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The Corona Coronation (Part 4)

China moves to muzzle people who wanted to blow the trumpet

On February 3rd this year, Dr James Lyons-Weiler, a molecular biologist who is also senior researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, said this in a particularly insightful interview on the mystery of the coronavirus:

“I’ve analysed the entire genome sequence of this virus and compared it to the entire genome sequences of all the other coronaviruses that we have data for, and turned up this weird element that doesn’t belong there. I’ve found that it actually did match a vector technology that was published in 1998 in the proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

This vector technology is a mechanism by which molecular biologists insert new genes into viruses and bacteria. Now, it’s really unusual to find a vector technology sequence in a virus that’s circulating in humans, and so naturally, one thing we can say, I think for certain, is that this particular virus has a laboratory origin. So we can rule out a natural origin.”

As highlighted in earlier pieces, Luc Montaignier, the discoverer of HIV, said pretty much the same thing, and so did nine specialised Indian researchers. In fact, the Indian scientists attracted so much flak for going against the contrived orthodox – that the coronavirus made a leap from bats into humans using an intermediate animal host palatable to human taste – that two days later, they withdrew the paper altogether.

Yet if the Indian researchers were tarnished, it was all a smear campaign as ample enough evidence, albeit circumstantial, has emerged to the effect that the novel coronavirus was birthed in a Chinese laboratory and it was from there it either leaked or was deliberately propagated into the human population for both experimental (in a diabolical sense) and mercenary motives. The culprit laboratory in the main is the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Strictly speaking though, the laboratory was an accomplice as opposed to a sole respondent.

“THE VIRUS WAS INTRODUCED FROM OUTSIDE THE MARKET”, CHINESE RESEARCHERS ALLEGE

The novel coronavirus outbreak is curious, if not anomalous, in more than one respect. Analysts have wondered, for instance, why it arose in central China when traditionally basically every disease that emerges in China does so through Guangdong, the coastal province that surrounds Hong Kong in the southern part of the country.

This aberration in itself, not to mention the jigsaw that the country’s two major population centres of Shanghai (23.4 million) and Beijing (18.8 million) were only minimally affected, presupposes the fact that there is something fishy about the whole phenomenon, if it can be called that.

A persuasive case can in fact be made that although the coronavirus was according to Chinese authorities detected on December 1, 2019, it had actually been slowly but surely on the loose as early as November (considering that there was certain to be an incubation period between infection and symptoms before the cluster cases of the seafood market began to emerge on December 15, 2019). The Chinese authorities were very much cognisant of this, as well as the fact that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was not the germinal point of the virus.

The January 29, 2020 online edition of The Lancet featured a paper titled Clinical Features of Patients Infected with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in Wuhan, China. The paper was authored by a team led by Professor Chaolin Huang, the Deputy Director of Jinhintan Hospital, the first Wuhan infirmary to be designated for treatment of the purportedly “mysterious” pneumonia that was triggered by the nascent coronavirus.

The paper said of the 99 Covid-19 cases analysed, 50 percent had never been to the Huanan Seafood Market and that “the origin of 2019nCoV (Covid-19) needs further investigation”. Had the team been matter-of-fact in their declaration, they would have made it categorical that the virus originated elsewhere but they were wary that they did not incense the political powers that be.

On the same day, the New England Journal of Medicine reported, in a paper titled Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China, of Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia and which was authored by a team of dozens of Chinese doctors from the country’s various centres for disease control and prevention, that of the first 425 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Wuhan, 45 percent had never set foot in the precincts of the seafood market.

In the hard news that was splashed on the front pages of Chinese newspapers but which was totally ignored by the laughably partial Western media, researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, which is a branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Chinese Institute for Brain Research made it plain that the novel coronavirus did not emanate from the Wuhan street market but from a different place which they were discrete enough not to name.

“The crowded street market provided a happy playground for the SARS-CoV-2 circulation and spread it to the whole world from December 2019,” the researchers boldly stated. The vendors and shoppers at Huanan were simply unfortunate enough to be infected by a virus that was introduced from outside the ill-fated and convenient scapegoat market.

Having sequenced the genomic data of 93 Covid-19 samples provided by 12 countries in a bid to track down the source of the infection and understand how it spreads, the Xishuangbanna researchers, who were led by Dr Yu Wenbin, wrote in their institute’s journal on February 28 that the novel coronavirus “was imported from elsewhere. The busy market then boosted its circulation and spread it to the whole city.” More than a dozen scientific blogs published in China would onward relay the same inference.

CHINESE AUTHORITIES DUCK AND DIVE

As the coronavirus tore through the ranks of the 11 million-odd Wuhan residents, the Chinese authorities committed two rather rueful and costly mistakes. First, they downplayed the gravity of the problem both to their own people and to the world at large. Second, they threatened serious repercussions to any Chinese who pronounced on the situation in public fora without the sanction of the political bigwigs.

Third, they neglected to institute a headstart clampdown on inessential toing-and-froing both within Wuhan and between Wuhan and other cities. To rub salt into the wound, the WHO played along to the Chinese subterfuge, blindly echoing their reassuring words parrot style.

Before Wuhan, the seventh largest city in China, was put on lockdown on January 23, 2020, its mayor allowed more than 5 million residents to leave the town, and this at a time when 80 people had died of Covid-19, 2760 were infected, and a total of 14 countries had acknowledged the presence of the virus in their midst. It is a miracle that the peregrinations of this sea of humanity did not trigger a Covid-19 apocalypse across the vast country.

If the truth may be told, the exodus was not a spur-of-the-moment one intended to steer clear of the Covid-19 epicentre: it was in relation to the so-called Lunar New Year, during which the Chinese typically make no less than 3 billion trips over the full season, with workers getting a week off work from January 24-30 and returning to their hometowns for extended family reunions. However, with the spectre of Covid-19 bearing down on Wuhan, the authorities should have flexed situation-specific muscles and confined the Wuhanese in particular to within the Wuhan radius by responsible decree.

Meanwhile, the spin mantra on the lips of the Chinese authorities was that “the diseases is preventable and controllable”, that “there is no need to be alarmed” and that the chances that the disease could be spread through human contact was implausible even when emergency wards were filling with invalids who included members of the same family.

“We knew this was not the case,” wrote an anonymous Wuhan-based doctor who had seen a atypically huge surge in chest illnesses since January 12 on the National Health Commission website. About 8 people were investigated for “spreading rumours about the outbreak.”

Doctors and other members of the health cadre who tried to raise red flags were silenced both reactively and pro-actively. Officials forbade the release of data pertaining to data publication of pneumonia related to Wuhan, including social and self-media or technical services companies. The term viral pneumonia was not to be used on the image reports.

When the Shanghai P3 Laboratory team, that first isolated and published the virus genome on February 5, approached the National Health Commission for its guidance on preventative measures, it was ordered to close with the gag instructions that “existing samples must be destroyed. Information about the samples, related samples, and related data, are all prohibited from release.”

The Chinese government only moved to act constructively and be reasonably transparent on January 20, by which time the virus had gained a tenacious hold. China paid dearly, in terms of lives lost, for its inaction and that way put much of the world at serious peril.

REVELRY IN THE MIDST OF FOREBODING

All sorts of probable reasons as to why Beijing initially chose to treat the Covid-19 outbreak so nonchalantly have been bandied about. The most seemly of these had to do with politics by a regime that is so obsessed with self-promotion even where it is not called for.

The emergence of the coronavirus coincided with the country’s political season, when officials gather for the Communist Party’s annual congress, a propaganda indaba where they rhapsodise about their policies, programmes, and the strides they are making economically. At a time such as this, a promulgation of bad news would have tellingly subtracted from the time-honoured euphoria of the occasion.

“Stressing politics is always No. 1,” Wang Xiaodong, the governor of Hubei, told officials on January 17. “Political issues are at any time the most fundamental major issues.”
Indeed, in his annual report to the same congress, Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang made not the merest mention of the viral outbreak.

In fact, no other city or provincial leader did so. , Zhou even had the audacity to allow 40,000 families to gather and share their home-cooked food in a Chinese New Year banquet when 291 people were reeling from the effects of the coronavirus and 6 had already succumbed to it.

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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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