Jeconiah, enjoyed particularly special privilleges both when he was in prison and after his release. Captive kings and high-ranking officials received monthly rations of grain and oil. Archaeological evidence recovered from the Royal palace in Babylon provides support for Jeconiah’s presence there and lists the daily rations set aside for him and the members of his family.

The Bible itself, General, does not shy away from underscoring Jeconiah’s privileged status in Babylon as highlighted in JEREMIAH 52:31-34 thus: “In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jeconiah King of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became King of Babylon, on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, he released Jeconiah King of Judah and freed him from prison. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honour higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jeconiah put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the King’s table. Day by day the King of Babylon gave Jeconiah a regular allowance as long as he lived, till the day of his death.”

 

JEREMIAH PAINTS SORRY PICTURE OF MARDUK’S FATE

The destruction of Solomon’s Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar, General, was according to the Bible the ultimate blasphemy. Ishkur-Adad, the Jehovah under whose auspices the Temple was built, was not in the least bit amused. He straightaway had the prophet Jeremiah step forward and pronounce the comeuppance both on the King and his colossal empire.

Now, biblical prophecies, General, should not be taken at face value. Their fulfillment were documented after the events they purported to foretell had already taken place, not before they happened. Much of the Old Testament corpus was compiled in the 6th century BC, during and after the Babylonian captivity (the Book of Malachi, the last prophet, was written circa 400 BC, and the Book of Daniel was compiled just after 164 BC). So we have to bear that in mind, General, when we read of fulfilled prophecies so that we decide whether to contemplate the story warily or give it the benefit of the doubt.

Jeremiah announced that the destruction of the Temple was going to be avenged by Yahweh (JEREMIAH 50:28). In addition, Adad instructed him to make the following proclamation: “Declare among the nations and proclaim, set up a banner and proclaim, do not conceal it, say: Babylon is taken; withered is Bel; confounded is Merodach … For out of the north a nation has come up against her; it shall make her land a desolation, and no one shall live in it; both human beings and animals shall flee away.” – JEREMIAH 50: 1-3.

Jeremiah, General, made this statement circa 561-60 BC. It can be easily dated because it was in this timespan that Merodach, Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, was on the throne. Jeremiah served notice to the world that Babylon was to be supplanted by a new power from the north, who turned out to be Persia. Jeremiah also spelt out the imminent fate of the Babylonian god Marduk, who was also known as Bel, meaning “The Lord”: he was to “wither”, or cease to be a factor in the affairs of mankind. In the case of Merodach, all Jeremiah said of him was that he was to be “confounded”, that is, so overwhelmed by problems as to lose a sense of focus. One wonders, General, why Jeremiah, if he was the great prophet he was touted to be, didn’t foresee the assassination of Merodach and directly allude to it in his prophecy.

The prophet Daniel says in his waning days, Nebuchadnezzar had his mind taken away and ate grass like an ox. This, General, is a fanciful story which is found only in the Bible and nowhere in the Babylonian annals. “There is no independent support for the tradition in Daniel of Nebuchadnezzar’s seven years’ madness, and the story probably arose from a fanciful later interpretation of texts concerned with events under Nabunaid, who showed apparent eccentricity in deserting Babylon for a decade to live in Arabia,” says Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Meanwhile, did Marduk indeed get to wither, General?

NEXT WEEK: FROM EXILE TO EXIT

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Understanding Botswana’s trade dispute resolution framework: Industrial Action

19th October 2020

In Botswana, the Trade Disputes Act, 2016 (“the Act”) provides the framework within which trade disputes are resolved. This framework hinges on four legs, namely mediation, arbitration, industrial action and litigation. In this four-part series, we discuss this framework.

In last week’s article, we discussed the second leg of Botswana’s trade dispute resolution framework-arbitration. In this article, we discuss the third leg, namely industrial action.

Industrial action is generally defined as a situation where the employer and employees use their bargaining power to exert pressure on the other to achieve a particular result. It entails such things as strikes and lockouts.  In terms of section 2(1) of the Act, Industrial action means “a strike, lockout or action short of a strike, in furtherance of a trade dispute”.

In terms of section 2(1) of the Act, “a strike means the cessation of work by a body of employees in any trade or industry acting in combination or under a common understanding or a concerted refusal or a refusal under a common understanding by such body of employees to continue work.”

A lock-out is the employees’ equivalent of a strike. In terms of section 2(1) of the Act, a lock-out is defined as “ the closing of a place of employment by an employer in any trade or industry or the suspension of work by such an employer or the refusal by such an employer to continue to employ any number of his or her employees in that trade or industry.”

While on a strike, employees use their numbers to inflict economic pain on the employer by withdrawing their labour, in a lock-out, the employer uses its power by not providing employees with work, thereby inflicting economic harm on them in terms of the ‘no-work, no pay’ principle.
In terms of section 2(1) of the Act, an action short of a strike means “any method of working (other than the method of working commonly known as working to rule) undertaken by a body of employees in any trade or industry acting in combination or under a common understanding, which method of working slows down normal production or the execution of the normal function under their contracts of employment, of the employees undertaking such method of working.”

In terms of section 42(1) (a) of the Act, it is obligatory to refer a dispute of interest for mediation before resorting to a strike or lockout. Also, in terms of section 42(1) (b) of the Act, a party must give the other party a 48-hour notice before the commencement of a strike or lockout. In terms of section 43(1) of the Act, before a strike or lockout commences, the parties have to agree on the rules regulating the action, failing which the mediator must determine the rules in accordance with any guidelines published in terms of section 53 of the Act.

These rules include those concerning the conduct of the strike or lockout and any conduct in contemplation or furtherance of the strike or lockout including picketing and the use of replacement labour. In terms of section 43(2) of the Act, the latter is, however, subject to the provisions of subsection (4) of the Act.

Employers are not allowed to engage replacement labour if the parties have concluded an agreement on the provision of a minimum service. In terms of section 43(3) of the Act, such prohibition also applies if no minimum service agreement is concluded within 14 days of the commencement of the strike or lockout.

In terms of section 43(4) of the Act, a trade union is allowed to picket outside the employer’s premises during a strike or lockout if the parties have concluded an agreement on the provision of a minimum service or if no such agreement is concluded within 14 days of the commencement of the strike or lockout.

The Act prohibits strikes and lockouts that do not comply with the aforesaid provisions or an agreed procedure. The prohibition also applies if the strike or lockout is in breach of a peace clause in a collective labour agreement.

In terms of section 45(1) of the Act, strikes or lockouts are also regarded as unprotected if the subject matter of the strike or lockout is not a trade dispute, is regulated by a collective labour agreement, is a matter that is required by the Act to be referred for arbitration or to the Industrial Court for adjudication, or is a matter that the parties to the dispute of interest have agreed to refer for arbitration.

In terms of section 47 of the Act, employees in essential services are not allowed to take part in a strike. Similarly, employers in essential services are not allowed to take part in a lockout. It is, however, worth noting that, although an essential service employee who engages in a strike commits an offence and is, in terms of section 48(1) of the Act, liable to a fine not exceeding P 2 000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to both, there is no punishment for an essential service employer who locks out its employees.

In terms of section 48(2) of the Act, the punishment applicable to an essential service employee who engages in a strike, is also applicable for any person who causes, procures, counsels or influences any essential service employee to engage in a strike.

Where there is a trade dispute involving parties in an essential service, it should be reported to the Commissioner by an organisation acting on behalf of the employer, employers or employees. The provisions of section 6(3) apply in respect of a report of the trade dispute made in accordance with section 6 (1).

Where a trade dispute is reported in accordance with that section, it is deemed to have been reported to the Commissioner under section 6. Where there is failure to settle a trade dispute reported to the Commissioner in accordance with section 6 (2) within 30 days from the day on which the trade dispute was reported, the Commissioner may immediately refer the trade dispute to an arbitrator if the dispute is a dispute of interest, except in the case of a collective dispute of interest where the employees are represented by a trade union, or to the Industrial Court if the trade dispute is a dispute of right.

*Ndulamo Anthony Morima, LLM(NWU); LLB(UNISA); DSE(UB); CoP (BAC); CoP (IISA) is the proprietor of Morima Attorneys. He can be contacted at 71410352 or HYPERLINK “mailto:anmorima@gmail.com” anmorima@gmail.com

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