Botswana is going (gone) to the dogs!
by Kenneth Dipholo
Towards the end of 2011, this column proposed a National Commission on Reconciliation specifically to promote forgiveness and reconciliation. The column observed that as a nation Botswana is experiencing unprecedented divisions and hostilities that are holding us back from prosperity.
The essay cited a number of cases to illustrate the extent of the problem and show that there is widespread public perception that everything that used to be right is now wrong. However, it seems our leaders don’t give a damn about this bitterness and the vicious cycle of hate that envelopes us. They like to pretend that everything is good and those who are complaining that the Botswana society is at war with itself are fantasizing. The recent Happy Planet research conclusions suggest that Batswana are an unhappy people. Government spin doctors who are always quick to rebut findings that they do not agree with have failed to challenge the study in ways that suggest that the truth is damning. Just a week ago the Minister of Labor and Home Affairs Mr. Edwin Batshu revealed that for the last three years Botswana has been in a free fall in global competitiveness rankings.
This is an honest admission of a worrying trend which in simple terms means that Botswana is losing out on account of unprecedented decline in productivity. It is my submission that this decline in productivity is a warning that we are sitting on a ticking bomb. It is a silent expression of unhappiness and bitterness against a comical administration and a new generation of leadership that possesses incorrigible arrogance and malice. Overall, we have a dejected and despondent citizenry.
Workers who are accused of poor work ethics are just a fraction of the collection of hopeless citizens. Poor work ethics just show the extent to which the nation is polarized, self-loathing and depressed. For instance, nowadays it is not uncommon to hear people loudly proclaiming that they do not give a damn whether or not their actions or inactions contribute to the spread of foot and mouth disease, especially people from the red zones. They don’t just care even if their deeds directly undermine government’s efforts to eradicate foot and mouth disease. They just don’t care that their deeds has the potential to lead to the total collapse of the beef industry in Botswana. It is like most people have given up on a better life and want to go down with the entire economy.
I have lost count of the number of court cases involving public service employees and their employer. Admittedly, there will always be factors that cause employees and employers to squabble mostly because each sees things differently. Yet, what is going on between the Government of Botswana and public service employees is just unimaginable madness. They are like adolescents boasting to each other about the growth of their precious parts. Civil servants feel betrayed and hard done by the employer and perhaps are determined to fix the government. They complain that their pay sucks and that the employer is sadistic, predatory and stink. On the other hand, government is convinced that employees are a liability or damn slackers who must be sorted out at any costs hence its hard line approach to labor issues. In an environment where workers are convinced that their employer does not care, it is normal human response not to care either and at the extreme, to sabotage the employer. However, in their attempt to fix the employer, they indirectly harm innocent citizens and visitors who need services from the delinquent government.
The workers message seems to be that government should show that it cares and they will do things differently. In a situation like this, just how do we expect workers especially civil servants to be a productive workforce? How do we expect them to commit to good work ethics when their immediate objective is to disgrace the employer? Just how do we expect them to demonstrate positive attitudes towards work when there is so much tension between themselves and the employer? How do we expect them to commit to a winning performance when they feel abused by a state president who takes pride in publicly shaming them and even boasting that he wont give a damn if they engage in strike for the next five years? Mark Twain comments that ‘there are no wild animals until man makes them so’.
Workers have become militant delinquent, habitual saboteurs, serial under-achievers and small bandits who misappropriate public resources including small stuff like pencils hence the economy is in a state of virtual paralysis. I hate to say it but I it must be appreciated that play acting or pretending to be busy while doing nothing is one way to deal with a bully employer. In fact I foresee workers adopting very punitive measures that would make citizens want to opt for voluntary deportations to escape the mess. Of course the government has already taken the war to workers by referring their court cases to justices who would rule in the employer’s favor.
President Khama can invite teachers and everyone to the state house for some fancy dinner but he is not addressing the problem and a glass of cheap red wine will not transform an irate and revenge-seeking employee into a diligent productive worker. Such interventions are petty, short-sighted and typical of an inwardly oriented and indifference leader. Botswana needs national self-introspection and renewal to enable us to own up to our individual and collective mistakes and start afresh or we forget about prosperity.