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Will Parley legislate on electoral reforms? 

During the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearings, Permanent Secretary to the President was subpoenaed to answer tough questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) about the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) among other things. The matter was escalated to both the former and acting Secretary and the Chairman of the electoral management body. What did MPs really want to know about the IEC? Will the 12th Parliament legislate on electoral reforms?

The President and his party have promised to begin a process of review of the constitution after many years of opposing calls by the opposition political parties and other commentators. They often asked during those years “if it’s not broken, why fix it”, implying that the document has served the country well and that there was no need to reform it wholesale. There are debates about the need to reform the electoral process alongside the holistic review of the constitution.

The PAC had some years ago discovered that the Auditor General was employed under terms not provided for by the constitution or that the terms were potentially ultra vires the constitution. The constitution specifically provided for security of tenure of the Auditor General. However, it became clear that she was hired on a short-term contract. The 12th Parliament delved beneath the surface and probed this matter further and discovered that even the IEC Secretary was employed under a contract, was transferable within the public service and that she could be fired with a notice of three months.

This chilling discovery shocked not only MPs but the Chairman of the IEC. In fact, the former IEC head’s contract wasn’t renewed by the appointing authority. The body is without a substantive Secretary. It remains to be seen what the PAC will recommend to Parliament on the matter. Other heads of oversight institutions were not in better employment terms either.

The Chairman of the IEC was clear that the commission was not independent. He reminded the committee that there is a draft Bill at OP in which reforms were proposed. It was a little surprising how the chairman did not equivocate on his answers about the lack of independence of the IEC. The Secretary is appointed by the President, it is not provided for in any law that he should consult anyone. The Commission staff are civil servants under the office of the President.

Botswana’s first elections were run by the British colonial masters. Subsequent polls were administered by the Office of President-Permanent Secretary to the President and or Supervisor of Elections. After calls by mainly the opposition, the IEC was created alongside constitutional amendments to permit 18 year olds to vote and Presidential term limit of ten years in 1997. So far the body has run five polls and has not reformed.

The opposition brought more than 16 electoral petitions after the 2019 general elections. Their position is that the vote was stolen. The finger the intelligence agency, the ruling party and IEC as important enablers of the rigging. The opposition cases were dismissed on technicalities without the merits of their arguments heard by the courts.

The superior court of record also dismissed the opposition citing jurisdictional limitations. This was unprecedented. How did the Court of Appeal lack jurisdiction on a matter that was decided by the lower courts? Why did the judicature keep away from the merits of the case? If this jurisprudential posture persists, it has potential to drive petitioners to extra judicial means to express their dissatisfaction.

Fortunately, the political culture has for a longtime been that of lukewarm peaceful protests to almost docility of civic organisations and political parties. Parliament should therefore seriously consider post-election dispute resolution mechanisms that would ensure transparent, objective, fair and credible process of dealing with conflicts. The IEC depends on the constitution and the Electoral Act as there are no regulations under the Act. This is a serious limitation as many grey areas could be covered by a Statutory Instrument in the form of Election Regulations.

Parliament should begin debating electoral reforms for purposes of democratizing Botswana further. Democracy is a continuum, it is not static and must be nourished more and more to build strong institutions for transparency, accountability and service delivery to the people. The starting point should be the demarcation of electoral districts by the Delimitation Commission following the population census.

This process is largely seen by the opposition and some in the civil society as lacking credibility and unresponsive to the specific requirements of the people. The process has failed to deal with vast constituencies of hundreds of kilometers radiuses so that more constituencies were created in line with population growth and geography. Gerrymandering has been alleged and such insinuations cannot be ignored. That the process can’t be challenged, especially because as soon as the committee hands its report it stands dissolved, is a problem.

The electoral system of first-past-the-post has obscured the gains of most parties and calls for a hybrid system of both the winner takes all and proportional representation should be considered. These are however not attractive to the ruling party as they could accelerate its removal from power. Possibilities of successful pre-electoral and post-electoral coalitions exists in this proposed hybrid systems.

The proposed hybrid system is conducive for marginalized groups who have been underrepresented in political decision making institutions such as parliament and councils. For example, women don’t make up 10% of Botswana Parliament. Parliament should subject the debate on the floor crossing to more public consultations and scrutiny. It should form part of the comprehensive constitutional review process and not rushed as a cure for internal wrangling of the ruling party.

Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) should be abandoned; the country was almost split in half in terms of opinion when it was attempted. The reasons have been advanced and haven’t changed. The opposition has been clear that they would fight all attempts to bring EVM, with or without Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). Such strongly divisive reforms should not be attempted, especially when the sky won’t fall without such changes.

The fact that the IEC is not fully in charge of the database is a source for concern. The system from which the roll is generated is housed in a different ministry of communication and not in the custody of the Commission. There is need to improve the electoral process in line with the SADC-Parliamentary Forum Model Law on Elections, SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and other international instruments.

Funding of parties, translucent ballot boxes, better management of diaspora voting, security, protection of presidential candidates, counting at polling stations, the use of identity documents such as IDs, passports and drivers’ license should be seriously considered by the 12th Parliament. Election registration should be eased to broaden suffrage. Why should someone be disenfranchised on account of expired ID, or lost election card when they appear on the roll and have other national identity documents? It is rigidly unreasonable and absurd.

Why should a young 17 year old be denied registration when it’s clear they would be 18 on Election Day? Why can’t those registered remain in the roll forever, unless deceased, but only be permitted to transfer if they relocate? These are questions that parliament should ponder on and answer honestly.

Resistance to electoral reforms is one of the greatest threats to Botswana’s peace and stability. Elections in Botswana are extremely difficult, prohibitively exorbitant for candidates and for that reason very unfair and lack credibility. Calls for reforms have fallen on deaf ears for a very long time. Even the most enfeeble, docile and very obedient societies have engaged in massive civil disobedience or mass protests which in some cases has resulted in a complete change of order. This was after many years of suppression.

Some countries have plunged into political and economic crises after these revolutions. The Arab Spring is a case in point. What makes Botswana immune? Parliament of 2019-2024 is unlikely to enact major reforms which the ruling party view as unfavorable to their political objectives of staying in power for long. They are likely to legislate on cosmetic changes which are inconsequential. Pressure must be however exerted from all angles to make the country more democratic by having free, fair and credible elections.

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Technology saves Lions from angry Okavango villagers

22nd November 2022

Villagers in the eastern Okavango region are now using an alert system which warns them when collared lions approach livestock areas. The new technology is now regarded as a panacea to the human/wildlife conflict in the area as it has reduced mass poisoning and killing of lions by farmers.

The technology is being implemented by an NGO, Community Living Among Wildlife Sustainably (CLAWS) within the five villages of Seronga, Gunutsoga, Eretsha, Beetsha and Gudigwa in the eastern part of the Okavango delta.

A Carnivore Ecologist from CLAWS, Dr Andrew Stein explained that around 2013, villagers in the eastern Okavango were having significant problems with losses of their cattle to predators specifically lions, so the villagers resorted to using poison and shooting the lions in order to reduce their numbers.

He highlighted that as a form of progressive intervention, they designed a programme to reduce the conflicts and promote coexistence. Another component of the programme is communal herding, introduced in 2018 to reduce the conflict by increasing efficiency whereby certified herders monitor livestock health and protect them from predators, allowing community members to engage in other livelihood activities knowing that their livestock are safe.

They are now two herds with 600 and 230 cattle respectively with plan to expand the programme to other neighbouring villages. Currently the programme is being piloted in Eretsha, one of the areas with most conflict incidences per year.

Dr Stein explained that they have developed the first of its kind alert system whereby when the lions get within three or five kilometers of a cattllepost or a homestead upon the five villages, then it will release an alert system going directly to the cellphones of individuals living within the affected area or community.

‘So, if a colored lion gets to about five kilometers of Eretsha village or any villagers in the Eretsha that has signed up for, the system will receive an SMS of the name of the lion and its distance to or from the village”, he stated. He added that this enables villagers to take preventative action to reduce conflicts before its starts.

Dr Stein noted that some respond by gathering their cattle and put them in a kraal or put them in an enclosure making sure that the enclosure is secure while some people will gather firewood and light small fires around edges of the kraal to prevent lions from coming closer and some when they receive the SMS they send their livestock to the neighbours alerting them about the presence of lions.

He noted that 125 people have signed to receive the alert system within Seronga, Eretsha, Beetsha, Gunutsoga and Gudigwa. He added that each homestead is about five people and this means more than 600 people immediately receive the messages about lions when they approach their villages. He also noted that last year they dispersed over 12 000 alerts, adding that this year is a bit higher as about 20 000 alerts have been sent so far across these villages.

Stein further noted that they have been significant changes in the behavior of the villagers as they are now tolerant to lions. “85 percent were happy with the SMS and people are becoming more tolerant with living with lions because they have more information to reduce the conflicts,” he stressed.

Stein noted that since the start of the programme in 2014 they have seen lion populations rebounds almost completely to a level before and they have not recorded cases of lion poisoning in the last three years which is commendable effort.

Monnaleso Sanga from Eretsha village applauded the programme by CLAWS noting that farmers in the area are benefiting through the alert system and take preventative measures to reduce human/lion conflict which has been persistent in the area. He added that numbers of cattle killed by lions have reduced immensely. He also admitted that they are now tolerant to lions and they no longer kill nor poison them.

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THE IDEAL QUALITY OF A MUSLIM

8th September 2022

A Muslim is supposed to be and should be a living example of the teachings of the Quran and the ‘Sunnah’ (the teachings and living examples of Prophet Muhammed (SAW – Peace be upon Him). We should follow these in all affairs, relations, and situations – starting with our relationship with our Lord, our own self, our family and the people around us. One of the distinguishing features of the (ideal) Muslim is his faith in Allah, and his conviction that whatever happens in the universe and whatever befalls him, only happens through the will and the decree of the Almighty Allah.

A Muslim should know and feel that he is in constant need of the help and support of Allah, no matter how much he may think he can do for himself. He has no choice in his life but to submit to the will of his Creator, worship Him, strive towards the Right Path and do good deeds. This will guide him to be righteous and upright in all his deeds, both in public and in private.

His attitude towards his body, mind and soul

The Muslim pays attention to his body’s physical, intellectual and spiritual needs. He takes good care of his body, promoting its good health and strength. He shouldn’t eat in excess; but he should eat enough to maintain his health and energy. Allah, The Exalted, Says “…Eat and drink; but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.” [Quran 7: 31]

The Muslim should keep away from alcohol and drugs. He should also try to exercise regularly to maintain his physical fitness. The Muslim also keeps his body and clothes clean, he bathes frequently. The Prophet placed a great emphasis on cleanliness and bathing. A Muslim is also concerned with his clothing and appearance but in accordance with the Islamic ideal of moderation, avoiding the extremes.

As for his intellectual care, the Muslim should take care of his mind by pursuing beneficial knowledge. It is his responsibility to seek knowledge whether it is religious or secular, so he may understand the nature and the essence of things. Allah Says: “…and say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” [Quran 20: 114

The Muslim should not forget that man is not only composed of a body and a mind, but that he also possesses a soul and a spirit. Therefore, the Muslim pays as much attention to his spiritual development as to his physical and intellectual development, in a balanced manner which ideally does not concentrate on one aspect to the detriment of others.

His attitude towards people

The Muslim must treat his parents with kindness and respect, compassion, politeness and deep gratitude. He recognizes their status and knows his duties towards them. Allah Says “And serve Allah. Ascribe nothing as partner unto Him. (Show) kindness unto parents…” [Quran 4: 36]

With his wife, the Muslim should exemplify good and kind treatment, intelligent handling, deep understanding of the nature and psychology of women, and proper fulfilment of his responsibilities and duties.

With his children, the Muslim is a parent who should understand his responsibility towards their good upbringing, showing them love and compassion, influence their Islamic development and giving them proper education, so that they become active and constructive elements in society, and a source of goodness for their parents, community, and society as a whole.

With his relatives, the Muslim maintains the ties of kinship and knows his duties towards them. He understands the high status given to relatives in Islam, which makes him keep in touch with them, no matter what the circumstances.

 

With his neighbours, the Muslim illustrates good treatment, kindness and consideration of others’ feelings and sensitivities. He turns a blind eye to his neighbour’s faults while taking care not to commit any such errors himself. The Muslim relationship with his wider circle of friends is based on love for the sake of Allah. He is loyal and does not betray them; he is sincere and does not cheat them; he is gentle, tolerant and forgiving; he is generous and he supplicates for them.

In his social relationships with all people, the Muslim should be well-mannered, modest and not arrogant. He should not envy others, fulfils his promises and is cheerful. He is patient and avoids slandering and uttering obscenities. He should not unjustly accuse others nor should he interfere in that which does not concern him. He refrains from gossiping, spreading slander and stirring up trouble – avoids false speech and suspicion. When he is entrusted with a secret, he keeps it. He respects his elders. He mixes with the best of people. He strives to reconcile between the Muslims. He visits the sick and attends funerals. He returns favours and is grateful for them. He calls others to Islam with wisdom, example and beautiful preaching. He should guide people to do good and always make things easy and not difficult.

The Muslim should be fair in his judgments, not a hypocrite, a sycophant or a show-off. He should not boast about his deeds and achievements. He should be straightforward and never devious or twisted, no matter the circumstances. He should be generous and not remind others of his gifts or favours. Wherever possible he relieves the burden of the debtor. He should be proud and not think of begging.

These are the standards by which the (ideal) Muslim is expected to structure his life on. Now how do I measure up and fit into all this? Can I honestly say that I really try to live by these ideals and principles; if not can I really call myself a true Muslim?

For the ease of writing this article I have made use of for want of a better word, the generic term ‘he’, ‘his’, ‘him’ and the ‘male’ gender, but it goes without saying that these standards apply equally to every female and male Muslim.

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OUR BELOVED CHILDREN

29th August 2022

“Homicide and suicide kill almost 7000 children every year; one in four of all children are born to unmarried mothers, many of whom are children themselves…..children’s potential lost to spirit crushing poverty….children’s hearts lost in divorce and custody battles….children’s lives lost to abuse and violence, our society lost to itself, as we fail our children.” “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” (Quotation taken from a book written by Hillary Clinton).

These words may well apply to us here in Botswana; We are also experiencing a series of challenges in many spheres of development and endeavour but none as challenging as the long term effects of what is going to happen to our youth of today. One of the greatest challenges facing us as parents today is how to guide our youth to become the responsible adults that we wish them to be, tomorrow.

In Islam Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has enjoined upon the parents to take care of the moral and religious instruction of their children from the very beginning, otherwise they will be called to account for negligence on the Day of Judgement. Parents must inculcate God-consciousness in their children from an early age, whereby the children will gain an understanding of duty to The Creator.

 

The Holy Qur’an says: ‘O you who believe! Save yourself and your families from the Fire of Hell’. (Ch. 66: V6). This verse places the responsibility on the shoulders of the parents to ensure that training and guidance begin at home. The goal is to mould the child into a solid Islamic personality, with good morals, strong Islamic principles, knowledge and behavior so as to be equipped to face the demands of life in a responsible and mature manner. This should begin with the proper environment at home that inculcates the best moral and behavioral standards.

But what do we have instead? Believers of all Religious persuasions will agree that we have children growing up without parental guidance, a stable home environment, without role models, being brought up in surroundings that are not conducive to proper upbringing and moulding of well-adjusted children. These children are being brought up devoid of any parental guidance and increasingly the desperate situation of orphaned children having to raise their siblings (children raising children) because their parents have succumbed to the scourge of AIDS.

It is becoming common that more and more girls still in their schooling years are now falling pregnant, most of them unwanted, with the attendant responsibilities and difficulties.

Observe the many young ladies who are with children barely in their teens having illegitimate children. In the recent past there was a campaign focused on the ‘girl-child’; this campaign targeted this group of young females who had fallen pregnant and were now mothers. The situation is that the mother still being just a ‘child’ and not even having tasted adulthood, now has the onerous responsibility of raising her own child most of the time on her own because either the father has simply disappeared, refuses to takes responsibility, or in some cases not even known.

We cannot place the entire blame on these young mothers; as parents and society as a whole stand accused because we have shirked our responsibilities and worse still we ourselves are poor role models. The virtual breakdown of the extended family system and of the family unit in many homes means that there are no longer those safe havens of peace and tranquility that we once knew. How then do we expect to raise well-adjusted children in this poisoned atmosphere?

Alcohol has become socially acceptable and is consumed by many of our youth and alarmingly they are now turning to drugs. Alcohol is becoming so acceptable that it is easily accessible even at home where some parents share drinks with their children or buying it for them. This is not confined only to low income families it is becoming prevalent amongst our youth across the board.

 

It is frightening to witness how our youth are being influenced by blatantly suggestive pop culture messages over television, music videos and other social media. Children who are not properly grounded in being able to make rational and informed decisions between what is right and what is wrong are easily swayed by this very powerful medium.

 

So what do we do as parents? We first have to lead by example; it is no longer the parental privilege to tell the child ‘do as I say not as I do’- that no longer works. The ball is in the court of every religious leader (not some of the charlatans who masquerade as religious leaders), true adherents and responsible parents. We cannot ignore the situation we have to take an active lead in guiding and moulding our youth for a better tomorrow.

In Islam Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “No father gives a better gift to his children than good manners and good character.”  Children should be treated not as a burden, but a blessing and trust of Allah, and brought up with care and affection and taught proper responsibilities etiquettes and behaviour.

Even the Bible says; ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein’. (Mark 10:14-15)

The message is clear and needs to be taken by all of us: Parents let us rise to the occasion – we owe it to our children and their future.

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