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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 worlds 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 worlds 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 Chinas 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 WHOs softly-softly tune on China that particularly rubbed the Don the wrong way. It was the organisations 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 Galileos 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 mankinds 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 were 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 Chinas 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 inChina 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

IEC Disrespects Batswana: A Critical Analysis

10th November 2023

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has recently faced significant criticism for its handling of the voter registration exercise. In this prose I aim to shed light on the various instances where the IEC has demonstrated a lack of respect towards the citizens of Botswana, leading to a loss of credibility. By examining the postponements of the registration exercise and the IEC’s failure to communicate effectively, it becomes evident that the institution has disregarded its core mandate and the importance of its role in ensuring fair and transparent elections.

Incompetence or Disrespect?

One possible explanation for the IEC’s behavior is sheer incompetence. It is alarming to consider that the leadership of such a critical institution may lack the understanding of the importance of their mandate. The failure to communicate the reasons for the postponements in a timely manner raises questions about their ability to handle their responsibilities effectively. Furthermore, if the issue lies with government processes, it calls into question whether the IEC has the courage to stand up to the country’s leadership.

Another possibility is that the IEC lacks respect for its core clients, the voters of Botswana. Respect for stakeholders is crucial in building trust, and clear communication is a key component of this. The IEC’s failure to communicate accurate and complete information, despite having access to it, has fueled speculation and mistrust. Additionally, the IEC’s disregard for engaging with political parties, such as the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), further highlights this disrespect. By ignoring the UDC’s request to observe the registration process, the IEC demonstrates a lack of regard for its partners in the electoral exercise.

Rebuilding Trust and Credibility:

While allegations of political interference and security services involvement cannot be ignored, the IEC has a greater responsibility to ensure its own credibility. The institution did manage to refute claims by the DISS Director that the IEC database had been compromised, which is a positive step towards rebuilding trust. However, this remains a small glimmer of hope in the midst of the IEC’s overall disregard for the citizens of Botswana.

To regain the trust of Batswana, the IEC must prioritize respect for its stakeholders. Clear and timely communication is essential in this process. By engaging with political parties and addressing their concerns, the IEC can demonstrate a commitment to transparency and fairness. It is crucial for the IEC to recognize that its credibility is directly linked to the trust it garners from the voters.

Conclusion:

The IEC’s recent actions have raised serious concerns about its credibility and respect for the citizens of Botswana. Whether due to incompetence or a lack of respect for stakeholders, the IEC’s failure to communicate effectively and handle its responsibilities has damaged its reputation. To regain trust and maintain relevance, the IEC must prioritize clear and timely communication, engage with political parties, and demonstrate a commitment to transparency and fairness. Only by respecting the voters of Botswana can the IEC fulfill its crucial role in ensuring free and fair elections.

 

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Opinions

Fuelling Change: The Evolving Dynamics of the Oil and Gas Industry

4th April 2023

The Oil and Gas industry has undergone several significant developments and changes over the last few years. Understanding these developments and trends is crucial towards better appreciating how to navigate the engagement in this space, whether directly in the energy space or in associated value chain roles such as financing.

Here, we explore some of the most notable global events and trends and the potential impact or bearing they have on the local and global market.

Governments and companies around the world have been increasingly focused on transitioning towards renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. This shift is motivated by concerns about climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Africa, including Botswana, is part of these discussions, as we work to collectively ensure a greener and more sustainable future. Indeed, this is now a greater priority the world over. It aligns closely with the increase in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing being observed. ESG investing has become increasingly popular, and many investors are now looking for companies that are focused on sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint. This trend could have significant implications for the oil and fuel industry, which is often viewed as environmentally unsustainable. Relatedly and equally key are the evolving government policies. Government policies and regulations related to the Oil and Gas industry are likely to continue evolving with discussions including incentives for renewable energy and potentially imposing stricter regulations on emissions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a strong role. Over the last two years, the pandemic had a profound impact on the Oil and Gas industry (and fuel generally), leading to a significant drop in demand as travel and economic activity slowed down. As a result, oil prices plummeted, with crude oil prices briefly turning negative in April 2020. Most economies have now vaccinated their populations and are in recovery mode, and with the recovery of the economies, there has been recovery of oil prices; however, the pace and sustainability of recovery continues to be dependent on factors such as emergence of new variants of the virus.

This period, which saw increased digital transformation on the whole, also saw accelerated and increased investment in technology. The Oil and Gas industry is expected to continue investing in new digital technologies to increase efficiency and reduce costs. This also means a necessary understanding and subsequent action to address the impacts from the rise of electric vehicles. The growing popularity of electric vehicles is expected to reduce demand for traditional gasoline-powered cars. This has, in turn, had an impact on the demand for oil.

Last but not least, geopolitical tensions have played a tremendous role. Geopolitical tensions between major oil-producing countries can and has impacted the supply of oil and fuel. Ongoing tensions in the Middle East and between the US and Russia could have an impact on global oil prices further, and we must be mindful of this.

On the home front in Botswana, all these discussions are relevant and the subject of discussion in many corporate and even public sector boardrooms. Stanbic Bank Botswana continues to take a lead in supporting the Oil and Gas industry in its current state and as it evolves and navigates these dynamics. This is through providing financing to support Oil and Gas companies’ operations, including investments in new technologies. The Bank offers risk management services to help oil and gas companies to manage risks associated with price fluctuations, supply chain disruptions and regulatory changes. This includes offering hedging products and providing advice on risk management strategies.

Advisory and support for sustainability initiatives that the industry undertakes is also key to ensuring that, as companies navigate complex market conditions, they are more empowered to make informed business decisions. It is important to work with Oil and Gas companies to develop and implement sustainability strategies, such as reducing emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy. This is key to how partners such as Stanbic Bank work to support the sector.

Last but not least, Stanbic Bank stands firmly in support of Botswana’s drive in the development of the sector with the view to attain better fuel security and reduce dependence risk on imported fuel. This is crucial towards ensuring a stronger, stabler market, and a core aspect to how we can play a role in helping drive Botswana’s growth.  Continued understanding, learning, and sustainable action are what will help ensure the Oil and Gas sector is supported towards positive, sustainable and impactful growth in a manner that brings social, environmental and economic benefit.

Loago Tshomane is Manager, Client Coverage, Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB), Stanbic Bank Botswana

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Opinions

Brands are important

27th March 2023

So, the conclusion is brands are important. I start by concluding because one hopes this is a foregone conclusion given the furore that erupts over a botched brand. If a fast food chef bungles a food order, there’d be possibly some isolated complaint thrown. However, if the same company’s marketing expert or agency cooks up a tasteless brand there is a country-wide outcry. Why?  Perhaps this is because brands affect us more deeply than we care to understand or admit. The fact that the uproar might be equal parts of schadenfreude, black twitter-esque criticism and, disappointment does not take away from the decibel of concern raised.

A good place to start our understanding of a brand is naturally by defining what a brand is. Marty Neumier, the genius who authored The Brand Gap, offers this instructive definition – “A brand is a person’s gut feel about a product or service”. In other words, a brand is not what the company says it is. It is what the people feel it is. It is the sum total of what it means to them. Brands are perceptions. So, brands are defined by individuals not companies. But brands are owned by companies not individuals. Brands are crafted in privacy but consumed publicly. Brands are communal. Granted, you say. But that doesn’t still explain why everybody and their pet dog feel entitled to jump in feet first into a brand slug-fest armed with a hot opinion. True. But consider the following truism.

 

Brands are living. They act as milestones in our past. They are signposts of our identity. Beacons of our triumphs. Indexes of our consumption. Most importantly, they have invaded our very words and world view. Try going for just 24 hours without mentioning a single brand name. Quite difficult, right? Because they live among us they have become one of us. And we have therefore built ‘brand bonds’ with them. For example, iPhone owners gather here. You love your iPhone. It goes everywhere. You turn to it in moments of joy and when we need a quick mood boost. Notice how that ‘relationship’ started with desire as you longingly gazed upon it in a glossy brochure. That quickly progressed to asking other people what they thought about it. Followed by the zero moment of truth were you committed and voted your approval through a purchase. Does that sound like a romantic relationship timeline. You bet it does. Because it is. When we conduct brand workshops we run the Brand Loyalty ™ exercise wherein we test people’s loyalty to their favourite brand(s). The results are always quite intriguing. Most people are willing to pay a 40% premium over the standard price for ‘their’ brand. They simply won’t easily ‘breakup’ with it. Doing so can cause brand ‘heart ache’. There is strong brand elasticity for loved brands.

 

Now that we know brands are communal and endeared, then companies armed with this knowledge, must exercise caution and practise reverence when approaching the subject of rebranding. It’s fragile. The question marketers ought to ask themselves before gleefully jumping into the hot rebranding cauldron is – Do we go for an Evolution (partial rebrand) or a Revolution(full rebrand)? An evolution is incremental. It introduces small but significant changes or additions to the existing visual brand. Here, think of the subtle changes you’ve seen in financial or FMCG brands over the decades. Evolution allows you to redirect the brand without alienating its horde of faithful followers. As humans we love the familiar and certain. Change scares us. Especially if we’ve not been privy to the important but probably blinkered ‘strategy sessions’ ongoing behind the scenes. Revolutions are often messy. They are often hard reset about-turns aiming for a total new look and ‘feel’.

 

 

Hard rebranding is risky business. History is littered with the agony of brands large and small who felt the heat of public disfavour. In January 2009, PepsiCo rebranded the Tropicana. When the newly designed package hit the shelves, consumers were not having it. The New York Times reports that ‘some of the commenting described the new packaging as ‘ugly’ ‘stupid’. They wanted their old one back that showed a ripe orange with a straw in it. Sales dipped 20%. PepsiCo reverted to the old logo and packaging within a month. In 2006 Mastercard had to backtrack away from it’s new logo after public criticism, as did Leeds United, and the clothing brand Gap. AdAge magazine reports that critics most common sentiment about the Gap logo was that it looked like something a child had created using a clip-art gallery. Botswana is no different. University of Botswana had to retreat into the comfort of the known and accepted heritage strong brand.  Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital was badgered with complaints till it ‘adjusted’ its logo.

 

 

So if the landscape of rebranding is so treacherous then whey take the risk? Companies need to soberly assess they need for a rebrand. According to the fellows at Ignyte Branding a rebrand is ignited by the following admissions :

Our brand name no longer reflects our company’s vision.
We’re embarrassed to hand out our business cards.

Our competitive advantage is vague or poorly articulated.
Our brand has lost focus and become too complex to understand. Our business model or strategy has changed.
Our business has outgrown its current brand.
We’re undergoing or recently underwent a merger or acquisition. Our business has moved or expanded its geographic reach.
We need to disassociate our brand from a negative image.
We’re struggling to raise our prices and increase our profit margins. We want to expand our influence and connect to new audiences. We’re not attracting top talent for the positions we need to fill. All the above are good reasons to rebrand.

The downside to this debacle is that companies genuinely needing to rebrand might be hesitant or delay it altogether. The silver lining I guess is that marketing often mocked for its charlatans, is briefly transformed from being the Archilles heel into Thanos’ glove in an instant.

So what does a company need to do to safely navigate the rebranding terrain? Companies need to interrogate their brand purpose thoroughly. Not what they think they stand for but what they authentically represent when seen through the lens of their team members. In our Brand Workshop we use a number of tools to tease out the compelling brand truth. This section always draws amusing insights. Unfailingly, the top management (CEO & CFO)always has a vastly different picture of their brand to the rest of their ExCo and middle management, as do they to the customer-facing officer. We have only come across one company that had good internal alignment. Needless to say that brand is doing superbly well.

There is need a for brand strategies to guide the brand. One observes that most brands ‘make a plan’ as they go along. Little or no deliberate position on Brand audit, Customer research, Brand positioning and purpose, Architecture, Messaging, Naming, Tagline, Brand Training and may more. A brand strategy distils why your business exists beyond making money – its ‘why’. It defines what makes your brand what it is, what differentiates it from the competition and how you want your customers to perceive it. Lacking a brand strategy disadvantages the company in that it appears soul-less and lacking in personality. Naturally, people do not like to hang around humans with nothing to say. A brand strategy understands the value proposition. People don’t buy nails for the nails sake. They buy nails to hammer into the wall to hang pictures of their loved ones. People don’t buy make up because of its several hues and shades. Make up is self-expression. Understanding this arms a brand with an iron clad clad strategy on the brand battlefield.

But perhaps you’ve done the important research and strategy work. It’s still possible to bungle the final look and feel.  A few years ago one large brand had an extensive strategy done. Hopes were high for a top tier brand reveal. The eventual proposed brand was lack-lustre. I distinctly remember, being tasked as local agency to ‘land’ the brand and we outright refused. We could see this was a disaster of epic proportions begging to happen. The brand consultants were summoned to revise the logo. After a several tweaks and compromises the brand landed. It currently exists as one of the country’s largest brands. Getting the logo and visual look right is important. But how does one know if they are on the right path? Using the simile of a brand being a person – The answer is how do you know your outfit is right? It must serve a function, be the right fit and cut, it must be coordinated and lastly it must say something about you. So it is possible to bath in a luxurious bath gel, apply exotic lotion, be facebeat and still somehow wear a faux pas outfit. Avoid that.

Another suggestion is to do the obvious. Pre-test the logo and its look and feel on a cross section of your existing and prospective audience. There are tools to do this. Their feedback can save you money, time and pain. Additionally one must do another obvious check – use Google Image to verify the visual outcome and plain Google search to verify the name. These are so obvious they are hopefully for gone conclusions. But for the brands that have gone ahead without them, I hope you have not concluded your brand journeys as there is a world of opportunity waiting to be unlocked with the right brand strategy key.

Cliff Mada is Head of ArmourGetOn Brand Consultancy, based in Gaborone and Cape Town.

cliff@armourgeton.com

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