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The Corona Coronation

Did Covid-19 emanate from a really “novel” coronavirus or a fiendishly hatched up pathogen? If it is a manufactured virological weapon, in whose direction should the finger of indictment point? In a 5-part mini-series, BENSON C SAILI pronounces on the world’s most bothersome pandemic since the Spanish Flu of a century back.

On April 14, 2020, Donald Trump, the dismally shambolic US President, announced that he had instructed a relevant arm of his government to pull the plug on its share of WHO funding.

It is curious that the Don sounded off exactly 30 days after China had accused the US of purposely (or was it inadvertently?) propagating Covid-19 in the world’s second largest economy which is on course to surpass the US in only a matter of years.

In a March 13, 2020 tweet, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had charged that the US was responsible for introducing the coronavirus in the Hubei Province city of Wuhan. Zhao did not furnish nail-on-the-head particulars as to why he so supposed, but the dot-connection by many a pundit pointed to the US military personnel, who were alleged to have seeded the virus on China territory when they flew there to take part in the 2019 military games in Wuhan in October that year.

The reasons Trump advanced for withholding financial assistance to the WHO basically were that by openly endorsing China’s initial stance to play down the pervasiveness of the coronavirus spread in China, the WHO was complicit in “covering up and mismanaging the spread of the virus”.

It was ironic that Trump of all people should somersault and take issue with the WHO on the matter when he himself had stopped just short of declaring the coronavirus a non-event which would peter out sooner than later and had even heaped plaudits on President Xi Jinping for a job well-done. “Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation,” Trump had gushed in one of his fixation tweets early in the year.

Clearly, it was not the WHO’s softly-softly tune on China that particularly rubbed the Don the wrong way. It was the organisation’s eyebrow-raising coziness with the reportedly second-richest man on Earth, Bill Gates.

Seemingly, Trump was incensed that only the day after Bill Gates pledged $50 million to the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator – a concerted effort on the part of 12 US-based pharmaceuticals to come up with a vaccine against Covid-19 – the WHO declared the disease a pandemic, when to date it had resisted spirited urging by the “philanthropist” billionaire that it does so.

Gates, we will demonstrate in due course, has a vested interest in a possible vaccine (which had tacitly been long in the works) against the now globalwide pandemic as it is certain to send his bottom line rocketing into the stratosphere.

DID IT JUMP OR WAS SIMPLY PUSHED?

Somebody said all truth passes through three phases. First, it is ridiculed left, right, and centre by practically everybody else. Second, it is violently opposed, with its propagator eliminated in the most extreme of cases. Third, and ironically at that, it is accepted as self-evident, as if all along it was in fact a foregone conclusion!

Ever heard of a guy called Galileo Galilei? He was a 16/17th century Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer. He was indicted and tried before the Roman Inquisition for openly, impassionedly, and repetitively affirming the Copernican theory of hundred years prior that it was Earth that revolved around the sun and not vice versa as was the brainwash belief then.

For disseminating this “heresy”, Galileo was, in a meting out of capital punishment dressed as suicide, handed a mug containing a poison called hemlock – the origin of the term “Poisoned Chalice” – in 1642, at age 77.

It took 350 years for the Vatican to at long last own up to its “error” and officially vindicate Galileo in a statement by Pope John Paul II in November 1992. In one of history’s great emblems of conflict between reason and dogma, science and faith, an otherwise great savant of science was unjustly, albeit unhurriedly, put to death for embracing what we today take for granted as unimpeachable truth.

With the advent of the dreaded “novel coronavirus”, many a percipient folk among the ranks of mankind who bravely choose to pierce the veil and isolate fact from fiction are, in a near-reprisal of Galileo’s fate, certain to burn at the stake – figuratively speaking since we live in a comparatively more restrained and less extreme age in which reckless savagery is more subtle than overt.

The popular hypothesis is that the coronavirus at issue jumped the species barrier from bats to humans by way of pangolins, in the manner HIV is said to have resided in apes before it made the apocalyptic leap into mankind’s bloodstream through “primitive” Africans with an insatiable, if not barbaric, craving for Simian flesh. I beg to differ at the risk of being labelled a propagandistic conspiracy theorist, a tag that is all too familiar in my case anyway.

WUHAN OR WAR-HAN?

Every time there is a catastrophe of sorts in some part of the word, or any such hard-to-fathom development for that matter, my inbox is deluged with pleas that I help unpack whatever conundrum it is.

I was subjected to the same barrage not very long after Covid-19 erupted in China. In heeding this call – thank you fans and friends: I value the enormous and unwavering faith you repose in me – I decided not to make haste but to bide my time given that all sorts of theories were being bandied about as to the probable cause or origin of what was soon to be a globalwide pandemic.

Covid-19 is a disease, so we’re told, that arises from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). Coronaviruses belong to a family of viruses that ordinarily thrive in animals.

I first learnt about coronaviruses in 2002, when SARS-CoV-1 broke out in China, as though it was the preordained cradle of such Frankenstein viruses. It was the first time I heard of Foshan, a city in China’s Guangdong Province where the disease first surfaced.

And it was sometime in 2019 that I first heard of Wuhan, the birthplace, reportedly, of Covid-19, and the largest city in central China. But did Covid-19 really spring from within Wuhan or it was incubated elsewhere and then somehow transplanted to China? Or was it the result of some strategic gambit on the part of the Chinese government itself that went awry, with Xi Jinping ending up with plenty of egg on his round, mirthless face in the eyes of a relentless army of Western cynics and critics? Was it a biological war waged on China by the implacably vile, vicious, and vindictive Uncle Sam?

GENESIS IN A WET MARKET?

If reports by the forefront voices of the international media are anything to go by, the Covid-19 outbreak timeline in a nutshell unfolded as follows:
Between December 12 and 29 last year, a never-seen-before flu-like illness presented in about 27 residents of Wuhan, a conurbation of three principal population centres of just under 12 million collectively.

On December 31, China informed the WHO on the existence of the outwardly inscrutable disease. The following day, the Chinese authorities ordered the closure of Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a live animal and seafood market – also known as “wet markets” in that water is every now and again sloshed on produce to keep it cool and fresh – where the diseases was allegedly spawned.

On January 11, China announced its first Covid-19 fatality. The victim was a 61-year-old man who had actually succumbed to respiratory complications arising from pneumonia on January 9. The pneumonia is said to have been triggered by Covid-19, which the man supposedly contracted during one of his trips to Huanan, where, so we are given to understand, he was in the habit of stocking up with proteinaceous foodstuffs.

One report had this to say about such markets, which are a commonplace feature of Asia: “At the crack of dawn every day, ‘wet markets’ in China and across Asia come to life, with stall owners touting their wares such as fresh meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices in an open-air setting …

“The now-infamous Wuhan South China seafood market, suspected to be a primary source for spreading Covid-19 in late 2019, had a wild animal section where live and slaughtered species were for sale, including snakes, beavers, badgers, civet cats, foxes, peacocks and porcupines among other animals …

“Older shoppers generally prefer buying freshly slaughtered meat for daily consumption, believing it produces flavour in dishes and soup that is superior to frozen meat. Slabs of beef and pork hang from the butchers’ stalls while various cuts piled on the counters amid lights with a reddish glare and the occasional buzzing of flies.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese government had on January 7 designated the virus as an altogether different strain of the comparatively mild coronaviruses of yesteryears, the reason they employed the term “novel” in its basic description. On January 23, China decreed a lockdown of Wuhan which lingered for 76 days. China thus set the tone for copycat lockdowns in several countries across the globe including Botswana, which was one of only a handful of countries that went for a nationwide stay-at-home restriction.

THREE MILLION INFECTED, 200,000 KILLED

The disease has since spread to more than 190 countries and killed up to 210,000 of the nearly 3 million people who have contracted it to date. In the US alone, it has claimed 56,000 scalps. Besides the US, the most impacted countries are Italy, Spain, France and the UK in that order, all of which have suffered more than 20,000 fatalities.

The death toll on the continent of Africa now stands at about 1300 only. China, the purported breeding ground of the virus, has logged just under 4700 deaths. Only one country in the whole wide world has professed having “eliminated” the coronavirus menace. This is New Zealand, a country of 5 million people that has to date registered 19 deaths out of a total of about 1500 cases.

The country declared “victory” over Covid-19 on April 28, following a five-week lockdown and during which new cases whittled down to single digits. One hopes a second wave of the dreaded pandemic is not in the offing in the country.

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Opinions

The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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