Saturday, June 22, 2024

“Strategic Essentialism” on Faith should anchor Transparency

The neatest name is Botswana Network of Christian Communities (BONECCO). Apart from the name, nothing rings with sweetness where the founding document is mentioned. BONECCO is fashioned out as an amalgamation of three distinct organizations that have existed for decades in one shape or form, namely: the Organization of African Instituted Churches led by Mookami Tebogo Philemon Motlhagodi, the Evangelical Fellowship Botswana represented by Pastor Moffat Lubinda and the Botswana Council of Churches under the watch of Rev Bishop Metlhayotlhe Beleme (OAIC, EFB and BCC). However, the draft constitution of this proposed network is a convoluted piece of work that has resulted in contradictions and dissonance. I am the head of New Temple of the New Jerusalem – a denomination that affiliated under the OAIC Botswana Chapter since 2012, a communications focal person for OAIC International responsible for southern Africa. Any chapter in this region using the OAIC brand runs into a territory that is indeed my brief, particularly when inter-relationships are cultivated.

There has been a groundswell of excitement and euphoria among the leadership of the three umbrella bodies. Diminishing individual identities to present a single unit agitating for recognition on a specific demand is a post-colonial theory (Spivak, 1983) known as “strategic essentialism”. Nowhere else do the values of sincerity, integrity and openness matter more than when strategic essentialism is pushed forth by faith-based communities, because a failure to have them central to the purpose for which the bargaining power is set in motion, the quicker it has the potential to plunge the nation into an untold state of chaos.

These core values have been missing in the draft constitution put together in 2016, and four years down the line, a loose formation has already been in existence even before such a framework was approved by the Registrar if it is a society or by the Master if turns out to be a trust. The proposition for a collective is predicated on a memorandum of understanding.

A case is laid bare for a corporate body to define BONECCO as opposed to it comprising non-profit making churches to be registered as a society. Simultaneously, BONECCO is described as a non-profit organization. Moreover, the document mentions a “Board of Trustees” in the running of the organization. Does a doubting Thomas wonder just how possible it could be for the crafters of the document to have different models presented in one body?

One might infer that BONECCO should follow the society’s model – but not when the board of trustees is pronounced clearly; this might lend itself to being a trust, in which case, it should seek the approval of the Master of the High Court who requires financial security for those acting as trustees because of their fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries. In that case, it would require that there should be evidence of who the founders of the trust are, their intent to accrue benefits to a target population by putting down a nominal amount, and also indicating the trust property (movable and immovable). There is nowhere in the constitution to show these three prerequisites, yet BONECCO is to be run by a Board of Trustees?

The contradiction is heightened in the layers of operational structures duplicating roles, but recycling the same people. This provides for no checks and balances in the system. There is the General Assembly, National Council, Executive Committee, Board of Trustees, Secretariat, Sub-committees and Ministers’ Fraternal.

A case is made clear that the three main players desire to foster a community that can leverage on its expanded constituency to press for the demands, particularly on the government to set aside a place at the table during high-level engagements. It is no wonder that while BONECCO is not legally registered, the three leaders have managed to locate their seats at the Presidential Covid-19 Task Force. BONECCO is binding the three entities through their members to assume liabilities for financial transactions that the single network would undertake in the execution of its mandate. In simple terms, the individual organizations “cannot continue to work in parallel…if they were to be included in national development issues as well as in high-level governance structures.” The powers of BONECCO are sweeping and commit the separate faith-based organizations to responsibilities that naturally compel each umbrella body to go back and thoroughly engage with their membership through consultative workshops to educate and empower them on the benefits that might accrue because of this merger.

As one who reviewed the founding document in August 2016, I bear witness that the OAIC has dismally failed to engage in stakeholders’ consultative meetings throughout Botswana to get the buy-in of these member churches. This is despite repeated advice to go in that direction. The chapter committee of the OAIC receives its mandate for further collaborations and partnerships from the member churches. The devolution of power from the committee to the member churches was borne out of the realization that the agreements reached with the heads of the member churches should be adopted as the decision of the General Assembly of the OAIC, and therefore, they support the implementation by the chapter committee. Without engagement, the committee is putting a noose around the necks! Where the chapter constitution prejudices the member churches, the supreme constitution is the OAIC International.  No Chapter can brandish the OAIC yet behave as if it was autonomous.

BONECCO spells out as rights for each of the participating organizations to have access to leadership on a rotational basis as that may concern the structures mentioned. Assuming the principle of equity is real, the previous week’s event during which OAIC handed the presidential baton of the National Council to the BCC, leaves the sceptic asking why the Secretariat which from inception four years ago, has remained in the hands of the BCC? Better still, should such a situation where the same organization seizes “patriarchal” and “administrative” powers have been made possible in the first place, while EFB and OAIC are spectators? What does it say about the partnership? And what are we to conclude in terms of governance principles being propounded here – probity, due diligence, integrity and so forth? Now that our leaders have placed the cart before the horse by operationalizing the coalition, answers must be provided as to who recruits staff for the Secretariat, and what method is being employed to ensure equal opportunity to employment for members of these three partners? Who is paying the wage bill; could it be from the annual subscriptions by the cooperating bodies through their members?

It should not escape our minds that the BCC has always played out the power dynamics in a paternalistic way when collaborating with fellow Christian bodies from the days of the Botswana Spiritual Church Council when they lured a few churches of the African heritage to join them to weaken the cause of our forefathers, who were agitating against the registration of churches as societies, while the mainline churches were not subjected under the 1973 Societies’ Act. To this day, there are about 15 such churches affiliated under the BCC banner which BCC is holding very close to the chest because they have bloated their numbers. The BCC has always needed the numbers to transform from the Botswana Christian Council to Botswana Council of Churches – the latter being a chapter of the ecumenical global body, the World Council of Churches. Under the WCC, there are specific numbers of registered member churches and population that translate to a threshold for a country to be recognized as a chapter. Once treated as a chapter, the WCC mobilizes financial resources and technical assistance, the reason the mainline churches have seemed to be better organized than the African instituted churches.

The BCC has had to overhaul its constitution to include the third vice-president as representing the OAIC family of churches. The reality is that what is being fashioned out now as BONECCO is the reaction to the guilt that has accumulated over the years in the conscience of the mainline churches, who have treated the chapter of the WCC as their exclusive property, while the BCC should encompass all the Christian formations with a rotational leadership among the Christian communities including those that are non-aligned.

This lack of transparency when dealing with fellow Christians is endemic in the DNA of the BCC to the extent that they presuppose a higher moral ground when in fact, fostering cooperation, always demands uprightness and transparency. Who can forget the P1, 7 million by the UNDP to the same three Christian organizations in 2002 to fuse HIV/AIDS sermons in the pulpit, which the BCC did not disburse, claiming her strategic partners did not have the technical capacity? It became the UCCSA money as two of its flamboyant ministers crisscrossed the countryside, spending and entertaining friends at “training workshops”. These tragic happenings are not isolated, therefore, we should take cues and not gloss over them in the ecstasy of fraternizing to give an impression of unity of faiths.

As heads of individual denominations, we must sound a clarion call to those entrusted with the leadership in the OAIC to return to full-throttle stakeholders’ consultative meetings to unbundle the conundrum that BONECCO is and articulate the sticky points raised here. Only then should the three umbrella bodies commit their member churches to such a heavy undertaking with dire ramifications. The chapter committee cannot arbitrarily decide on behalf of the members what to do with their organization. There is no OAIC if member churches do not affiliate. The OAIC is not about one strongman.

Whichever Registrar will ultimately be seized up with the mammoth task of turning BONECCO into a registered entity – there is need to be meticulously circumspect.

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