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Let’s Get BPO Industry Out of its Present Limbo

Majakathata “Jax” Pheko

At an economically tumultuous juncture of our country’s history as we presently are, where unemployment has become something of a Gordian Knot conundrum, a promisingly ameliorational pursuit known as Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is well worth exploring as a salvavic option.

One pundit defines BPO as “a subset of outsourcing that involves contracting the operations and responsibilities for a particular business process to a third-party service provider.” Examples of BPO services, which invariably do not constitute a company’s core or primary mission, include inbound and outbound call centres, live chat, bookkeeping, web development, research marketing, accounting and finance, and after-hours call answering services. BPO is driven, fundamentally, by the imperative of cost-cutting and overrides national boundaries through the employment and deployment of technologies that make human and data communications easier, thus lending credence to the concept of the global village that is today’s world.

BPO had been in existence in its primordial form since as early as the 19th century but it was not until the 1980s that its latter-day incarnation loomed larger and the term outsourcing became part of daily business parlance. Today, every continent is into BPO, including the economic Dark Horse called Africa. The Global IT-BPO Outsourcing Deals Analysis segments BPO buyer regions into three categories. These are North and South America (42 percent); Europe, Africa, and the Middle East (35 percent); and Asia and Oceania 23 percent.

In a Third World country such as Botswana, overseas-oriented BPO is key to bringing in those paramount hard currencies besides engendering a radical turnaround in the all too dingy joblessness picture. But are we up to it folks? Have we gotten aboard the bandwagon or we are virtual spectators watching nonchalantly as the BPO locomotive streaks away at breakneck speed?

JAX’S FLASH-IN-THE-PAN SUCCESS

The extent to which BPO has taken root in Botswana is not apparent. The first time I heard of it was in August 2007, when the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA), then going by the name Botswana Training Authority (BOTA), put it on record at a one-day IFSC-organised conference that they were in the process of developing standards for the nascent BPO industry in Botswana whilst they benchmarked with Mauritius, the UK, and South Africa. Little, if anything at all, has been heard of their progress since.

In February 2018, The Botswana Guardian reported of the newly-established Direct BPO, a fully-owned subsidiary of Mascom, which was looking to employing 400 people at the very outset. Once again, details as to how Direct BPO, whose establishment coincided with Mascom’s 20-year anniversary, has fared to date remain sketchy.

Perhaps the most spectacular case of a BPO operation in Botswana was that of Oseg, a company begun by Majakathata Pheko, affectionately known as Jax, in 2003 under the Debtsolve franchise umbrella. Oseg, which comprised of three divisions, offered customer management and financial services solutions and operated out of Gaborone and Windhoek in Namibia, where it touted MTN as its principal client. Oseg did receivable management for local financial blue chips such as Barclays Bank, FNB, Bayport, MVA, Botswana Insurance Company, Letshego, and Standard Chartered, and in due course CEDA and Mascom. It also served the Australian offshore market. Its account receivable division was the biggest in Botswana, handling over 60,000 accounts and managing a portfolio of over P400 million.

At its height, Oseg employed 150 people and had spent over P15 million on cutting edge technology and manpower training. In 2007, Oseg was nominated for Best Non-European Contact Centre at the CCF Awards held that year in Birmingham, UK, the “Oscars of the industry”.

Then in 2016, the sky seemed to have fallen. Oseg found itself saddled with an odious P4.4 million debt, with its staff resultantly trimmed to just under 50. According to media reports, Jax pointed to his own bankrollers and their partners in the alleged crime as his rather devious saboteurs. “I have evidence that powerful people in the bank and a cabal of friends both inside and outside the bank were intentionally and aggressively looking for ways to weaken Oseg, tarnish its name and diminish its value as they were in the same competing business interests, in the call centre and the factoring business,” the then youthful entrepreneur, who was only 41 at the time, bemoaned.

Jax reported the matter to NBFIRA and what came of that, not to mention the continued viability of his business, I have not been able to establish. I just hope and trust that Jax personally weathered the tempest as I have it on good authority that he is doing fairly well.

BOTSWANA MISSING OUT ON DOLLAR-DENOMINATED BILLIONS

For emerging economies, and even peripheral Third World countries, the BPO business can be something of a gold mine. According to the latest McKinsey report, the global BPO industry is valued at $163 billon and is expected to grow at $183 billion by the year 2023.

In the Philippines, BPO, which began with a call centre setup way back in 1992, accounts for 11 percent of GDP, the single biggest contributor to the nation’s economic activity. It employs 1.3 million people in over 700 outsourcing companies. One company, called Teleperformance, alone employs 47,000 people in 21 sites. In 2019, the BPO sector generated revenues of the order of $26.3 billion.

In India, the BPO sector, now 30 years old, provides direct employment to 2 million people and indirect employment to 8 million. In 2019, the BPO income overall amounted to $8.6 billon.  In Mauritius, the ICT/BPO sector contributed 6 percent to GDP in 2019, representing a key driver of the Mauritian economy. The BPO sector is responsible for 53 percent of the 27,000 people employed in the ICT/BPO superstructure in 850 companies.

According to the Economic Development Board of Mauritius, leading multinationals such as Accenture, Huawei, Aspen Pharmacare and Allianz have back office operations in Mauritius. In addition, a number of international payroll companies currently use Mauritius as a service delivery centre.

Kenya is also looking to position itself as a hub for global digital BPO, notably through government promotion schemes such as Ajira. According to the ITC Authority of Kenya, the market size for online work was estimated to be $4.8 billion in 2016 and was projected to generate $15 billon by 2020. With only 7000 people employed in the BPO industry in the country, we are talking about a modest figure though it is still brisk compared to the rather lugubrious situation in Botswana. Clearly, there are billions in US dollar terms to be had in BPO and we are missing out on these big time.

MZANZI LEAVES BW IN THE DUST

Yet it is Big Brother next door from whom we have precious much to glean as he is our immediate competitor potentially in the BPO race. Remember, if our IFSC continues to flounder to date, it is largely on account of the fact that in Mzansi, we have a formidable rival right on our doorstep.

As we speak, the South African BPO sector is valued at $461 million going by the invariably authoritative McKinsey survey. It employs 270,000 people in six cities, a figure projected to more than double to 775,000 by 2030. Of the current total staff base, 65,000 serve international clients. That South Africa has made such enormous strides in the BPO arena is meritoriously earned and not simply fortuitous. It has been voted the second most attractive BPO location in the world for three years on the trot.

The South African BPO sector is tipped to grow by 3 percent per annum over the next three years, a rate which is in line with the trends in the global BPO space. There are currently over 100 local and international BPO providers operating in South Africa, with local players in the main serving large multinational customers. The industry’s key offshore business clientele is domiciled in English-speaking countries, notably the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, with 61 percent coming from the United Kingdom, 18 percent from the United States and Canada, and 11 percent from Australia.

In June this year, the $1.5 trillion-strong Amazon announced that it would be signing up a total of 3000 South Africans to help cater to its customers in North America and Europe, which is testament to the fact that the country’s BPO market continues to make waves in the Western world. If Jeff Bizos is impressed, you can count on the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg to follow suit too sooner rather than later.

A FORGONE OPPORTUNITY TO TURBO-CHARGE THE BPO INDUSTRY IN BOTSWANA

Empowerment Africa is an organisation that boasts a business network that enables established and emerging businesses to connect, partner, and create long-term value with Africa-based projects. With reportedly 3000 esteemed contacts, it liaises with governments, major corporations, and investors to facilitate business opportunities, deliver deal flow, and provide research across its network to the Empower Africa business community.

Empowerment Africa recommends seven countries in Africa with thriving outsourcing industries. They are Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Mauritius, and Madagascar in that order. Botswana is conspicuous by its absence and that must be ample cause for concern to our Monetary Authorities, especially given that at least on paper, we are economically better off than three to four of these countries.

In 2015, Jax approached the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture and propositioned a joint partnership with Oseg in unlocking BPO potential in Botswana by looking at the public sector Debt Collection and Call Centre services for government. Jax reckoned that the total market for Receivables and Revenue collections sitting in Government and Parastatal organisations at the time amounted to over P3.5 billion, equivalent to 8% of the National Budget then. If the BPO sector was to be utilised to assist in collecting this debt, over 2700 jobs would be created.

Furthermore, considering that a typical government employee spent half the time attending to inquiries from members of the public, the exercise would result in improved efficiency delivery in government departments in addition to boosting government’s liquidity position.

This is what Jax said in a 50th independence anniversary publication in 2016 on the same subject. “Our estimations are that once all the collections work is outsourced, there is a potential to collect more than P100 million every month for the Government of Botswana.

The opportunity to create more than 2700 exists, which will help to mop out unemployed graduates and upskill them. The economic impact of 2700 jobs would support more than 15,000 people in the economy and also help to create jobs in other industries that support the BPO sector, and will stimulate the whole ICT sector. Over and above that, the outsourcing would stimulate the whole IT sector and help improve Botswana’s position as an ICT and Call Centre hub.”

Once again, I am not privy to what came of this proposition, but I am persuaded that had government acceded to it, the BPO business in the country would have quantum-leaped and we would today be waltzing on the proverbial Cloud 9 in terms of revenues generated. Even the road retarder Oseg encountered with its bankers would not have been a factor at all. As significant, we would in all probability have made it on Empowerment Africa’s short list for the continent’s pre-eminent BPO addresses.

THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF GOVERNMENT IN BOOSTING BPO FORTUNES

Granted, with the advent of the still latent E-Governance, the synergic potential with the Call Centre business is stupendous. As per Jax’s pitch to those who care to hear, “The outsourcing of the E-Governance and collections will greatly improve efficiency in service delivery in the government departments. Directing traffic and enquiries to a Call Centre would empower the BPO sector in such a way that would be able to help the public from all over the country from one central point 24 hours and 7 days week.

The Call Centres would also relieve Government of the pressure to develop brick and mortar representations/offices across the country. This would help to save billions of Pula as the public will be able to access the services from the comfort of their homes and villages. The Call Centre service would bridge the urban and rural division as everyone will now be able to access Government services and receive the same service.”

The real jackpot both to government and the broader citizenry, however, resides in the offshore market. With sales cycles in the BPO business taking up to 12 months, contracts typically run from five to seven years, which is sustained lucrativeness by any measure. It is in the direction of the overseas market that much of our energy should be focused, though wary that we do not recklessly neglect the domestic market, if we are to reinvigorate the BPO industry and get meaningful returns out of it.

Developed countries are all the more keen to outsource as one way to insulate their economies against severe hurt inflicted by globalwide economic tremors. For instance, it was thanks to offshore outsourcing that Australia so ably navigated the 2008 economic crisis. That year, IBM released a BPO report showing that 80% of Australian companies were willing to outsource from offshore companies to save 50% in expenses.

Here in Botswana, I would recommend that government be in the BPO vanguard by splashing on a whole host of catalytic factors. In South Africa, for instance, the Department of Industry, Trade and Competition devoted R1.3 billion between 2007 and 2018 to bolstering the BPO industry in one way or the other and committed a further R1.2 billion in 2019 alone, gestures which no doubt underlie the solid performance of the industry.

Even when the lockdowns were in progress, the industry was accorded essential services status so that it kept the momentum going. As if not to be outdone, the South African BPO industry body, Business Process Enabling South Africa (BPESA), has commendably done its part in aiding the growth of the industry by supporting skills development, sharing best practice, and providing its members with access to other business networks and associations that drive and influence the sector’s transition into the digital economy. In Mauritius, the Prime Minister himself, and not a man of lesser stature, directly oversees the BPO sector.

For Botswana to make a mark in the BPO arena, it has to build a reputation as a reliable, cost-effective, and high-quality destination for outsourced business services, attributes all of which South Africa excels in. In addition, South African BPO players provide higher-quality services owing to strength across five key areas: availability of skills, infrastructure, risk profile, business environment, and industry size. In Botswana, we will need to nurture some of these strengths with the instrumentality of government.

With the advent of COVID-19, it is of essence that traditional BPO providers build capabilities to enable rapid deployment and ramp-up of fully functional teams under crisis scenarios. Operational resilience, that is, the ability to pivot when an ordinarily disruptive set of circumstances hits, is key. South Africa demonstrated this capacity most eloquently when 90 percent of the workforce was able to switch to remote work in residential settings, when 50 percent of operations in key competing locations such as the Philippines and India came to a virtual standstill.

Lastly but by no means the least, a competitive currency is a reasonably efficacious undercutting strategy. In recent months, the South African Rand has significantly weakened against the US dollar, in which the cost of outsourcing is typically denominated, and this has enabled South African BPOs to compete more effectively with Asian offerings.

It concerns me that last year, the Pula appreciated by 1.6 percent against the SDR (Special Drawing Right), which is a compound of five currencies, namely the US dollar, the British Pound, the Euro, the Japanese Yen, and the Chinese Yuan. If that relatively ripped Pula trajectory persists, it will not help our BPO competitiveness at all Rre Moses Pelaelo.

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A Begrudged Child

21st June 2022

Princess Diana was at once a child of destiny and a victim of fate

It is no secret, General Atiku, that the British monarch constitutes one of the most moneyed families on this scandalously uneven planet of the perennial haves on the one hand and the goddamn havenots (such as you and me General) on the other hand.

In terms of residences alone, the House of Windsor lays claim to some 19 homes, some official, such as Buckingham Place and Windsor Castle, for instance, and the greater majority privately owned.
Arguably the most eminent of its private residences is Sandringham House at Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, England.

It is at this sprawling, 8,100-hectare estate the Queen spends two months each winter, at once commemorates her father King George VI’s death and her own accession to the throne, and more often than not celebrates Christmas. King George VI and his father King George V both drew their last breath here.

A 19th century Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (who would later become King Edward VII), acquired Sandringham in 1862 and it has remained royal property ever since. On the death of King George VI in February 1952, the property passed to his successor Queen Elizabeth II, the incumbent monarch, who assigned her husband Prince Phillip its management and upkeep. The estate also houses a parish, St. Mary Magdalene Church, which the outwardly religious Queen attends every Sunday.

Albert, General, had several additional properties built on the estate the year after he acquired it, one of which was the ten-bedroomed Park House. The house was built to accommodate the overflow of guests at Sandringham House. In the 1930s, King George V leased Park House to Maurice Roche, an Irishman and a bosom friend to his second son, who at the time was Duke of York but would in future be King George VI.

Roche was the 4th Baron Fermoy, a title in the Peerage of Ireland created by Queen Victoria way back in 1856. He and his wife Ruth had three children born at Park House, the second-born of whom was Frances Ruth Roche (futuristically Frances Shand Kydd), born in January 1936.

In 1956, Frances married John Spencer, a fellow noble, and following an “uneasy spell” at Althorp, the Spencer family estate of 500 years, the couple took up residence at Park House, which would be their home for the next 19 years. On July 1, 1961, Frances, then aged 25, and John, then aged 37, welcomed into the world their thirdborn child and youngest daughter, Diana Frances Spencer.

She would, on a positive note, become Her Royal Highness Princess Diana of Wales and the most famous and popular member of the Royal family. On the flip side of the coin, she would, as you well know General, become the most tragic member of the Royal family.

GIRL CHILD WHO SHOULD HAVE BEEN A BOY

If there was one thought that constantly nagged at Diana as a youngster, General, it was the “guilt” of having been born anyway. Her parents first had two daughters in succession, namely Elizabeth Sarah, born in 1955, and Cynthia Jane, born in 1957. Johnnie was displeasured, if not downright incensed, that his wife seemed incapable of producing a male child – a heir – who he desperately needed as an aristocrat.

He even took the trouble of having his wife see a series of doctors in a bid to establish whatever deficiency she possessed in her genetic make-up and whether it was possible to correct it. At the time, General, it was not known that it is the man who determines a child’s sex and not the woman.

John’s prayers, if we can call them that General, were as much answered as they were unanswered. The longed-for male heir was born on January 12, 1960. Named John after his father, he was, as per the official version of things, practically stillborn, being so piteously deformed and gravely ill that he was dead in a matter of only ten hours, a development of which Earl Spencer would in future remark thus, albeit with tongue-in-cheek: “It was a dreadful time for my parents and probably the root of their divorce because I don’t think they ever got over it.”

Again as per the official version, General, John was gutted and hurriedly got into stride, this time around utterly positive that having had two daughters in succession, it would be two sons in succession. But nature, General, is seldom that predictable or orderly.

The next child was in fact a daughter, the now iconic Diana, for the third time around. Although John is recorded as having marvelled at what a “perfect physical specimen” her newly-born daughter was, he was forlorn beneath the façade, as a result of which Diana, who as a child did sense a lingering frustration on the part of her father on her account, would openly intuit that she was an unwelcome child, a “nuisance to have around”, thanks to her “failure” to be born a boy. From a very age thus, General, Diana had concluded that she was not well-fated and presciently so!

Although the heir, Charles Spencer (the future Earl Spencer) finally arrived on May 20, 1964, Diana perceived very little if any change in the way she was contemplated by her parents. In fact, both she and Charles could not desist from wondering whether had John lived, they would have been born at all. Seemingly, they came to be simply because their father was desperate for a heir and not necessarily that he wanted two more children.  With the birth of Charles, General, John called it a day as far as the process of procreation was concerned.

GODDESS OF THE HUNT

Why was Diana so named, General? Throughout her life, it was taken as an article of faith that her name derived from Lady Diana Spencer, a member of the Spencer clan who lived between 1710 and 1735, dying at a pitifully tender age of only 25. Certainly, the two namesakes turned out to have precious much in common as we shall unpack at a later stage, as if the latter-day Diana’s life was deliberately manoeuvred to more or less sync with the ancestral Diana.

It emerged, however, General, that the connection to an ancestor was actually secondary, or maybe incidental. The primary inspiration of the name was at long last disclosed by Earl Spencer on September 7, 1997, the day of Princess Diana’s burial. Delivering the elegantly crafted eulogy, Earl Spencer had this to say in relation to her naming: “It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this – a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.”

It is significant, if not curious, General, that of John’s three daughters, only Diana was given the name of a goddess. Clearly, there must have been a special reason for this as aristocrats do not confer names casually: every name carries a metaphorical, symbolic, or intentional message. Typically, it honours an iconic personage or spirit or somebody lesser but who evokes memories anyway.

Elizabeth Sarah, for instance, was in all probability named after the Queen’s mother, whose decades-long inner circle included Diana’s paternal and maternal grandmothers, and an ancestor going by the name Sarah Jennings (1760-1744). Charles Spencer was named after the family’s greatest forbearer, King Charles 1 of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625-1649. The ill-fated John was of course named after his father, who in turn was likely named after the 5th Earl Spencer, John Poyntz Spencer (1835-1910).

On occasion in occultic families, as the Spencer family latterly have been, a name, General, connotes a bad futuristic omen associated with its bearer and that was precisely the case with Diana.

THE FIRST DIANA

In its ancient rendering, the name Diana meant “The Heavenly One”, or goddess being a feminine style. The first Diana, General, was Inanna, an Anunnaki goddess whose Akkadian name was Ishtar – Esther in English. As you well know General, the Anunnaki are the Old Testament gods, Aliens from the planet Nibiru, the Solar System’s little-known planet which is seen only once in 3600 years, and who came to Earth 432,000 years ago as we comprehensively set down in the Earth Chronicles series.

The name Inanna is Sumerian, the Sumerians being the best-known civilisation of old who thrived around modern-day Iraq (called Sumer in ancient times) about 6000 years ago and who were indirectly governed by the Anunnaki. It was abbreviated from Nin-An-Ak, meaning “Lady of Heaven and Earth” or “Lady of the God of Heaven and Earth”.

She was so-called, General, not because she had particularly special godly qualities but owing to the fact that she was the earthly mistress of Anu, “Our Father Who Art In Heaven”, the King of the planet Nibiru, which humans of the day perceived as Heaven.

Anu was the father of Enlil, the principal Jehovah of the Bible. Enlil in turn had a second-born son called Nannar-Sin, the first Anunnaki to be born on Earth and who eventually became the Allah of Islam. It was Sin who fathered Inanna. Thus Inanna was Anu’s great-granddaughter but every time he visited Earth, Anu was sexually entertained by the stunningly beautiful Inanna, an act which in Anunnaki culture was not frowned upon.

Inanna was amongst other appellations known as the Goddess of Hunting (because of her penchant for, and skill in, waging war) and the Goddess of Love (in the sense of licentious love-making and not conventional moral love). Her other names in different parts of the world and across the ages were Irnin; Anunitu (Beloved of Anu); Aphrodite; Ashtoreth; Astarte; and Artemis, to mention only a few.

Although her celestial counterpart was the planet Venus, she was also loosely associated with the constellation Virgo as well as the moon. Once upon a time, when she was a virgin, Virgo was dedicated to her by her grandfather Jehovah-Enlil, who was Earth’s Chief Executive until circa 2024 BC. With regard to the moon, it primarily had to do with her twin brother Utu-Shamash, whose celestial counterpart was the sun: as such, Inanna’s inevitably had to be the moon. That, however, was only in a putative sense in that the operative moon god of the day was her father Sin.

Since moonlight effectively turns darkness into relative daylight, Inanna has in legends been referred to as Diana Lucifera, the latter term meaning “light-bringer”. Inanna’s association with the moon, General, partly explains why she was called the “Heavenly One” since the moon is a heavenly body, that is, a firmament-based body. It also explains why she was also known as Luna, which is Latin for moon.

A STEERED LIFE FOR GOOD OR ILL

Now, children of royals, aristocrats and other such members of high society, General, are invariably named before they are born. True, when a Prince William or Prince George comes along, the word that is put out into the public domain is that several names have been bandied about and the preferred one will “soon be announced”. That, General, is utter hogwash.

No prince, princess, or any other member of the nobility for that matter, is named at or sometime after their birth. Two names, a feminine and a masculine one, are already finalised whilst the child is in the womb, so that the name the child eventually goes by will depend on no other factor beside its gender.

Princess Diana, General, was named a full week after her birth, as if consultations of some sort with certain overarching figures had to be concluded first and foremost. Apparently, the broader outlines of her future first had to be secretly mapped out and charted in the manner of a child of destiny, though in her case she was as much a child of destiny as she was a doomed child. In her childhood reminiscences, Diana does hint at having been tipped to the effect that she was a special child and therefore had to scrupulously preserve herself.

“I always felt very different from somebody else, very detached,” she told her biographer Andrew Morton as per his 1992 book Diana Her True Story – In Her Own Words. “I knew I was going somewhere different but had no idea where. I said to my father when I was 13, ‘I know I am going to marry someone in the public eye’.” That, General, speaks volumes on the deliberately designed grooming she was subjected to in the formative years of her pilgrimage in life.

Since it was repeatedly drummed in her highly impressionable mind that there was something big in store for her along the way, Diana, General, remained chaste throughout her upbringing, if not an outright virgin to in all probability conform to the profile of the goddess Diana/Inanna before she exploded into a lecherous, loose-mannered nymphomaniac in her adult life as we underscored in the Earth Chronicles series. “By the time I got to the top of the school,” Diana said to Morton, “all my friends had boyfriends but not me because I knew somehow that I had to keep myself very tidy for whatever was coming my way.”

A DISPARAGED BIRTH?

Unusual for an aristocrat, General, Diana was born not in the rather apt precincts of a high-end hospital but within the banality of Park House itself. Whether hired midwives were on hand to help usher her into the world or it was only her dad, mum and closer womenfolk relations who did we can only speculate.

If for one reason or the other her parents were desirous that she be delivered at home, what secret rites did they perform as her mother’s waters broke, General? What incantations, if at all, did John utter over her? Was her birth an occultic one with all the attendant paraphernalia as opposed to a conventional one?

That Diana’s arrival was not a particularly cherished event, General, is evidenced by the fact that she was christened within the Sandringham Estate, at St. Mary Magdalene Church, with only well-to-do commoners in attendance, whereas the more prized child, her younger brother Charles, was christened at Westminster Abbey, in the presence of the Queen, who was designated as his principal godmother.

Anyhow, it was just as well, General, that it was in the hallowed environs of St. Mary Magdalene Church that Diana was committed to the “The Lord” as she was in a manner of speaking the Mary Magdalene of our day.

NEXT WEEK: A FAMILY THAT DABBLED IN WITCHCRAFT

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Challenges in our lives

21st June 2022

Allah Almighty reminds us: ‘On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear’ (Qur’an 2:286). Also: “Be patient. Surely, Allah is with those who are the patient.” [Qur’an 8: 46].

Without fail, whether we like it or not there are times in our lives when many things seem to go wrong and as mere humans we go into a panic syndrome and are left wondering; why me? Why now? What have I done to deserve this? We are all tested with adversity, hard times and pain, but these tribulations are the Almighty’s way of transforming us and help us develop spiritually.

As mere humans we all have different reactions when something good or bad happens to us, and usually our reactions depend on the strength of our religious belief and of our righteous deeds and actions.

One person may receive blessings and goodness with gratitude and accepts the bad challenges and patches in his life with perseverance and endurance. This positive attitude brings him peace of mind and happiness, causing his grief, anxiety and misery to ease. Thus, this positivity brings a balance and contentment in his life.

On the other hand another person receives blessings and goodness with arrogance and transgression; his manners degenerate and become evil; he receives this goodness and utilizes it in an unthinking and uncaring manner; it does not give him any peace of mind as his mind is always distressed, nervous and restless.

Thus when faced with loss and difficulty, due to his arrogant nature, he begins to ask why me? What have I done to deserve this and he may even damn and curse others and thinks that they are plotting his downfall.

But every now and then we should stop to ponder over the blessings both apparent and hidden from The Almighty upon us, it is only then that we will realise that our Lord has granted us abundant blessings and protected us from a number of evils; this will certainly ease our grief and anxiety and bring about a measure of happiness and contentment.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Look to those who are lower than you (those who possess less than you) and do not look to those higher than you; this will make you appreciate the bounties of Allah upon you.”

Whether we are believers or disbelievers, virtuous or sinful, most of us are to a certain degree able to adapt and condition ourselves to face adversity and remain calm during these moments of challenge, uncertainty and upheaval.

When people receive affliction with fear, discontent, sorrow and despair; their life becomes miserable, they panic and become short tempered. Such people are unable to exercise patience remain restless, stressed and cannot find contentment that could make life easier for them.

On the other hand, due to a believer’s strong faith and reliance on Allah, it makes him persevere and he emerges stronger than others in difficult situations as this reduces his fear and anxiety and that ultimately makes matters easier for him. If he is afflicted with sickness, poverty or any other affliction, he is tranquil and content and has no desire for anything which has not been decreed for him.

‘If Allah touches you with affliction, none can remove it but He; if He touches you with happiness, He has power over all things’ (Qur’an 6: 17).Therefore the believer prays to his Lord: ‘Our Lord, condemn us not if we forget or fall into error…lay not on us a burden greater than which we have the strength to bear’ (Qur’an 2:286)

However, the one who is weak in faith will be just the opposite; he becomes anxious, nervous, confused and full of fear. The anxiety and paranoia will team up against him because this person does not have the faith that could enable him to persevere during tough times, he is less likely to handle the pressures and will be left in a somewhat troubled and depressed state of mind.

It is natural that as humans we are always fearful of losing the things that we have acquired; we desire and cherish them and we are anxious to acquire more, because many of us will never reach a point where we are satisfied with the material things in life.

When certain frightening, disturbing or unsettling events occur, like emergencies or accidents we find that a person with sound faith is calm, steadfast, and able to cope with the situation and handle the hardship he is going through; such a person has conditioned himself to face afflictions and this makes his heart stronger and more steadfast, which gives him a level of tranquillity.

This shows the difference between a person who has strong belief and acts accordingly, and another who is not at this level of faith. Due to the strong belief of the true believer he is content with whatever Allah Almighty has decreed,

This life is full of ups and downs and uncertainties, but the only certain thing is that from the moment we are born we will be tested with life’s challenges throughout our entire lives, up to and to the final certainty, death. ‘Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives, or the fruits of your toil, but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere’ (Qur’an2:155).

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “How wonderful is the matter of the believer! All of his matters are good and this is the case for nobody except a believer. If he is blessed with prosperity he thanks (Allah Almighty) and that is good for him; and if he is afflicted with adversity he is patient and perseveres and that is also good for him.”

During those challenging times you have three choices: either you can let them define you, let them destroy you; or you can let them strengthen you.

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Columns

Train Spotting

21st June 2022

Here in Botswana we are in the throes of winter chills, currently experiencing the tail-end of a deep freeze in South Africa which has brought snow to parts of the Karoo. Conversely, over in the United Kingdom, they are moving into summer and there is a mini heatwave happening, with temperatures in the thirties.

Both countries have one thing in common – they are heavily reliant on tourism revenues and both have accordingly suffered due to Covid which severely curtailed all movement and travel, most of all for leisure and pleasure. However, earlier this year the UK cast off the last of its Covid restrictions and travel requirements and basically declared the pandemic to be over. Britain was back in business!

So the very hard-hit hospitality sectors finally had some good news. The crowds would be returning, needing hotel and bed & breakfast accommodation, snacks and sit-down meals, pub lunches and all manner of ancillary services. Other related sectors also put out the metaphorical flags – theatres, cinemas, theme parks, camping & caravan sites, all of which had suffered hugely during the pandemic and all could now re-open their doors to paying punters.

If you’ve ever visited the UK you will know of its many attractions. London is not only a vibrant, multi-cultural city, it is also very historic, with centuries-old palaces and cathedrals and world-class galleries and museums. Outside the capital, there is glorious scenery, from rolling pastures in the south to the breath-taking Lake District and the Highlands and lovely lochs to the far north in Scotland plus all manner of coastal delights and cultural experiences.

For everyone even remotely involved in leisure, hospitality and entertainment, it was cash registers and swipe machines at the ready!

But then green for go suddenly and without warning changed to red for stop. It began with misery for air passengers. Only last week the UK Guardian reported ‘It has been another ” week of chaos at UK airports, with hundreds of flights cancelled and holidaymakers facing long queues, with reports of waits of up to eight hours. Pent-up demand for travel and staff shortages have combined to put pressure on airports and airlines.’

The Prospect union, which represents thousands of aviation staff, ” warned on Tuesday that “things could get worse this summer before they get better”, quoting staff shortages across the industry, with a huge reliance on overtime to get by day to day. The problem stemmed from the massive, industry-wide lay-offs over Covid and a sector seemingly taken by surprise by the lifting of travel restrictions. Airlines are now scrambling to replace staff made redundant, many of whom were forced to find employment in other sectors.

In addition some specialised staff such are aircrew had no option but to let their licences lapse and now find themselves technically not fit for flying duties. Ironically, one of the country’s largest and longest-established airline – British Airways – appears to be the one most severely affected with many of their former cabin crew members reporting that they had been laid off during the downturn with the promise of potential re-employment later but who are now being told their services are not required.

One BA pilot has warned of potential staff exodus and further delays that could last through to winter. When talking about ongoing staff shortages in the industry he predicted: “We might be correctly crewed by winter time. There is no chance this will be sorted this summer.

The last month (August) might be okay.” UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps put the blame squarely on the industry for the widespread chaos, saying some airlines had cut too many staff during the pandemic. “The decisions as to whether or not to lay off in the end were airlines’ decisions. They clearly in the end, looking back, cut too far on that,” he told the BBC.

Lufthansa is also joining the party in announcing cancellations. The airline will be scrapping 900 flights from its schedule, from next month. Affected flights will predominantly be on Fridays and weekends to a number of European destinations, from Frankfurt and Munich.

The airline stated: “After …two years of the pandemic, Lufthansa group airlines report high demand for air travel this summer……At present, however, the infrastructure has not yet been fully restored. The entire aviation industry, especially in Europe, is currently suffering from bottlenecks and staff shortages. This affects airports, ground handling services, air traffic control, and also airlines.”

Of course some flights are taking place and some tourists are managing to make it into the UK on a much-needed holiday but for many of them sadly, the airport might be as far as they get because to add to the flight misery, members of two large transport union, the RMT and Unite, will bring the London Underground to a grinding halt next week with planned strike action.

Simultaneously, but in a separate dispute, other RMT members will also be staging a series of strikes on Network Rail and other mainline UK train operators. So should those tourists wish to proceed to some of the country’s top holiday destinations, they’d be well advised to seek an alternative means of transport.

Economists are already predicting this wave of strikes to cost the UK economy at least £91million, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, proving devastating for the night-time and hospitality industries in particular. Hospitality chiefs estimated the national rail strike alone will cost the sector £540million over the week amid a 20 per cent drop in sales, the combination of which will hit ‘fragile consumer confidence’ and could ‘deliver a fatal financial blow’ to some firms.

In response, Transport for London (TFL), presumably in all seriousness, said its teams from Santander Cycles will be ensuring hire bicycles are ‘distributed at key locations according to demand’ and told commuters that ‘walking or cycling may be quicker for some journeys’ during the strike action.

Sounds to me like the message is ‘On yer bike’!

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