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Reviving Civic Voice

Publishing Date : 29 October, 2019

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Botswana Forum for Action and Reform (B-FAR), is a group of well-meaning Batswana, from different walks of lives, were concerned at the state of affairs in this country. There are many things to be concerned about but I will mention just a few of the things which made us to talk amongst ourselves, agree that something should be done, and sacrificed our time to do it. These are some of those problems:


Economy: Failed economic diversification, citizen economic exclusion and marginalization of local private enterprise;
Society: High and growing levels of unemployment, income inequality, poverty, poor education, health and public services;
Politics: Erosion of democracy, increase in opportunistic politics, tribalistic undertones and political ingenuity;
Governance: High levels of corruption and economic crime, and compromised systems of accountability;
 
In the middle of such problems, the civic voice has been silenced. There is not enough voice of reason, voice of caution, voice of sanity, voice of balance, voice of dissent, voice of persuasion.
 

The theme for this event is in three parts: Reviving Civic Voice; Demanding Reform; and Calling for Action. We want that voice back. This is our country and we should not just watch as spectators when things are not going well. We are here to resuscitate that voice, and we are here to demand reform to address the problems I mentioned earlier, and we are here to call for consistent action for them to be addressed to move Botswana forward. Our call will be to everyone: individuals, institutions, companies, government departments, political parties and leaders.


That group of concerned Batswana decided there is need to establish an entity that will promote the acceleration of the socio-economic transformation of Botswana, and its refocus towards three areas: sustainable development; citizen engagement; and inclusive growth. They are in the process of establishing an entity to be called the Botswana Forum for Action and Reform (B-FAR). The intention was to have completed the process before the elections so that we hit the road running immediately after the elections and get to work with the incoming government. The process is highly advanced and will be completed within days.


B-FAR is being established as a Trust, or in the form of a Trust, based on the instrument we all know as the Notarial Deed of Trust. In terms of function B-FAR is a mix of a lobby group, and advocacy group, a special interest group and a think-tank. B-FAR will be independent and non-party. It is intended to lobby for, advocate for, and represent the interests of an accelerated and radical structural and socio-economic transformation agenda for Botswana with an aim to enhance sustainable development, widen citizen engagement and achieve inclusive growth. We will demand political, institutional, socio-economic and structural reform and call for urgent and determined action in these 3 broad areas.


This will be done through: public policy debate; political education; community mobilization; citizen engagement; leadership development; and action-oriented programmes. We will use various tools to achieve the above, including: opinion polls; media campaigns; publicity stunts; networking sessions; meetings and workshops; exhibitions; newsletters and reports; social media and other communication channels.


Limitations and exclusions. There are two areas we will not deal with: religion and morality. The reason for this is that religion is naturally a divided area that not anyone can bring together, and we believe morality is covered adequately by law unless it is purely of a religious nature. We will be careful in dealing with issues of culture. We love our culture and we will not ordinarily come against it unless it is deliberately misused to obstruct progress.


Strategic focus. We will be deliberately and emphatically pro-citizen and pro-Botswana. We will be for progress and against what stalls progress, regardless of the source. We will commend, applaud, celebrate and be friends with that which is good for Botswana. Whether it is a person, an institution, an organized group, a political party, a stated policy, a pronounced strategy, an action or lack thereof. If it is good for Botswana we will respond positively to it.


On the other hand, we will condemn, denounce, become enemies to and speak against that which is bad for Botswana and Batswana. Our friend is progress and proponents of progress and our enemy is the stalling or reversal of progress and those who do it. Our beneficiary is the citizen of Botswana and our trophy is a prosperous and all-inclusive Botswana.


Our Slogan. We have selected the first four words in the national anthem as our 2-part slogan. “Fatshe Leno … La Rona”. The slogan speaks about the country and about you. It is meant to bring you to the reality that in deed Botswana belongs to you. It belongs to you as much as it belongs to any other Motswana regardless of position and power.


You are like an equal shareholder to a company. You carry one vote as everyone else. No one carries two votes. This should make you feel confidently assured and appeal to your patriotic conscience to do and seek what is right for your Botswana and for you as a Motswana. We intend to prioritize our work. Between now some time after the election, we have selected four areas that we will focus on. These are: Politics; Corruption; Inequality; Unemployment.


Politics. It is an election time and the little time left before elections gives us an opportunity to comment, where helpful to do so, on what we perceive as wrong and what we perceive as right. We are already witnessing self-serving opportunistic politics, a lot of deception and propaganda and the electorate being taken advantage of.  There is a lot to speak about.


Our first message is to advice Batswana to vote wisely. We are at the crossroads where good leadership is particularly critical for Botswana to go forward. It is simple: leaders can make or break a country; they can pull all of us up or down. You only have to look at our neighbours for examples of how leaders can take the country back: South Africa under Jacob Zuma and Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. Similarly, for those that are doing well, the top 2 countries with the highest GDP growth in the world are African.


These are Ethiopia followed by Rwanda. It is not because of ideology, or parties, or manifestos but their leaders. At this point in time, we want voters, especially those that still have to make up their minds, even after listening and referring to the manifestos, to scrutinize the top leaders and vote for a President that will bring the desired change.


Corruption. They don’t call it cancer for no reason. Just as a person who does not deal with cancer dies, a country which does not deal with corruption collapses. Our situation is terrible. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) reported by Transparency International in 2018, Botswana recorded 61 out of 100 and was ranked the 34th least corrupt country out of 175 countries. In Africa, we lost the top spot to Seychelles. All of a sudden, we have become a corrupt nation. We should never forget that we have been corruption averse since time immemorial; we were the best in Africa but not anymore. We have caught the dangerous disease that we desperately should heal from.


Our first call for action in this regard will be to motivate for the outgoing MPs to account for the Constituency Funds that were under their charge in the past electoral period. Going forward, the Constituency Community Projects (CCP) expenditures should be transparent and fully accounted for through a public accounts disclosure system to be developed and followed across the country. This will be followed by the pursuit of accounting for and the retrieval of the huge sums of money that has been stolen from the people of Botswana. We will add our voice for this scourge to be brought to an end.


Inequality. Our view is that after corruption, the next evil Botswana faces is inequality. With an HDI growth rate that is 5th in Africa and an extremely high GDP per capita, the country can be said to be rich, but its people are poor. The previous government has done well to raise the economy but the problem is that it does not reach an ordinary Motswana. The Gini Coefficient is a measure of the extent the distribution of income among individuals and households deviates from a perfectly equal distribution.


According to UNDP, the Gini Coefficient for Botswana measured in 2009 is stated at 60.50 (there is an unofficial mention of 53.30 which apparently was measured in 2017).  This places Botswana as the third (3th) most unequal country in Africa, after only South Africa and Namibia. The question we have is, if the minority white people dominate the South African and Namibian economies to the extent that it has caused so much inequality it can be likened to ownership of those countries, who owns Botswana? Why and how would anybody else other than Batswana own Botswana? This is the message that needed to be told or debated but there was no one to tell it strongly enough even in manifestos and political rallies.


Our first call to action is to interrogate pro-citizen programmes of the political parties and point the electorate to any promises made. We should emphasise life-changing programmes not promises of free gifts of items or money meant to lure voters, but programmes intended to directly target citizens and improve their lives in a meaningful and lasting way. Those programmes should come to life after the elections.


Unemployment. Botswana’s unemployment rate is not only high but growing. Officially it increased from 17.6% in 2016 to 18.1% in 2017. Some people argue that the figures are low because we have deliberately excluded what is classified as Frictional Unemployment, Structural Unemployment, and Seasonal Unemployment.  Despite this exclusion, Botswana’s unemployment rate is the 11th worst in Africa. To make matters worse, the high inequality situation is such that unemployment affects certain sections of the society more than others, and it happens to be the women and youth.


Our first call for action regarding unemployment is not to the politicians but to the institutions. We are going to probe 3 institutions (Ministry of Investment, Trade & Industry (MITI), Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN)), and demand their commitment in relation to large scale commercial production of industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana, initially exclusively for export.


This is an industry that has raised ailing economies elsewhere and has even entered the stock market in places like the USA. This is in addition to it having substantial beneficial and sustainable employment creation potential. Going forward, we are going to interrogate our pre-occupation with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as opposed to Domestic Direct Investment (DDI) and the impact of existing citizen economic empowerment programmes.


B-FAR will follow a 4-stage internal process of consensus building and effective targeted delivery. The four stages are: 1. Selection and prioritization of issues; 2. Fact-finding around the selected issues; 3. Agreement on how to deal with the issues; and 4. Acting on what has been agreed. We will not present individual opinions or decisions but those of the Forum. We will endevour to ascertain that when you come across something being said or done by anyone of us under the name of the Forum, you should understand it to be the position of the Forum.


As I wind up, allow me to state the obvious. You are the media. You carry and transmit and deliver messages. You have heard about the planned B-FAR, our immediate calls for action upon its registration and we invite you to work with us in making sure that the messages reach the intended audiences. I thank you once again, for being here and listening to our story. We pray that we become friends with you.


As I said earlier, our friend is anyone who does what is good for Botswana. We trust that you always do, and naturally we should be friends. But we also ask that we be partners. As an industry you have the interest to promote what is good. But you are also Batswana. It is your country too. “Fatshe Leno … La Rona”. You have to help us to make it better.

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