Thursday, April 25, 2024

Miss Botswana made to wave non-Botswana flag at welcome ceremony

There are 144 shades of blue and at independence in 1966, Botswana chose sky blue as its official colour for its tri-colour flag. Through popular use, this shade of blue has become the de facto primary national colour. The precision of national flags is such if the shades are incorrect so is the flag because sky blue conveys special meaning that any other shade of blue can’t convey.

The historical record shows that most people, including those who make critical decisions, don’t know the right shade of blue and that the national football team needs to be doing well for the right shade to enjoy widespread public use. When the Zebras are doing poorly on football pitches from South Africa to Egypt, a riot of shades purporting to represent the official blue has been the unfortunate result. Sadly, that was the case when Miss Botswana was doing exceptionally well on the Miss World stage in India. At the precise moment that she missed out on the grand prize but won the Miss World Africa title, the Zebras languished at position 146 in FIFA rankings. That was a big clue.

When Chombo landed at the Sir Seretse Khama international airport in Gaborone, a sizeable crowd had gathered in the terminal and among them was a traditional dance troupe whose members were wearing tri-colour headbands that were supposed to depict Botswana’s national colours. “Supposed to” because the shade of blue in the headbands was the wrong one. Some other people waved what would have been the national flag but for the wrong shade of blue.

The highpoint of this spectacle would come when Chombo was given a miniature flag with the wrong shade of blue and led to a car that itself flew a flag with the wrong shade of blue from the roof. Torso sticking out of the sunroof, Chombo would then then be driven around town following a predetermined route to greet fans lining the streets, all the while waving the non-Botswana flag. The irony couldn’t be starker: someone who had given her all and came thisclose to winning the Miss World title was being let down by people who had obviously not done their (simple) homework. The flag would have been picked out by people who wanted to celebrate Chombo’s victory with the national flag but were clueless about flag principles. While they could find the right car and map out the right route, they somehow couldn’t find flags with the right shade of blue.

While some associate beauty pageants with frivolity, they actually do help brand a country. When Mpule Kwelagobe won the Miss Universe title in 1999, some people learnt about Botswana for the very first time. Others who knew the country but thought it was part of South Africa were disabused of such belief. What happened last Sunday undermines the Brand Botswana initiative because if the Brand Botswana secretariat would like to use pictures from Chombo’s welcome-home event, it will find itself having to use pictures that depict what is essentially a non-Botswana flag.

Interestingly, this misrepresentation also happened in another realm. As Chombo’s motorcade weaved through Gaborone streets, a well-meaning Facebooker rushed to post an unproofread message on a comment board of one of the pages livestreaming the spectacle: “Lesego Chombo is a rare germ.” History buffs may also be interested in almost similar comedy of errors of when the Gaborone City Council greenlighted a Miss Thong beauty contest because the officers thought it was beauty pageant themed on Setswana that asserts that shyness is a sign of humanness: “thong botho.” They were horrified when pictures of naked girls prancing on the stage were published in newspapers post-event.

Ignorance about the right shade of blue in the flag even extends to parliament. When he had to tackle a parliamentary question on why the government sourced its stock of national flags from the United States, then Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Baledzi Gaolathe, did better than read out an answer prepared by his technocrat underlings. He brought two bundles of rolled-up national flags, each with a different shade of blue (one aqua blue, the other sky blue) along with the written answer.

Called upon to respond by the Speaker, Gaolathe rose, unfurled the flags and held out each in his hands.

“Which is the Botswana flag?” he asked MPs.

Without a moment’s hesitation, practically all MPs pointed to the flag with the aqua blue shade as the right one.

“Actually, it’s this one,” said Gaolathe, shaking the flag with the sky-blue shade to make a veritable tick symbol.

That was before TV cameras were allowed into the chamber and so, this very important civics lesson never reached members of the public who evidently need it the most. The result was that those who had missed out on Gaolathe’s lesson (including civil servants) continued to use the flag with the aqua blue shade.

The MP who had probably asked the question had hoped to embarrass the government – which is the outcome that some parliamentary questions seek to achieve. However, the answer came as an embarrassment to the whole nation, especially textile companies. Gaolathe’s answer was that the government was buying flags from the US because local textile companies had failed to manufacture good quality flags whose colours don’t run fast and had the right shade of blue.

This decades-long anomaly would be corrected when the performance of the Zebras improved significantly and the Botswana Football Association appointed All Kasi as the team’s official dresser. Zebras’ performance inspired a surge of patriotism that led to All Kasi factory churning out replica jerseys which became very popular. At least for the period of the contract, the wrong shade of blue all but disappeared from public view. However, the wrong shades in apparel and a variety of merchandise are back in the market.

Oddly, flag manufacturers are supposed to follow explicit colour specifications. Some countries are very strict about the application of those specifications and will actually take punitive action against those who flub them. Last year, the South Sudan government warned advertising and printing companies in the country about not using the right colour scheme.

“Media houses, advertisement and printing companies are hereby cautioned to immediately cease any printing of wrong versions of the national flag that does not conform with the right version of the South Sudan national flag,” said Elijah Alier, the Managing Director of the Media Authority at a press conference.

He added that the printing, publication and circulation of the wrong version of the South Sudan national flag is prohibited.

“Failure to comply to print the right version of the national flag will incur penalties to printing and advertisement companies,” he is quoted as saying.

The South Sudanese Media Authority periodically reminds members of the public that the national flag can only be dignified if it is rendered in its original designs, accurate shapes and colours.


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