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Re-conceptualising Politics and Private Investment in Botswana

Teedzani Thapelo

Award winning writer, and researcher, Teedzani Thapelo*, takes a provocatively disturbing look at BDP solutions for underinvestment in the national economy, and argues, by inviting Arab petro-dollar princes, Indian nabobs, and dodgy Lebanese gangsters, to fill this void, BDP is making a terrible mistake. Are we prepared for the politic-cultural ramifications of this madness? Would it not be better to court the devils we already know well, our former colonial rulers? All over the world, Thapelo argues, countries are debating these issues, the choices that should be made about their modern world, the civilizations they should embrace, the limits to tolerance in public life, the type of politics they should cultivate, the way nationhood should be crafted, and protected, and the cultural values that should prevail in society. These debates are taking place in countries that are older, richer, bigger, more developed, more sophisticated, more educated, more resourced, and more secure than Botswana. Why should we act differently? Let’s talk about these things in our own ways. Let’s hear what the people think, what they feel. BDP, alone, should not dictate what road we should take into the future.

Poverty is a terrible thing. Yes, Batswana, as a nation we are still poor, in many ways still as backward an economy as backwardness can ever be. Forget fancy expressions like Lower Middle Income Country, rapid high rates of growth, high per capita income, and enduring macrostability that BDP spews out incessantly on radio and BTV. These have their uses, in some esoteric offices elsewhere. Ugly facts on the ground, in the real world, daily contradict these fancy figures. Let us be real. In the general order of things we are just a small country, a poor nation. In fact, to much of the world, we are regarded as nothing more than just an obscure geographical expression. Botswana? What is that? A wild animal? A bird? Country? Where? Really? You mean a real country like ours? How amazing? I didn’t know, pass the salt.

This is what Batswana who travel the world often have to deal with; trying hard to convince the strangers they meet out there that they come from a country called Botswana. I would not be surprised if of the almost eight billion that live in this wretched planet only 0.01 per cent of people know us. There are just about 200 hundred countries in the world and can you believe that there are still countries where not one person knows us, where the word Botswana has never been mentioned on television, perhaps never been taught to kids in school? But that is a fact. Hard to believe isn’t it? Like most people throughout the world, and throughout history, we take too many things for granted, and that is a dangerous thing, something we should all guard against but there is one thing that will always work against even our best natural instincts; ignorance, sweet, innocent ignorance.

Ignorance has killed many people in human history. It has killed many nations. The most shocking thing about human nature is our amazing penchant for fooling ourselves, our partiality to self-delusion, our mistaken believe that we know everything, and that we can deal with anything, that we are men, and women, of the world, and nothing can defeat us. It is only when things start going wrong, when things start horribly going wrong, that we start wringing our hands in confusion, crying, and praying to dead gods, regretting our arrogant self-possession. Sad thing is, by the time we start vociferously remonstrating against ourselves, great damage has already been done; in most cases, irreparable damage. It really is not surprising that almost all human beings live with guilt; a thing that biblical scholars understood well, and made a central part of creation genre in the bible, and the foundation of Christian salvation philosophy.

Still we refuse to learn. Habit is always; we should start by doing wrong, and then live with a guilty conscience all our lives. This happened with our historical ancestors who in many ways allowed white rule in Africa, and then spent generations, and centuries, fighting against it. Had everyone one of them killed, on the spot, the first pale person they saw entering their villages there probably would never have been colonial rule. Of course, this is a counterfactual fallacy. We will never really know what would have happened anyway. My point is that we never learn, and if we do, we learn things badly. More than two billion people profess to be Christians but I’d bet my last coin if the real devil materialized out of nowhere and started loudly arguing we should allow him to speak, hear him out, give him a fair hearing, and all that nonsense, most of us would, driven by that greed for knowledge; curiosity, give way.

Let us hear the devil out, folks. After all he is already here. Yes, we are a democratic and civilised people. Let him speak. We are used to human speech. There can be no harm in just listening to him, and asking a few questions. The UN would convene, and a resolution would be taken to admit him; to give him a hearing, a fair hearing…and yet our entire Christian civilization rests on the premise that it is this fellow who stands between us, and salvation, the fellow who stole our immortality, the greatest rebel against God, the Antichrist Absolute. Still, we would, I am sure, throw caution to the wind, and sit down to converse with the devil; to hear his side of the story, forgetting that by betraying God, we destroy Heaven, our only place of eternal life after death; the Last Home. That is human nature for you. We are our own greatest enemies. We always find ways of bringing misfortune, unhappiness, and suffering into our lives, and if no excuse presents itself, we invent it.

If we fail to invent good ways of destroying ourselves then we go a mile further, we start doing what other people are doing…just to hurt themselves. They are doing the same thing in America, why can’t we do it here? We are never happy doing things the right way; no, it’s boring. We must always suffer for our mistakes. We must die in style. Man, man, man. This is how we always behave. This is how we have always behaved in history.

Now Batswana can someone tell me what the Arab petro-dollar princes are doing here? Yes, I know you call them businessmen, billionaires, to use another facile expression; that infuriatingly alluring definition by numbers; didn’t the great writer Balzac won us behind every great wealth there is theft, and crime? Have we not learnt, as Africans, that behind every great wealth there is blood and suffering? But we are not going to accept this sad reality are we? We have a good excuse. We live in a globalized world, and everybody is welcome to do business here. We are an open economy. We need their money, and expertise. We must do all we can to attract foreign investment. There is nothing like clean money. We cannot pick and choose. We must create jobs for Batswana. We are poor…bah…bah…black sheep.

It’s a most disturbing thing; this endless need to justify bad behaviour, a terrible disease; something we really ought to talk about. But BDP is not going to allow that. No, instead they are going to do things for us…on our behalf…behind closed doors, and like good children we must all eat our peas and shut up. Oh, really? I have a story for you. This is bad business. We are getting ourselves into trouble, big trouble.

Of course, we have done business with Asians before. There are Indians in business here. We have the Chinese. No, I don’t accept we are brothers and sisters! Indians are Indians. We are Africans. Chinese are Chinese. It’s as simple as that. As for the Arabs, well, I have a lot to say about these fellows. But before we go on, I have a simple question to deal with: what are we doing inviting all these people to flood our small country and economy so fast, and in so short a period of time? Is this a problem of economic anxiety, or political necessity, on the part of BDP? Is this the right thing to do at this point in time? Are we doing business with the right people, and for the right reasons?

Both our country, and our economy, is run by BDP. The private sector is still too nascent to bleat. We must remember that inviting Indians, Chinese and Arabs to invest here means one thing and one thing only; we are committing ourselves to sharing our natural resource exploitation with them. We are giving them more than a stake in our economy, we are, in fact, giving huge parts of our country to them to use as they like, for generations to come, we are ceding to them part of our national soul, and once these people make it good here, many of them will not return to their countries. They will choose to live, and die here. They will ask for more land, more rights, and more entitlements; and they will start inviting more of their friends, and relatives to move in, and share their wealth with them.

There will be a Chinatown in every city, and gigantic mosques with glistening minarets, in every town, and village, right from Ghanzi. throughout Ngamiland, to Tswapong, Francistown, and down south to Gaborone, and all this radical transformation of society, and the physical landscape, may take as little as twenty years given the low costs of transportation and communication, and the stupendous amounts of money these foreigners have, and will happily invest here if things go their way.

No, they are not going to learn our cultures, and speak our languages. If anything our children, and their children, are going to have to learn, and speak, Mandarin, Arabic and Hindi, Tamil and God knows what else; perfect trauma. We already have that problem with whites from Europe and America, and remember there are only 2 million Batswana. The population of China alone is almost frightfully huge; billions, and India more than 1 billion. China is not just the second largest economy in the world; it has well pronounced imperial designs on Africa as a whole. Batswana we are playing with fire. Already Indian business is the backbone of many sectors of our economy; especially commerce, and manufacturing.

Already Indians have too much corrupting influence on the BDP, on Government itself, and public policy in general. Indians make decisions that directly affect our lives on a daily basis; in fact they run both the economy, and government. Up to now mining has been in the hands of white Europeans, and already we now know De Beers was closely involved in decisions that affected the lives of Batswana on a daily basis for fifty years through their secretive private dealings with characters like Louis Nchindo.

If you are a public figure, a national hero of sorts, and you depend on other people for money and the comforts of life, it is not surprising those who fund your success in life will influence your management of public affairs, in one way or the other. People go into business for money; not friendships. If you become their friend, they turn you into an instrument, a working tool, a prop for making more profits; a stooge. Never think they love you, and if suddenly something goes wrong, they will drop you like a hot potato, denounce, and humiliate you even; this was the fate of poor Nchindo. But all this is common knowledge.

What we don’t know is the damage this did to us as a nation, and a republic, and before we can reassess our relations with foreigners, we are already in bed with people from another part of the world, through the same bond of corrupting influence; the Botswana Democratic Party: Indians, Chinese, and Arabs, people whose histories, cultures, religions and languages we don’t even know. Batswana, what are we doing?

We took our chances with people we thought we knew; former colonial masters, and lost, badly, and emboldened by that humiliating adventure, we are now doing something even weirder, sleeping with strangers proper. Is this the way to run national affairs? Why are we so stupid? Would it not be better, perhaps, to stick with the villains we know? Yes, I am unapologetically Anglophile, and yes, I do believe the future of our country is with the Western world, and civilization.

We have made, and, we continue to make, our own contributions, to that world, and its civilization, in our own small ways. But that is not the point. What worries me most is what these Asians have done, and are continuing to do to their own people at home, what these Asians have done to Africans in East, and North Africa, what these Asians have done in history, and world politics; the things these people, including the richest, most brilliant, most educated, and most worldly among them, are capable of, what I would call the horrors of Asiatic imperial domination, from African slavery, through centuries of stoning women to death, to the rise of modern terrorism.

Are Batswana capable of living with such things? Do we want those who come after us, our own grandchildren, and great grandchildren, to live with these dangers and horrors? BDP hates debates over these things. They fly against their personal and economic agendas. They are too patriotic. But that’s their business. They have their own reasons for doing things the way they do; mostly their singular infatuation with food, and sensualist exhibitionism. We should not go their way. BDP politics, we all know, has little to nothing to do with civilization, and the rest of the world.

Their politics is not only empty but lacks any respect for political procedure. Their habit is to instrumentalize trifles. They have demonstrated they have no courage to face the future by recklessly, and irresponsibly, turning their back on the African agenda, and African solidarity, refusing point blank to help fellow Africans use purely African values to engage and redress purely African problems. This is what the Khama presidency is all about.

At home their politics stubbornly refuses to respond to voter’s concerns on a daily basis. Now strangers, to intuitive political reasoning, their failure to modernize the party have devastatingly compromised all that was constructive in the past. BDP is a historical anachronism. No sensible person should bother about the things they say. Let us only worry about what they do, and do the best we can, to minimize the damage, till a political alternative is found. Meanwhile we must engage with international issues that will no doubt define our domestic politics throughout this century. I worry about Botswana, and those Batswana who, like me, love their country; people who care deeply for the future of this country, a small beautiful country that few outsiders know about, but a country that is home to the most decent ordinary people I have ever known.

It would be sad, I think, perhaps even a sin, if those of us who have had the opportunity to travel the world, and learn things, and grasp the cruel ways of the world, could just lie down, in their homes, and enjoy great literature, from all parts of the world, letting a bunch of unprincipled, and uncaring politicians, ruin this beautiful haven, the only home we have, the only country our children, and their own descendants will ever have.

All over the world countries and nations are debating these issues, the choices that political leaders should make about their countries in the modern world, the civilizations that populations should embrace, the outside influences that people should guard against, the limits to tolerance in public life, the friendships, and types of politics, nations should cultivate, the way nationhood should be crafted, and protected, the cultural values that should prevail in society, the best ways to build, and sustain, local communities, the way public money should be spent, who can control which sectors of the economy, how and why, who can get into their countries, who can stay in their countries, and for how long; in short every country wants to articulate with global society is its own terms. These debates are taking place in countries that are older, richer, bigger, more developed, more sophisticated, more educated, more resourced, and more secure than Botswana, countries with historically enduring civilizations, cultures and religions, countries like America, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden, among many others.

Why should we act differently? Let’s talk about these things in our own ways. Let’s hear what the people think, what they feel. Let’s do things together as a nation, a people, and a republic. That’s the only reason I am writing this article, the only reason I am provoking this debate. I have no agenda against anyone. I only want what is good for Botswana, and Batswana. Oh, boy, I am beginning to sound like Trump. But what can I do? We live in a strange world. We live in a most peculiar age. This is a political dissertation, and not just some bland orthodox ideological statement. A counter argument is most welcome. I am quite sure in the great boulevards, streets, corridors of power, parliaments, and even villages of China, India, and the whole of the Arab world, people are talking about nothing else but these very same issues.

They are asking themselves how they should accommodate Africans in their cultures, and societies, what attitude, and policies, they should take against Donald Trump. Fact of the matter is that global political discourse, and culture, are changing, and established political truths, and taboos, are crumbling, giving way to different political dialogues, and narratives, in the political philosophy of modern society. People are redefining themselves, and their societies. We are all taking different paths into the world of tomorrow, and I really do think, little, and poor, as we are, we, too, have a perfect right to do the same. We have the right to force the world to accept us on our own terms.

Let us not do what the BDP is doing. As a country, and a nation, let us do things our own way. The world will respect us for that. Just because you are small, and poor, does not mean everybody can, or should, ride roughshod over you. Botswana belongs to us. As citizens let us start doing things the right way, guided by no principle than the simple fact if we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will stand up for us?

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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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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