Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Intimidation and tirade: Tshabang Vs Boko

This article is based on two articles that appeared recently in two different newspapers. The first article appeared on the Gazette Newspaper (Wednesday 18th July 2012) written by Sakarea Makgapha entitled ‘UB academics are useless- Boko’. The second article was a guest column by Dr Never Tshabang in the Sunday Standard (Sunday 22nd July 2012) entitled ‘In defence of UB academics against Duma Boko’. I think Comrade Duma Boko, the Leader of Botswana National Front (as members of BNF affectionately refer to each other) confused a political rally with a courtroom where I assume he is afforded immunity and can therefore dish out ‘venomous’ spat at will against poor witnesses on the stand.┬á Duma Boko must remember that he is now a political figure who is no longer immune from public accountability and scrutiny. As a politician his employment does not depend anymore on his CV but on good public relations with potential voters and advisors. His career in politics may as well depend on the very UB academics who it is alleged he said are useless. The late Jim Rohn an American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker once said ‘A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.’ On a personal note, I found the tirade against UB academics unconstructive, ill-timed and above all regrettable. If I had an opportunity to talk about or critic colleagues or former colleagues, I will use neither a political forum nor the language used or attributed to the Leader of the Botswana National Front.

I must confess that I am not very familiar with many works from the University of Botswana (UB) Professors and academics. I am therefore not in a position to give any opinion on the importance of their work in relation to ordinary people. So when I saw the headline of Dr Never Tshabang’s article in response to Duma Boko’s tirade, I was full of excitement and anticipation. I was however flabbergasted by Dr Never Tshabang’s response to statements attributed to Duma Boko. I strongly feel that Dr Never Tshabang as an esteemed and seasoned academic must by now have developed a thick skin, and should therefore not have ‘”thrown out the baby with bath water.” I expected Dr Never Tshabang to be able to distil the important points from unpleasant ones in Boko’s tirade. He should have dismissed Duma Boko’s spat with examples of substance on how UB academics are at the forefront of survival of the battles of ordinary people. For example I recently came across a group of communal cattle farmers who could not stop talking about the Mosi cattle breed, how good it is and how it is going to improve their cattle by reducing veterinary and feeding costs. The Mosi cattle breed may be on the high end of scale, but I expected some examples of substance. Duma Boko’s tirade, crazed or disrespectful as it may have been or appeared, calls for time of reflection and introspection among our academics or any professional for that matter. Whatever we may think of his outburst, he has thrown down the gauntlet. Indeed Batswana academics must justify the country’s investment on our education. Otherwise Duma Boko’s statement that ‘Botswana’s professors (this may be extended to other professionals) are failing the country and its people despite the massive investment that has been pumped into their PhD’s (or education in general)’ would resonate nothing but the truth.

Dr Never Tshabang’s article starts with the history of Duma Boko’s attacks on UB academics and students since he resigned from UB. He goes on to talk about Duma Boko’s unproductive 10-year tenure at the University of Botswana and his ‘bolting out’ of academics before going for PhD. “Boko has been an academic himself for a decade, 1993-2003, which makes him a man we know very well, in fact, probably more than any other group of people in society would know him….. He knows that we know his strengths and weakness (vide infra)’ writes Dr Never Tshabang. Botswana is a democratic country with among other things freedom of speech. Duma Boko as a citizen of Botswana and a leader of opposition party has the right to interrogate the contribution of academics at our highest institutes of learning. I personally find nothing wrong with the man saying ‘Do as I say, not I as do.’ A ‘failed career’ in academia if that is what Duma Boko’s tenure at UB amounted to or ‘very little contribution to scholarship of this country’ as Dr Tshabang writes, does not bar the man from asking pertinent questions about value for money at our highest institute of learning. If these statements were uttered by a highly acclaimed academic say a Noble laureate with impeccable publication record who had nothing to do with UB, how would Dr Tshabang have defended the UB academics? Dr Tshabang’s article did not help exonerate UB academics from the “Duma accusations.’ Instead I found it as an act of academic intimidation tantamount to blackmail and cowardice. ‘Do not dare question our contribution to society Duma! otherwise will tell on you ÔÇô We know your skeletons in the closets.’ Dr Tshabang’s article in short is equally regrettable.

Some of Duma Boko’s statements are not far from the truth. “Proper analysis observes certain rules of logic, and in order to deserve our attention, it must be rigorous and enriching……. Serious intellectuals proffer solutions to society’s challenges…..’ No academic on the right mind can dispute such a profound statement. The onus is upon the University of Botswana and academics to sell their works to the public. The University of Botswana must also set standards and possibly review works for popular media. This may appear restrictive, but poor analysis and judgement is more damaging to the University of Botswana than a restrictive system. It is also true that it is not uncommon to see UB academics on BTV or other forms of media giving analysis on various subjects. Some expert opinion has been exceptional and inspirational. However, it is not uncommon to come across some expert opinion which leaves a lot to be desired. In some cases I have tried to make a follow up reading on cited work only to find that either it was based on flawed methodology devoid of intellectual rigour; small sample size, flawed experimental design, the work was not compared with good experimental control and data analysis not clearly defined. Some of the work will not have been peer-reviewed. But our esteemed experts would be talking with so much authority and confidence that you could think they are talking about established, tested and tried facts. Some would be so concerned about being addressed with right title to an extent that they will constantly remind the presenter to call them Doctor or Professor. There is nothing wrong with one emphasizing the use of one’s title as they have earned and deserve it. But for one to scratch the surface or wander outside one’s area of expertise and purport to be an expert is criminal. This is what may lead to tirades particularly if the opinion can sway voters.

If our concern is the battles of ordinary citizenry, political leaders and academic leaders alike must all recognize the need for full co-operation as stipulated in Botswana Vision 2016.
Constructive criticism breeds excellence and should be conducted within the realms of Botho – one of the principles of Botswana Vision 2016. Botho stipulates a well rounded character, who is well mannered, courteous and disciplined, and realises his or her full potential both as an individual and as a part of community to which he or she belongs. A Motswana of today wants accountability of all citizens for their actions and decisions. Tirade intimidations and blackmail ÔÇô ga di age sechaba (they do not build the community).

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