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The Naked Truth

You are probably familiar with the fable of the emperor’s new clothes. The emperor is tricked by charlatans and shysters who take his money in exchange for making him a magnificent new wardrobe – doublet, hose, royal mantle and train, all of the finest fabric, the best that money can buy, but in fact make him…nothing.

His advisors, fearful of offending him, declare it to be the finest finery in the land. Then, the emperor dons the non-existent robes, appears in public before his subjects who all ooh and aah over his beautiful clothes until a little child calls him out, exclaiming, “But the Emperor has nothing on at all!”

I am sure you can relate to the feeling of not daring to comment for fear of sounding stupid or wanting to swim against the tide. Today however, inspired by a presentation I watched by Thomas Woods called The Fact-Free COVID Dystopia I feel I must. Three questions sit foremost in my mind:

If the fatality rate is lower than previous pandemics, why has it grounded our society to a halt?
How do you justify making so many jobless, starving, homeless, depressed because of a pandemic?
Is the cure worse than the disease?

Woods argues that our focus on a single virus and not overall public health is a fundamental error as other factors are being ignored like industries collapsing and the long-term consequences of lockdowns. He is critical of the medical experts who he says have now been given almost high priest status, criticising them for viewing things from one perspective as if all ability to think systemically has vanished. He estimates that “130 million people could starve as a result of lockdowns…are we even having this debate?”

He makes mention that in developing countries where people live from hand to mouth asking them to stay at home and not work is akin to asking them to starve. I received a text message from a friend the other day that contemplated our situation here in Botswana…8 months and 20 deaths…the damage done to the economy immeasurable….people in Ngamiland starving, no money no tourists…And what about what lockdowns have done for people’s mental health, separating families and sucking the very joy and pleasure from our lives.

No performing arts, no socialising, masks on children. Have we gone overboard? Surely quarantining sick people makes sense but healthy people? This is not how we live or should live. It feels sort of out of whack really and too big a price to pay. Wood argues that if you speak out you are accused of “not listening to the science” and that somehow resisting these measures is akin to somehow not being a team player and being unsympathetic to those that get the disease or die.

He is not alone with his view, but it appears that such thoughts are kept away from the main stream media, I guess because it is viewed as unhelpful. If you question social distancing, mask wearing and what curfews achieve then you are viewed as not being a team player. Similarly, divergent views are labelled as not listening to the science when in fact there seems to be very little. When you question why, you are accused of being a conspiracy believer. What if you simply think that the leaders have this wrong – and it wouldn’t be the first time.

Woods says 7 month ago we signed up for what we were told was a flattening of the curve exercise. The idea being that we would buy some time to get prepared – not to extinguish the virus because that won’t happen but so that hospitals wouldn’t become overwhelmed. Instead we have ground our societies to a halt and rid us of all social freedom including our freedom of choice. David Livermore, a microbiologist from the University of East Anglia, said “never in history have we handled a pandemic like this. Not the Russian flu which killed 135,000 from a population of half of today’s…future generations will look back aghast”.

Maybe we have a breather in Africa, for now but, in Europe where countries had successfully flattened the curve they are experiencing a surge of new cases. According to numbers by  Johns Hopkins University, cases are growing rapidly again in Spain, France and UK. The U.S. is currently the country with most known infections as well as deaths and also has a curve of infections which is still pointing upwards. If we are to learn anything from Europe this is not going away so where do we go from here? By the time, the state of emergency is up we will be heading into another winter and then what? Another lockdown? It’s all quite unsustainable.

I’m no doctor nor priest but from my pulpit there can only be one strategy. Get back to normal. Let people live. Protect the elderly and vulnerable. Generate herd immunity. You may think its more complex than that, but I think sometimes its easy to hide behind complexity and continue down the same path with the same mistakes.

If we are to learn from the fable, of the emperor’s clothes perhaps it is that we must have the courage to see things for what they are and not simply carry on for the sake of pretence.  “Listen to the voice of innocence!” exclaimed his father; and what the child had said was whispered from one to another.

“But he has nothing at all on!” cried out all the people and when the emperor hears this he is vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever, to appear holding up a train, although there was no train to hold. That is where the story ends. Not with the exposé …but with the realization that even if the child’s accusation was correct, the show must go on.

Perhaps for leaders to back pedal now is to admit they we were taken in by pseudo-science and false statistics. Better to keep the people locked up and locked down because that way one thing can’t escape – not the virus but the truth – that they all got it wrong.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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