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Rethinking Botswana Politics in the 21st Century: What’s to be done?

Teedzani Thapelo

Researcher, historian and award winning writer, Teedzani Thapelo* situates Botswana politics in the context of Western anxieties about public life, security, and happiness, and asks the critical question: in the world of Trump, Brexit, mounting terrorism, and climate damage, how should we do our politics? How best can we secure our public goods, and future? Should we allow BDP to continue creating commitments, and connections, that work against the people they represent; monstrous entanglements that work against the public interest, and the future of the country? How best can we handle our external relations? Bad politics, Thapelo says, can only lead to ruin, and it might be time students, intellectuals, and workers, started seriously taking it upon themselves to equip the public, and politicians, with ideas necessary to survival in our time.

  

 

I must point out I have only ever worked as a herd boy, researcher, academic and writer. Politics is something I am just drifting into as I enter the evening of my life. This, I suppose, is only natural. People my age worry about the future of their children, and this concern generally manifests in several ways, principal among which is the direction the country, and its public affairs, are taking.

The security, and success, of our children, is contiguous with that of the country they live in, grow in, prosper in, and eventually die in. This is something that old timers like me understand perfectly well. This, I suspect, is the reason why it is so easy for political parties to take old people to polling stations. Serious political parties understand our fears, and concerns. After years of taking personal responsibility for those you love, it is hard not to love the country they live in as well. There really is not that much difference between your country, and your home.


Any harm that comes to your country is likely to hurt you at home as well. We also know the damage people inflict on children at home eventually spills out into society in one way or the other. Nobody needs Freud to understand this simple fact. The other thing, of course, is the simple fact that as elders we are also driven by an abiding sense of nostalgia, and gratitude;

the exasperating wish that no matter how bad the odds, no matter how hard life becomes, no matter how complicated things get, and no matter how confusing the circumstances of our fragile human condition, we have a moral duty to preserve, and, improve that which gave us so much happiness, and excitement to our fading lives, and the oppressing regret, that we did so little with the possibilities open to us to build a better country, a better society, for our children.

It is not an easy thing to be a man my age. We have experienced so many things, seen so much, we know so many things, it is hard to contain all these things in the bosom of weakening hearts, and aging brains; oh, life, oh, life. Old people are great philosophers, and perfect psychologists. As we grow, we learn things along the way; the real world is our finest university. Only a few fools fail to realize this obvious fact. But I have never suffered fools in my life. Interest in politics presupposes one thing; concern about public policy.


I really do think politicians should understand this connection. Most of them don’t, and this is frequently reflected in the emptiness of their political rhetoric, and diatribes. Politics derives substance from two sources; human interaction with the natural world, and human experience of reality. I don’t want to go deeper than this but I must point out that good politics adds great value to community, and social life, and to the confidence, strength, and quality of national life. It is a recipe for great good in society.

Yes, many politicians are just greedy villains, but politics is essentially an art of conscience; a terribly fascinating art. It is through politics that we learn first-hand the complexity, and ambiguity, of both social systems, and human nature. Politics is both literature, and human life, writ large, both drama, and reality; it is the font of human existence, and both rich, and poor, worship at the same shrine in politics. This explains the origins of the parliamentary system; even democratic culture itself.
 

I sincerely do believe that politics can be a force for tremendous good, and that it has the potential to enrich everyone in the world. But I draw the line at arbitrary, and often disingenuous, efforts to internationalize the mantra of globalized political federation, especially when it comes to poor, small, and young, republics like Botswana. There are universal political values that we all admire, and adhere to, but all of us articulate, and domesticate, them differently.


There is nothing wrong, per se, with international standards, and expectations in politics, but everything wrong with applying the same haphazardly, and imperiously, on all and sundry, to the exclusion of local contexts, and concerns. Politics is, by nature, a very dynamic social and psychological force. It is the driving energy of social and national life. It should never be conceived as a universal abstract concern, for the simple reasons it is not.

We have different cultures, and religions, and we live in completely different natural habitats. Our politics can never be the same all the time, and all over the world. In conceptualizing politics, ecological, and behaviour, contexts matter a great deal. I am speaking to the real world, and the solutions, it daily proposes for its troubles. As a historian and enlightenment advocate, I seriously doubt the necessity to radically rethink the global political system as it has evolved since the end of the war in 1945. We tried this with the cold war, and failed. In other parts of world, such efforts have led to terrorism, and wars;


especially in the Middle East. Besides, this system, particularly its human rights, and environmental justice cultures, has benefited humanity spectacularly. It is also important to note developments, like Brexit, and the election of Trump, have just added more anxiety about this revisionist posturing; what the media calls the rise of native populism. My concern is with small countries, Botswana, in particular. How should we do our politics in the twenty first century?

How should we do our economics? What is best for us? What is likely to harm us? What is likely to benefit us? I think we should enter this debate from this direction. Let us not blindly copy what other people are doing elsewhere. This just will not get us anyway. Let us do things our own way. Some may say but, Teedzani, this is exactly what we have been doing, but I beg to differ, vociferously.
 

Let me explain. The dawn of the previous century, thanks to the failure of internationalism, was bathed with blood, and mass deaths, right from the beginning, and some of us were born at the height of its most puzzling madness. That is now behind us. Our own age opened with both great hope-thanks in part to the controversial workings of globalization-and serious crisis, thanks again to the mixed blessings of the same phenomenon. Politics has never been more fascinating.

This is not surprising, given the number of people now allowed to have a voice in the art of politics; close on five billion human souls, a most staggering human experience in history. For all the past centuries, politics was largely a closed art, the preserve of way less than 1% of the number of people who lived on planet earth.

Just imagine that! By the end of the nineteenth century little Britain alone controlled three-quarters of our earth, possessing colonies, and dominion subjects, in every continent in the world, and where the British flag flew in the skies only propertied, well-educated British males voted, and everybody else, man or woman, black or white, young or old, obeyed British imperial diktat without raising a voice every day of their miserable lives on earth.
 

In less than a hundred years we have managed to bring more than 70% of earth inhabitants into political life. Is it any wonder politics itself is now rapidly changing as an art of managing human and environmental affairs? I think not. The people shocked, at the recent political experiences in the America of Trump, Brexit, Islamic terrorism, and the frightful political horrors in Africa, are people who have no sense of history, no knowledge of modern human experience. Look at the financial crisis of 1997 and 2008;

both of which eventually engulfed the whole world. Look at climate change. Look at the coming of freedom to African peoples. All these things have happened before but they happened in a different world, a fragmented and much smaller world, a world though occupied by many people, remained nothing more than isolated pockets of human islands, most of which knew nothing about each other.

Today thanks to integration of global markets, rising education standards, low communication, and transportation costs, the wide opening of political markets, the world has become completely different, much more complex, and sophisticated, and though in many ways still a small world, the expectations of all who live in it are now more pronounced, and the resources are becoming more strained under the pressures of ballooning populations; and this is a world we are still trying to figure out how best it can be managed. Is it any wonder our political lives are so turbulent?
 

In past centuries three subjects obsessed mankind; philosophy, theology and science. In our own time science, unsurprisingly, retains its place in the minds of scholars because broadly it is the source of all human life. God has failed so many people it really is no surprise theology is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Politics, and economics, both of which descend from philosophy and history, have now conquered human imagination.

It is these two disciplines that presently have the force to either help us create paradise on earth, or drive the entire human race, and planet earth itself, to ruin, and extinction. The sad thing is, not many politicians, and economists seem to realize this. Yes, technology, and nuclear science, are just as potent, but if they are going to ruin, and end human life, that would be the result of political decisions made by people who should have known better. It is not the first time in history that human beings have possessed weapons of mass destruction. In the end, it is how we use them that really matters.
 

Politics on the other hand is a different phenomenon altogether. If I had my own way, nobody would go into politics without a firm grasp of the potential for politics to either build, or destroy, societies. But then we live in changing times, and democratic culture, which so many clamour for, and so few really understand, dictate that all must have a say in their fates, and destinies. I really have no problem with that. What bothers me is the ignorance that characterizes political discourse, and practice, especially in Africa, and more troubling here in Botswana.

What I am going to say in this article will, no doubt, shock many in this country, and please a few. But I don’t mind sticking out my head for the truth. The subject of contention here must set a lot of minds to great reflection, and I have no doubt, it will generate a lot of debates. That is good for our democracy. To succeed as a nation, and a people, we need to be honest with ourselves. This is what the New Politics of our time is all about; raw truth, and honesty.

Good education, travel, television, internet connectivity, and cellular phones, now assure that billions of people have first-hand knowledge of how the real world works. The world of research is now wide open to billions of people. In much of the modern world ignorance is now a matter of personal choice. Things are still, of course, different in Africa were millions are struggling daily to get into school, to put food on the table-if they have one-and just to make it through the day. Such experiences abound here in Botswana as well, but in all honesty we are doing much better than other Africans.


As a matter of fact, we really could be doing excellently by now, but both our politics, and economic lives, are rotten, and for that we only have ourselves to blame. The fact that we openly admit our mistakes, and failures, I take to be a sign we are ready, and willing, to correct them, to put things right. People in opposition politics are clearly prepared to take this road. At BDP they are still in denial. They see themselves as national heroes, and heroes don’t make mistakes, heroes don’t fail.


What a load of nonsense! The reality is that people at BDP are scared shitless. They fear not only for their future lives, but also for the promises, and commitments, they have made to others, to outsiders, and worse, the crimes they have committed against the people, and the state. They fear enemies they invited, and continue to bring, into the republic. In life we are free to choose our friends. If such friendships eventually hurt us, then we have only ourselves to blame.
 

But people who hold political office by public mandate have no right to create friendships, and political commitments, and connections, that work against the people they represent; monstrous entanglements that work against the public interest, and the future of the country, things that may completely change the face, and spirit, of Botswana, as we know them today, to the detriment of not only Batswana, but the entire land as well.

Batswana gave BDP the privilege to govern but not destroy Botswana, and Batswana. This much I must make clear. Good governance has the potential to benefit everyone in the country. Bad politics, and misguided economic policy, on the other hand can only accomplish one thing; national ruin. BDP rule needs to be radically rethought. The way we are governed is very troubling. I lived in Britain under the premierships of Margaret Thatcher, John Major, and Tony Blair, and every time a serious economic or social issue threatened public lives, and national security, you would be excused to think bees were trying to create their hives throughout England.

Every time reform was proposed in education, social security, transport, labour, wages, nationalization or privatization of public utilities, even bankruptcies of large private employers of labour like multinationals, or mergers of the same that might threaten workers, and public welfare, and safety, there would be a great deal of buzz, and intellectual, bellowing throughout Westminster, the City of London, Oxford, Cambridge and the Midlands.

Students and professors equipped with terrific ideas would march in the streets prescribing solutions. Workers would join them, armed to the teeth with their own fantastic solutions, and politicians, all of whom have offices stuffed with the finest researchers in the land, would have a hard time just trying to be heard by any side of the protagonists. Political constituencies would rise in revolt, demanding to be heard, and every hour or two freely sweating politicians from both sides of the House of Commons would be forced to appear on TV channels desperately defending their positions on the issue. Voters in Britain always voice their concerns on all public issues.
 

In the end a solution would be found, probably not suitable to everybody, but I always noted people were satisfied they had been heard, and if the solution recommended turned out to be too costly, unworkable, or even more of a threat than was expected, it would be brought down, torn to pieces, and another road taken. I know how democracy functions in civilised society. I have since lived in Canada, South Africa, and Sweden, and here public issues arouse just as much interest, and debate.

But in Botswana, well, I don’t even know what to say. Try to talk to a politician about bankruptcy law, or educational reform, and he will refer you to his permanent secretary, who in turn will refuse to talk to you, or refer you to a foreign consultant whose advice they frequently seek, and the latter will appeal to confidentiality clauses; you just can never get anywhere. Such matters only interest a few unionised workers, and journalists, who, in reality, are the only people daily engaged in democratic process, and struggles, in this country. The rest of the population cares not what happens so long as they have food to eat.
 

Many laws, and reforms, in public life, pass unchallenged because the majority of Batswana do not think it their business to engage in public affairs. Most of the time a few words memo from the president-acting alone-is enough to propose a solution to a complex issue like privatization of national assets, and transference of national symbols to the direct ownership of foreigners, and the matter ends there, and everybody goes out to drink beer, enjoy sex, and snore till kingdom come. Isn’t this shocking?

Worse, not one of these so-called government policies has really ever worked! It is easy to blame opposition politicians, but these committed men, and women, are terribly under-resourced, in fact they depend entirely on their brains to get any work to be done at all. They have no really well trained researchers, competent legal advisors, and their workload is alarmingly huge, comprising as it does, not only parliamentary business, but constituency services as well as family commitments.
 

In other countries brilliant university students, and professors, volunteer their services in opposition offices, or accept work as interns, helping to considerably reduce this burden, and open political, and research, careers for themselves in public life through such opportunities. But here university teachers with no knowledge of public life at all and no highly specialized, and internationally acclaimed, research background on matters of national interest, expect to be picked from their small perches in academia, and be appointed directly to parliament, or worse, cabinet. Is it surprising that many of them have failed so dismally; read Sheila Tlou and other BDP PhD holders?
 

Do Batswana know any famous researcher who has been turned up by Government Enclave? Do you know any famous Botswana researcher who comes from the University of Botswana? Why is it that all solutions to the serious problems facing our country never work? Isn’t the answer obvious? We never research our problems! We never seriously think about them. We never seriously talk about them. People just take it everything written on paper will work out in the real world. Are we really that foolish? Now here is where we err most. Two things corrode our ability to deal with national problems, even when we have resources at hand; ideology, and politics.

All my life I have noticed that decisions to deal with problems are made because of politics, and ideology. Such actions, of course, never solve the problems at hand. BDP likes doing things this way because such actions perfectly fit the beliefs, and interests, of the people in power. In short, they make policies for themselves, for their own benefit, as a political group, and the entire nation sees nothing wrong with this; the attitude is: if you can’t beat them, join them, and meanwhile, everything throughout the country goes to ruin and waste every hour of the day. Just what kind of citizens are we?
 

French intellectual Pierre Bourdieu has suggested that politicians must learn to behave like scholars, to engage in scientific debate, to look for evidence before they can engage in actions for the solutions of national problems. Well, I suppose this might work elsewhere. Probably that’s how governments now do things in their countries elsewhere.

But here where not one politician knows the meaning of the word research, and given politicians spend most of their time with witchdoctors, bathing in piglet, and chicken blood, trying to divine the least costly ways of doing away with their opponents, within, and outside, the party, this sort of thing is never ever going to work. It’s not an easy thing to live in Africa. I know BDP often involves foreign professors in making policy recommendations but these routinely get politicized.

Frequently, even good policy prescriptions are bent to fit with the ideas, and expectations, of BDP cabinet ministers, and their Indian, and Lebanese allies. Batswana are always left out, including the majority of BDP members who live in rural areas that have seen their real incomes decline by more than fifty per cent in less than twenty years. I wonder what the witchdoctors, most of who live in rural areas, think about this. Isn’t it, perhaps, time they ditched these BDP hypocrites, and start taking the side of the suffering majority?

I don’t know what the success rate for these nocturnal mumbo jumbo services are, but I don’t suppose many Batswana would mind much if these fellows started helping us to divine the least costly ways of getting rid of our useless BDP politicians. A backward economy like Botswana can easily benefit from advanced and latest ideas in applied subjects like the economics of the public sector, development, and monetary policy. I am thinking here subjects such as bankruptcy; for we should expect many failures going ahead, corporate governance, and the openness of, and access, to information.

We really ought to know how to handle such transitional transactions before we can talk about things like privatization, before we can create a really working stock market, pass, and implement, effective competition laws, and other institutions, that add value to a small growing economy. We must always get our priorities right. Put resources where they are needed most, at the right time, and for the right reasons. As things stand right now, it is obvious the legal flatulence that assaults society every other day from BDP parliament is informed by nothing else but pure political greed, and the endless demands, and expectations, of crony capitalism.
 

This is dangerous given how poor the country is. Our markets are small, and not at all competitive. Our resource base is small. Our tax base is small, and contracting. How best can we really improve the lives of our citizens? This is the simple question that should exercise the minds of our politicians; not how best can we engorge till we bust. Good economic policies have the potential to really lift thousands of Batswana from extreme levels of poverty.

Our researchers must stop picking whole ideas and paragraphs from World Bank and IMF research papers, and start seriously engaging in local empirical research in the areas of market imperfections, and failures, so that we evolve theoretical work in economics that will make our markets work for us.

We need local research work that convincingly explain things such as differences in information between workers and employers, lenders and borrowers, the insurance companies and the insured. We need to lay firm foundations for more realistic theories of labour, and financial markets, we need to know why there is unemployment, and why those who need credit often cannot get it; just simple things like that.
 

Local economic expertise must inform World Bank, and IMF research findings, and not the other way round. IMF researchers, for instance, only spend, on average, only three weeks here, reading rotten government documents, in their hotels, and then after they are gone, we turn to their stupid reports, always based on simplistic economic models, for information about how we should manage our economy. Isn’t that silly? Our own researchers live here all their lives and they need to do better than this.

Information economics, with its useful analysis of labour, capital, and product markets, is critical in the development of macroeconomic models that provide deeper insights into unemployment, and theories with strong policy implications for economic growth. We need theories which are in touch with the real world. I am just giving one example.
 

But in 2016 the Nobel Committee awarded an economics prize for contract law which means the world is really moving forward. We should be doing the same. Archaic economic models will not do us any good. We need social models that speak to the situation, and condition of Botswana.

Planet earth is changing, the environmental world is changing, global economic trends are becoming more complicated, and uncertain, and we really need to know ourselves well, to know our country, and appreciate our circumstances, and changing situation well, if we are to grow, and prosper, as a nation, and a republic. It happens, sometimes, that models developed in other developing nations may work here, but most of the time, home grown is better, and more rewarding. Stop those silly wasteful benchmarking trips, and start educating yourselves, about your own needs, and possibilities for success. That is the way forward.
 

Teedzani Thapelo*, is author of the Botswana novel series Seasons of Thunder, Vol. 1(2014), Vol. 2 (2015) and Vol. 3 (2016) and forthcoming books; Battle Against the Botswana Democratic Party: the beginning of the point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe: abandonment and revolt, The Argument Against the Botswana Democratic Party: an intellectual inquiry and Khama Presidency and Vanity Fair in Parliament: an African political tragedy.

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Columns

Honesty – a fundamental human characteristic

12th October 2021

“When honesty is lost, then wait for the Hour (the Day of Judgment)”.  These are the words of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh).  They paint a picture of the time leading up to the Day of Judgement, when righteous people will be sorrowful due to the lack of honesty around them. 

Influence of materialism

Honesty, like morality, is an in built and essential characteristic of every human but the influence of materialism and the greed and desire for status, position, fame, wealth, etc. have wreaked havoc in human society, to an extent never seen before. In the 21st century, we live in a world where honesty is less valued than ever before and in fact even shunned at times.  We expect people to be honest in their dealings with us yet we ourselves promote deceit and dishonesty through our action and speech on a daily basis.  Many of us even watch and applaud television shows and movies that promote and encourage lying, infidelity and deceitfulness.

Desire for worldly gain

In the corporate world, ‘deceitful’ statements and figures are announced and pronounced to lure investors, glamorous yet deceitful adverts to attract customers, etc. have all become the norm and honesty goes out of the window. Even in the media industry, honesty seems to be waning very rapidly. Let alone the due regard of one’s conscience but without a second thought or due consideration of the rights of the others, stories are churned out with so-called “sensational” add-ons, etc. simply for the sake of being the “first” to break the news or for the sake of having the “best” story or maybe even for the sake of just having increased an readership or viewership.

Thoughtless individual behaviour

Without thinking, we indirectly teach our children that dishonesty is acceptable.  When we expect our children to tell the caller on the telephone we are not home, this is a lesson in deceit.  When we answer the cellphone and say that we are busy in a meeting yet we very much relaxed and free, or we say we are out of town yet we are at home, etc. we are being blatantly dishonest. When we refuse to settle our debts and dues making all sorts of pretences, we are actually lying.  We admonish and reprimand our children for lying, yet the reality is we have been their teachers.  Whether we tell lies, or whether we allow our children to live in a world surrounded by deceit, the lesson is learned and the honesty begins to disappear from the hearts of people – in particular the next generation.

Integrity and reliability

We must understand that honesty incorporates the concepts of truthfulness and reliability and it resides in all human thought, words, actions and relationships.  It is more than just accuracy; it is more than just truthfulness, it denotes integrity or moral soundness.  Belief in God Almighty commands truthfulness and forbids lying.  In the Holy Quran, God Almighty commands that humans be honest: “O you who believe!  Be conscious of God Almighty, and be with those who are true (in word and deeds).” (Ch  9 : v 119). A renowned Holy Quran scholar explained the meaning of this verse.  He said, “Being truthful and adhering to truthfulness, means you will be among the people of the truth (by speaking and behaving in a truthful manner) and be saved from calamity and that is what will really make a way out for you from your problems (in the long run)”.

Honesty and truthfulness go hand in hand

A true Believer, one who is truly submitted to God, has many characteristics by which he/she can be identified.  The most obvious of these noble characteristics are honesty of character and truthfulness of speech.  Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) was a perfect example of honesty.  The records of history clear show that even before he was bestowed Prophet hood by The Almighty, he had earned the titles of “As Saadiq” (the truthful) and “Al Ameen” (the trustworthy one), within the community. They had full trust in his honesty and integrity to such a degree that they would accept anything he said. Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), once gathered all the people of Makkah at the base of Mount Safa and asked them, “O people of Makkah!  If I say to you that an army is advancing on you from behind the mountains, will you believe me?”  All said in one voice, “Yes, because we have never heard you telling a lie.”  All the people, without exception, swore to his truthfulness and honesty because he had lived an unblemished and extremely upright life among them up to that point in time – for forty years.

Honesty in a comprehensive manner

This honesty, an essential ingredient of the human character, includes being truthful towards God by worshipping Him sincerely; being truthful to oneself, by adhering to God’s laws; and being truthful with others by speaking the truth and being honest in all dealings, such as buying, selling, social interaction, marriage,etc.  There should be no deceiving, cheating, falsifying or withholding of information, thus a person should be the same on the inside as he/she is on the outside.

Prophetic teachings

Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) informed us of the great benefits of living in an honest and truthful way and warned us of the dangers inherent in dishonesty and falsehood.  He said: “Truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise.  In addition, a person keeps on telling the truth until they are recorded by God Almighty as a very truthful person.  And falsehood leads to wickedness (and evil-doing), and wickedness leads to the (Hell) Fire. In addition, and a person keeps on telling lies until they are recorded by God Almighty as a very great liar”.

For those who wish to be among the truthful, Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) has left us with these words of guidance, “Let he who believes in God and the Last Day either speak good or (otherwise) remain silent”.

A successful, vibrant society is based upon honesty and justice, and is intolerant of dishonesty in all its various forms.  The Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) exhorted the faithful to be scrupulously honest in all their social dealings, business transactions, etc. at all times.

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Columns

A Sham of a Trial

12th October 2021

Verdict a foregone conclusion as Pilate is bought

Although the interrogation of  Jesus in a joint hearing by Annas and Caiaphas was not a trial, General Atiku, it was more or less conducted along the lines of a trial.

Jesus had a defending witness. This was one of  his disciples, Bartholomew, whose real name was John Marcus. Apparently, Jesus was allowed only one such witness. Besides his principal accuser, the turncoat Judas Iscariot, there were a number of witnesses who testified against him. The gospels  refer to them as false witnesses but this is probably an exaggeration: they simply misunderstood some of his statements largely because he tended to use allegorical language, which could be properly interpreted only by Gnostics. On occasion, he chose to be deliberately ambiguous, as when he said, “Do to Caesar what is due to Caesar and to God what is due to God.”

The crux of the matter  was whether there was anything in his conduct that could associate him with the Zealots. For example, he was accused of harbouring and voicing designs to destroy the Jerusalem Temple within “three days”. The Zealots did band about such threats, General. In truth, what they sought to destroy it was the Temple establishment – the priesthood and the Herodian Sadducees. The perception was that these somewhat benefitted from Roman patronage. Thus, if Jesus did instigate doing way with the Temple establishment by foul and crook, this could obviously not sit well with Annas and Caiaphas, both of whom belonged to this clique. But Jesus’ words had been taken out of context. In Gnostic language, the Temple (the correct translation should be “palace”  as the Jewish word for temple and palace is the same)   was the human body because it housed the real being – the spirit-soul. So what Jesus was saying to those who wished him ill, General, was that even if they physically killed him, his soul would continue to live (a person can be clinically dead but at the etheric level, he is irreversibly dead only after three days). Clearly, General, he was grossly misunderstood.

Jesus vehemently denied being a Zealot. He made it clear to the panel that every time he taught or preached, he was heard to promote peaceful co-existence with Rome. How then could he be a Zealot, who preached enmity with the Romans? Put differently, General, Jesus was saying he had played no part whatsoever in the November 32 AD riots against Pilate. The fact that Simon Zelotes was his father-in-law was pure happenstance.

In their heart of hearts, both Caiaphas and Annas were aware Jesus was not inclined to violence and therefore could not be a  Zealot. So the matter they seized upon was his claim to be Priest, Prophet, and King. This was what revolted them the most, the sin for which they sought to teach him a lesson.  The gospels say they set men (the Jerusalem Temple police who had escorted Caiaphas) on him who blindfolded him, slapped him around, spat on him, and dared him to “prophesy” as to “who has hit you” – a sneering allusion to his claim to be Priest and Prophet as only the High Priest could prophesy. This physical mockery did probably take place but there is an underlying symbolic language, General.  When a person was spat upon (by a “holy man”, such as the  High Priest),  it meant he had been demoted from priest to a mere layman. A “blind man” was another characterisation for an Essene who was of Grade 8 level, a novice. A novice was not yet initiated and therefore he was blind because he had not yet “seen the light”, that is, not yet been illuminated.

What it all boils down to, General,  is that by decree of the three priests Annas Sr, Caiaphas, and Jonathan Annas, Jesus had been downgraded from Grade 2, the third position in the Essene hierarchy (the first two being Grades 0 and 1), which was the position of the Davidic King (now held by his young brother James), to Grade 8, the position of a novice, a virtual nobody. Thus, when he appeared before Pontius Pilate, that was the status he would declare when his occupation was asked of him. This lowly social status would significantly bear upon Pilate’s psychology and therefore his contemplation of Jesus.

PETER DOES A JUDAS

Now, when a hearing or trial was in progress, General,  the Essene rule was that there had to be two doorkeepers. These were two people who were close to the person who was the subject of the proceedings, typically a relative and an associate/friend.

In the case of Jesus, the doorkeepers he selected were Simon Peter and his mother Mary. Besides being Jesus’ disciple, Simon Peter was Jesus’ personal bodyguard and chief ecclesiastical minister. As the Davidic King, Jesus was entitled to a bodyguard and chief spokesman, both roles of which were ably performed by Peter. That made Peter arguably the closest to Jesus in an occupational sense. As for Mary, she substituted for Jesus’ wife Mary Magdalene, who was now three months pregnant and therefore was on mandatory separation from her husband according to Essene dynastic procreational rules. The two doorkeepers ceremonially opened the doors for the panelists or judges to enter the hearing room. As the male doorkeeper,  Simon Peter stood by the door in the inner corridor whilst Mary stood by the same door in the outer corridor.

Peter, however, had been assigned another role – that of the rooster of the night. The rooster that crowed three times as per the gospels was not a bird, General: it was Simon Peter. “Rooster”, or “Cock”,   was the term for a religious person assigned to call out the time. Remember,  they had no clocks those days and at nighttime, the sundial, which was used during the day to read time, could not be used. So during a momentous occasion such as this one (the week of Passover), a person was detailed to announce the time every three hours at Qumran. Since Jesus’ hearing took place shortly before midnight, Peter was expected to announce the times at 00:00; 3 am; and 6 am. 3 am was specifically called cock-crow (see MARK 13:34). It was just before 3 am that Peter “denied”  Jesus. He did not deny him at three intervals, General: he denied him only once but before three inquisitors.

Now, Simon Peter was also a Zealot, a point we have long underscored. It explains why in the gospels he comes across as combustible, argumentative, and highly assertive. He was known as Simon Bar-jonah, which has been wrong translated as “son of John”. Bar-jonah actually derived from “baryona”, which was Aramaic (the most widely spoken language of the day in Palestine) for “outlaw”. We know, courtesy of  Flavius Josephus, that Zealots were referred to as outlaws by the Romans. So as Jesus was being interrogated, one of the witnesses against him made mention of the fact that he must have been a Zealot since his own bodyguard was a Zealot. Peter was therefore instantly called upon to confirm or deny that he was a Zealot. As could be expected, Peter stoutly denied he was. He also proceeded to say that he was not as close to Jesus as many people thought.

Once he had exculpated himself, Peter resumed his vigil as doorkeeper. The hearing lasted for hours and there were intervals in between, during which Peter also took time off to warm himself before a fire. During one such break, Mary, Joseph (Jesus’ second brother)  and James (the son of Zebedee) also confronted him and demanded to know why he  without shame or scruple just stopped short of disowning Jesus. Peter was unflinching, saying they were all mistaken: he was not as close to Jesus as they thought. It was at this point that he stood up to announce the time 3 am for the hearings to resume. Shortly thereafter, it dawned on him that he had stabbed Jesus in the back and later apologised teary-eyed to Mary. The man Jesus called “Rocky” was far from being a rock: he was a chicken, a flip-flopper.  Maybe it was no coincidence, General, that on this fateful night he was assigned the role of a male chicken!

That said, Peter had very valid reasons to deny Jesus anyway. Jesus had elevated Judas Iscariot to his second-in-command in an independent Israel at the Last Supper and Peter was irate that that role should have been entrusted to him and not to Judas. Maybe Jesus deserved Peter’s betrayal given that Peter had served him loyally through and through both as a bodyguard and confidante.

JUDAS TREACHERY BACKFIRES

Pontius Pilate, General, arrived at Qumran towards 6 in the morning to conduct a kangaroo court trial for the people wanted for the November 32 AD uprising in which some Roman soldiers were killed. Why, if we may ask, General,  did the Roman governor have to travel all the way from Jerusalem, where he was based during the Passover week, to Qumran and not insist that the trial be held in Jerusalem itself?

There were two reasons for this in the main. First and foremost, there was something in it for him. He had been backhanded with a tantalising bribe by Herod Agrippa to excuse Judas Iscariot. We know Pilate was hopelessly weak where it came to palm-greasing and extra-legal trials. Philo, the Jewish philosopher and historian who was a contemporary of  Pilate, records that Pilate was prone to corruption (a streak that ran through all Roman governors and of which the emperor himself was acutely aware) and “continuous executions without even a form of a trial”. Second, a trial of the leading Zealots in Jerusalem at Passover time would have provoked another uprising as Jerusalem at this time of the year swarmed with Galilean pilgrims most of whom were either Zealots or pro-Zealot. Qumran was therefore a safe venue as it was remote and was not crawling with too many people. The trial would thus pass practically unnoticed by the wider population.

Arriving at Qumran, Pilate was determined that he was going to sentence the culprits (save for Judas of course) to death. The November uprising had tarnished the record of his emperor: it was the only insurrection in Judea during the reign of  Tiberius Caesar. Pilate would use the sentence as a showcase to the emperor that he was a no-nonsense man who did not in the least brook dissident tendencies.

Now, Herod Antipas had learnt of Agrippa’s bribe to Pilate and he and Agrippa rarely saw eye to eye, being rival claimants to the Jewish monarchy.  Antipas was aware that the crucifixion Jesus would be subjected to would not be fatal but a partial one that would ensure his survival. However, Theudas Barabbas was too old to bear the strain of even partial crucifixion whereas Jesus and Simon Zelotes were much younger. Chances therefore were that Barabbas might perish right on the cross.  So in a private meeting with Pilate before the trial commenced, Antipas offered Pilate a bribe substantially higher than that which Agrippa had given him. Accordingly, the two agreed that Judas should be reinstated as a culprit. At the same time, Barabbas should be released. It was game, set, and match, General.

MAKE-BELIEVE REFERAL TO ANTIPAS

The trial was held in the north vestry, the same place where the hearings by Annas and Caiaphas took place. Annas, Caiaphas, the Herods, and the brothers of Jesus were in attendance.

The trial, General, was a farce. The proceedings were almost wholly orchestrated. On trial was Judas Iscariot too, who courtesy of  the Antipas bribe had been re-arrested, bringing the number of  respondents in the dock to four. Judas, as the overall commander of the Zealots, pleaded guilty. That is what the gospels mean when they say he “hung himself”. Now penitent of having falsely implicated Jesus, Judas also told the court that Jesus was innocent and had played no part whatsoever in the November 32 AD insurrection. Judas’ absolution of  Jesus is what is cryptically referred to in the gospels as “returning the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priest”, meaning he no longer was leader of the 30-man group that John the Baptist had established: its leadership had now reverted to the current Essene high priest Jonathan Annas. Judas was resultantly sentenced to death by crucifixion along with Simon Zelotes and Theudas Barabbas.

However, General, Agrippa was determined that Jesus be found guilty in order to get even with his brother-in-law Antipas. He and Caiaphas were in full flow, insisting that Jesus not only was a “Galilean”, which was another code name for Zealots, but he urged Jews to refrain from paying taxes and also fancied himself as “King of the Jews” when that title now belonged to Emperor Tiberius Caesar. This was treason and for that he deserved to die.

Although Pilate had no intentions of acquitting Jesus (it was he who was to be sacrificed for Barabbas as per his stratagem with Antipas), he at least wanted to superficially cast himself as a reasonable and impartial judge. Judas had exonerated Jesus and the priests had countered that. So Pilate announced to the gathering that since Jesus was of Galilean origin (he feigned ignorance of the fact that the term Galilean was used in the context of  his being a Zealot), Herod Antipas, under whose  jurisdiction Galilee fell, was to break the ice. Antipas was asked to try Jesus in another room and whatever verdict he rendered would be binding. This aspect was not part of the pre-plan with Antipas but Antipas did welcome it nonetheless as it openly underlined that in the eyes of  Rome, he took precedence over his rival Agrippa. As for Agrippa, all he could do was froth at the mouth. From that day on, General, Pilate became his mortal enemy: on the other hand, Antipas and Pilate became abiding friends.

NEXT WEEK: JESUS SACRIFICES FOR HIS BROTHER

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Distress Flare

12th October 2021

No one could have predicted what we have just gone through with COVID 19, lock downs, State of Emergency, banning of international travel etc. etc. In fact that’s not quite true as many had been predicating the possibility of a global pandemic for a while – I guess it was the case of not listening or not wanting to listen.

This week I was left thinking what life would be like if the internet crashed. This was prompted after being deprived of social media when the services of Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp were disrupted for hours on Monday night. I am not much of a user of the 2 former platforms but I do use Whatsapp extensively and even had a call scheduled on the app which I was clearly unable to make. It is also the main way that I keep immediately updated of family whereabouts, comms etc.

Like many I felt quite cut off even though I could have made a normal telephone call or gone on the internet and sent mail messages. People kept saying that the internet was down because to some people Facebook is the internet!  Twitter, realising this, saw it as the perfect time to enjoy its rare spotlight and tweeted “Hello literally everyone” from its main account. It garnered 2.4 million “likes” in just four hours and a stampede of users eager to sign up.

In other parts of the world where apps are essential to commerce, health care and basic functioning of government it was a serious matter. In India, doctors sounded the alarm about being unable to coordinate their schedules or share patient scans. And in Malaysia, some small-business owners were left without a way to manage day-to-day operations as all business communications are conducted through the app.

In many developing countries, services including WhatsApp, Facebook and Facebook Messenger have become deeply integrated into the delivery of primary health care, education and other government services,” Marcus Leaning, a digital media education professor at the University of Winchester in the U.K., said. “In the global North, we tend to (merely) use such services as supplementary to other channels of communication, so the global outage will have a disproportionate impact.”  These platforms are also often offered on restricted-access (or non-smart) phones, meaning that those on lower income were disproportionately  disaffected in 3rd World countries, our own included.

Meanwhile, as netizens (citizens of the internet) were feeling somewhat inconvenienced and annoyed, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took a financial hit losing $6 billion in just a few hours as Facebook stocks plunged, principally through lost advertising revenue and loss of business confidence and he himself personally dropped to No. 5 on the list of the world’s richest, below Gates. Talk about a bad day at the office!

The impact on myself was considerably less but with my ability to WhatsApp stopped I did feel quite put out and wondered what it would be like if the whole internet crashed one day and what that would it do to the markets, the military, the hospitals, not to mention how would I be able access all the movies on Netflix?

It couldn’t really happen, could it, if you understand that all the internet is, is a bunch of interconnected computers and that they would all have to crash at once? Conventional wisdom tells us that as a planetary network of computers and machines the internet is too big, too decentralised and too redundant to all fail at once?  But wait! Didn’t they say something similar when the Titanic was built? Surely the lessons of that hubris are still valid today?

According to Laura Brandimarte, Assistant Professor, Management Information Systems, University of Arizona, ‘Everything being connected today may bring along significant convenience, but it also implies that everything can be hacked. What if the nation’s power grid were successfully attacked? No electricity also means no internet access. The internet also relies on physical infrastructure, such as subsea cables and other fiber cables: any infrastructure issues (cable cuts, damages), whether due to criminal activity or natural disasters that were to affect major subsea cables could potentially shut down the Internet.

In a different sense, authoritarian governments can also potentially shut down the internet if they somehow all colluded against it, either blocking internet access to citizens altogether (we have seen that in Egypt during the Arab Spring, for example, or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo  HYPERLINK “https://www.rappler.com/world/regions/africa/81477-dr-congo-block-internet-kinshasa” \t “_blank” during a period of unrest); or substantially limiting it (we see that in countries where internet censorship is widespread and information access is controlled by the central government, as it happens in China). There are ways around censorship, of course: Privacy Enhancing Technologies, or PETs, such as virtual private networks or VPNs, and anonymous browsers such as Tor, can help circumvent it, but censorship essentially prevents the vast majority of the population, who may not be familiar with these tools, to access the internet, de facto making it disappear.’

And there are natural disasters that also could create havoc.   Patrick Juola, a computer science professor at Duquesne University, offers up one such interplanetary electronic disaster. “A sufficiently powerful solar flare could produce an electromagnetic solar pulse [EMP] that would shut down most of the computers in the world. While some systems are protected against EMPs, any human-built protection is only so strong, and the sun can be a lot more powerful.”

 

An internet crash resulting from this type of solar flare sounds like science fiction or one of those once-every-10,000-years events, but it isn’t. The worst recorded X-class (highest level) solar flare, called the Carrington Event, was a coronal mass ejection that produced a geomagnetic storm that spread across the earth over two days, September 1-2, 1859. The storm produced auroras around the world. The ones in the northern hemisphere reached as far south as the Caribbean, and were so bright people in the north-eastern United States could read newspapers by their light at night. The major electric utilities affected were the telegraph systems that failed across Europe and North America. The telegraph pylons threw sparks and shocked operators still at their keys. 

The frequency of recorded CMEs is worrying. Less powerful geomagnetic storms were recorded in 1921 and 1960, and a 1989 storm disabled power over large sections of Quebec. Then, on July 23, 2012, a “Carrington-lass” solar superstorm narrowly missed the earth by nine days when it crossed the planet’s orbit.

The Titanic was built to be unsinkable – all engineers and scientists agreed to that. Yet obviously they had not thought of every conceivable scenario and so when the boat was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the rest, as they say, was history. The same must be true of the internet. The thing that can take it down – not so much governmental censorship but some of that super global warming we hear so much about – could yet prove its downfall.  Now that really is solar power!

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