Connect with us
Advertisement

“A People Without a Past is a People Without a Soul”

David Magang

Sir Seretse Khama’s Vision of Development of Botswana (Part 1)

No Future Without A Past

In my autobiography, The Magic of Perseverance, I introduce Chapter Six with an epigraph in the form of a quote attributed to Sir Seretse Khama, our founding President, to set the tone for what is to unfold. The quotes says, “A nation without a culture is a nation without a soul”. As rational, insightful, and truthful as the quote sounds, it is not accurate at all, a fact that dawned on me at a time when the book had long left the presses and now loomed large on the display racks in the local bookshops. It’s not that I phrased the quote wrongly or erroneously: I was simply misled by some scribe who had invoked it in a piece and whose credentials, at least prima facie, seemed above board.

Yet that is not to absolve myself entirely of all blame. Had I read much more widely and therefore known history better, or had I not omitted to have the quote cross-checked by other   historians of note such as Neil Parsons, Christian Makgala, or Jeff Ramsay, I would have no doubt nailed it. Seretse’s exact words, uttered way back in 1970, were these: “We should write our own history books … because … a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul.” Seretse alluded not to culture as such as his underlying premise but to our past, our history, and underscored the imperative of documenting this past through the agency and instrumentality of our own people and not through the prism of instinctually jaundiced outsiders. The substitution, in due course,  of “history” with “culture” maybe was done in good faith, but it does not crisply drive home the point Seretse was trying to put across.


Seretse was not a historian: he was a trained lawyer-cum-politician. Yet he was aware of the centrality and paramountcy to a nation of being acutely cognizant of its past, without which it would forever be groping in the dark, without which it would be soul-less, meaning it would be without a definitive identity – without unique or peculiar attributes that set it apart from other nations. Sadly, that’s the anonymity into which we’re headed, if we’re not there yet as Seretse’s concern fell on stone-deaf ears. A case can be made that history as a discipline is not only looked at with scorn by the relevant authorities in the structures of government: it’s verging on near-irrelevance. It’s like there’s a systematic and concerted effort on the part of the powers that be to plot into total oblivion the knowledge of our antecedents as if  that smacks of treachery or perfidy of some sort.  

History has a Wider Scope  
    
If I may venture a layman’s viewpoint that may possibly step on some toes and offend sensibilities to boot, the orthodox conception of, or classical approach to history is blinkered.  History is too superficially defined. Or rather, it is too lopsided in its thematic drift.  
When I was doing  high school at Moeng College between 1958 and 1962, I learnt precious much about Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Shaka the Zulu and the Mfecane, the Monomutapa Kingdom, a bit about “Khama the Good”, how the gun-wielding and horse-mounted Europeans made mince of waves of African warriors with their hopeless assegais or bows and arrows, and the various stages of the evolution of man – from a hominid known as Homo Habilis, or something to that effect, to Homo Sapiens, who I was taught I represented. I learnt close to nothing about edifying African history, of how the great King Sechele I of the BaKwena warded off a Boer incursion into Botswana and in fact had the Boers turn tail in the historic battle of Dimawe of 1852-1853.

But history, anyway, is not simply about the rise and decline of once mighty kingdoms and age-old dynasties. It’s not all about a nation’s arduous and tortuous path to independence and the central protagonists thereof. History is not only about setting down the life trajectory and milestones of a David Magang, a Michael Dingake, or a Gobe Matenge.  History ought to be more overarching than that. It must seek to answer questions such as this: after more than 50 years of nationhood, where are we culturally, politically, macroeconomically, socio-economically, educationally, inventively, innovatively, ethically, infrastructurally, and industrially in terms of our work ethic?

All told, to limit history to archeological excavations, to only seminal socio-politico events of the past, to key developments latterly in the political and cultural firmaments, to factional dynamics in  the ruling party and what the attendant fissures and schisms therein portend,  constitutes, in my own considered view, myopia of the most morbid order. History must embrace and take stock of principal developments in a nation’s every field of human endeavour, including economics, science, and technology, particularly in the context of how these impact the tone and tenor of national development, as its pace and magnitude. Thus if need be, history must attempt to blur the lines between rigidly delineated fields of inquiry without necessarily losing its quintessence in the process.

Lest you call me a hypocrite who is simply quick to shoot from the hip, my own contribution to  eclectic historical discourse is attested by three works to date, namely The Magic of Perseverance, a fundamentally biographical sketch which nevertheless weaves together a host of inter-connected themes into one comprehensive compendium, and Delusions of Grandeur Volumes 1 & 2, which are economic critiques informed by our macroeconomic performance since winning self-determination from Britain way back in 1966.

Why an Understanding of History is Key

Why is a study of a nation’s history crucial and pivotal to national aspirations? Granted, I could posit a whole catalogue of reasons but I will only proffer a handful. History is the ultimate frame of reference in this pilgrimage we call life. It is the compass that helps us navigate the labyrinths, turbulences, snares and other such atrocious terrains of life. If you do not know your history, you will never know how far back your roots reach and therefore will define yourself only parochially and subjectively.

You will never know how and why you find yourself in your present existential station within the larger vista of the human ecosystem, and whether the direction you are headed is indeed the right one in the greater scheme of things.  You’ll simply be drifting along, going with the flow without a proper grasp of your grand purpose in life, even if you may be under the illusion that you are actually the very master of your destiny.

The great African-American writer and author of the once highly acclaimed fact-based novel Roots, Alex Haley, knew the criticality of a reasonable degree of familiarity with his past. Although he was born and bred in the relative utopia that is the US, he still felt a huge identity void and over 12 years of research and intercontinental travel retraced his roots back to his motherland, Africa, where he discovered and reconnected with his kinsmen in a country known as The Gambia.

It is these living links with his West African ancestry going back six generations who helped him fill the jigsaw of exactly how he ended up a denizen of America – through the capture of a certain Kunta Kinte, who was torn from his homeland and shipped off to the state of Maryland in the US, where he was sold as a slave in 1767.  His book was seminal: it led to a cultural sensation in the US and a radically new mindset on the part of African-Americans as to who they exactly were and how they should henceforth chart their destiny as a demographic.

History provides us the raison d’être to contemplate the greatest question that could ever exercise the human mind – why?  In the quest for answers to this great enigma, we get to understand why we live the way we do, and why we are where we are as individuals, as a household, as an extended family unit, as a  clan, as a tribe, as an ethnic grouping, as a social class, as a society, as a municipality, as a province or district, as a country or a nation, as a region, as a continent, as  a species, and ultimately as the human race.

History Teaches Lessons

Our own people take it for granted that Botswana is such an oasis of peace, that it is so economically buoyant by the standards of the Third World, and that democratic governance and the rule of law hold more sway than despotic impulses. Once again, this is all rooted, by and large, in our age-old cultural institutions such as the kgotla system, which had the dichotomous aspect of regnal absolutism and a pluralistic tolerance of the commoners’ viewpoint, and our innate predisposition as a race to be frugal and not unduly extravagant.

Economic prudence and a characteristically peace-loving bent on the part of Batswana are not recently nurtured virtues: they are for practical purposes integral to our genetic make-up. Of course we have over the years seen the emergence of a level of greed and self-aggrandisement in certain quarters that is eye-poppingly brazen and blatant – necessitating our putting into place graft-bursting institutions such as DCEC to provide the necessary checks and balances – but that is more of an anomaly than an all-encompassing national trait.
When we study history, we see societal patterns over the course of time which inform critical thinking and therefore form the basis for decisions about a viable course of futuristic action.  Once we have understood the past, not only will we be in position to predict the future more or less but we will also be galvanised to help create it.

Much of the xenophobia for which places such as South Africa have become a byword can be put to a peripheralising of history – the utter disregard on the part of the relevant institutions to emphasise the instrumentality of fellow African countries in freeing South Africans from the cruel yoke of apartheid. By the same token, the fragile potential for economic and political integration on our continent can in part be ascribed to a reluctance by our leaders to preach supranationalism, like the legendary Kwame Francis Nkrumah impassionedly did, albeit in too precipitate a fashion, as opposed to statism, and the manifest failure by our leaders to articulate both our oneness as Bantus and that most cardinal of human virtues – botho.

In places such as Europe, for instance, where the underlying racial homogeneity is underscored at high-level summits, we see fairly stable economic agglomeration in the form of the EU and even glimmers of political convergence notwithstanding the aberration of Brexit.   Whereas in Europe the buzzword is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, here in Africa we’re busy reinforcing  territorial barriers  and keeping our own brothers and sisters at bay as though they are the very scums of the Earth. It is a shame that Europeans have been more empathetic to Arabs fleeing the conflagration in Syria than we have been to our own people who come knocking on our doors as fugitives from economic hardships.

History puts People on the Alert

Throughout history, there have been both great feats of success and horrific failures. Studying history helps us avoid the pitfalls of yore and build on our accomplishments. Experience is always the best teacher. A people who do not know the missteps in and the blunders of their history are fated to repeat them. History puts all life into perspective. A good grounding in the lessons of history puts us on the alert: it predisposes us to be ever on the qui vive so that we avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again. The more we study history, the wiser we become. Doomed are those who can't interpret history well, who evaluate it shoddily, or who simply neglect to pay heed to it.

In Botswana, the one great lesson we have learnt is the belatedness with which it dawned on us that it was time we beneficiated our mineral resources, an imperative I obsessively kept calling attention to as far back as the early 80s and to which the powers-that-be were so lackadaisically resigned. Sadly, there is a whole host of lessons we have chosen to simply ignore. For example, our examination-based educational system has on balance been resoundingly vain owing to its archaic emphasis on rote-learning instead of spontaneous internalisation of the inculcated knowledge.

It should have been discarded a long time ago, like the Scandinavian country of Finland has, but why we continue to cling to it so boggles the mind as to numb the senses altogether. (To be continued next week)
This is the first of a three-part comprehensive version of the speech David Magang gave at a UB function on August 17 2017. It is scheduled to appear in BOTSWANA NOTES & RECORDS, the Botswana Society’s annual publication.  

Continue Reading

Columns

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.

This content is locked

Login To Unlock The Content!

 

Continue Reading

Columns

Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… 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.

This content is locked

Login To Unlock The Content!

 

Continue Reading

Columns

‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

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 www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    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”!

Continue Reading
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!