Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Role of Civil Society ÔÇô Learning from BOSASNet

Over the course of the last several months, I’ve had a number of different and exciting encounters. I ran into Botsalo Ntuane, Botswana Democratic Party MP for Gaborone West South, at the barber and spent an enlightening 20 minutes discussing political oversight and accountability with him.

His understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the various arms of government is absolute and certainly exceed mine. My encounter with him made me go back and research this phenomenon to further my own understanding of it in the Botswana context. His willingness to engage with me in that setting surprised me.

If anything, it was his positive attitude that led me to decide to interview political actors from across the political spectrum in the run up to general elections. Mostly politicians like to prepare for interviews with those who write for the press, lest they suffer some unpleasant line of questioning. I’m hoping to have a more comprehensive interview with him at some-time in the near future. I interviewed Gomolemo Motswaledi, President of the Botswana Movement for Democracy and Dumelang Saleshando, President of the Botswana Congress Party and MP for Gaborone Central for the Sunday Standard’s sister publication and I’ll be honest, both of them blew me away.

After conversing with Gomolemo, I went home to have dinner with my family and related to them how impressed I was by his eloquence, his ability to express himself and BMD’s agenda in both our official and national languages. His words ebbed and flowed like the tides and it was melodic, hypnotic. More than that, as I enquired and he rejoined, I saw in my mind’s eye a clear picture of the Botswana he wants to help build. I was entranced, which is no easy feat, I have studied politicians and politics for some time now, and my instinct with regard to politicians is to be suspicious and highly skeptical.

With regard to Dumelang, I’ve always known that his is an intellect to be respected, and in the course of our conversation he introduced new ideas and paradigms, the root causes to some of our political and social challenges in ways I’d never considered. My plan is to have more of these unscripted conversations (I do not provide a list of questions or topics to be covered before-hand), and if the three conversations I’ve had so far are any indication of the health and wealth of political talent in Botswana, then elections 2014 are going to be the most exhilarating yet. As my weekly newspaper reflections generally cover the realm of politics and governance, politicians and political actors do engage me. I study and write about politics, not because it is my sole area of interest, but because politics and politicians are those that wield the economic gun. They decide where public monies are to be spent. Monies on public programmes and projects that are intended to enhance societal well-being, my main area of interest. However, it would be and has been short-sighted of me to ignore the other actors in ‘the game’, civil society, and I learned that lesson this week. Recently, I joined the Community Support Group (CSG) of BOSASNet, The Botswana Substance Abuse and Support Network. An organization that was founded by people profoundly concerned about the increasing problem of substance abuse in Botswana. “The organization was formally registered as a society in November 2008, opened its doors in June 2010, and began providing counseling services in September 2010. The members and supporters of BOSASNet come from diverse backgrounds and professions that include counselors, social workers, journalists, attorneys, self-employed professionals, psychologists, physicians, psychiatrists, pharmacists, teachers, community representatives, community leaders etc. Although diverse in various ways, they all share a desire to address the substance abuse situation in the country and lead Botswana to be a substance abuse free nation“(BOSASNet website).

As an alcoholic in recovery (in other words, I have a drinking problem, but because I have and continue to be the recipient of treatment (medical, behavioral and spiritual) I haven’t had a drink in six and a half years and can function as a productive member of society.

When undergoing my initial rehabilitation, I was ‘inducted’ into the world of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – an international mutual aid fellowship whose primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. It was as a member of this fellowship that I learnt that in order to main and sustain my own sobriety my process would involve helping others who suffer from the same addictions or compulsions, thus my joining BOSASNet’s CSG. This month BOSASNet has dedicated itself to substance abuse awareness under theme ‘Preventing Youth and Substance Use – What’s Your Role?, and the activities being held include; two awareness walks, a “Substance Free Fun Day”, a panel discussion and public lecture on education and prevention, facilitated movie screenings, a flash mob, a responsible selling and purchasing of alcohol and tobacco campaign and a public awareness and so on.

On Thursday, I participated as a panel member at the University of Botswana Auditorium around this month’s awareness theme. The other two panelists were Mr. Phenyo Sebonego, The Chief Health Officer, Alcohol and Substance Abuse Division, Ministry of Health and Secretary of the Alcohol Abuse Levy Fund and Miss Eteng Mohwasa Programme Coordinator of “I AM” ÔÇô a youth empowerment programme.

Mr. Sebonego’s presentation covered government activities with regard to substance abuse and the utilization of Alcohol Levy funds, while Miss Mohwasa talked about her organization, empowering youth through knowledge and the role of youth in the fight against substance abuse. Both these panelists presented a wealth of knowledge and information and held the attention of the audience with ease. My contribution was smaller, in that it covered my own experiences with alcoholism and personal observations with regard to how Batswana conduct themselves around alcohol and illegal substances. I admit to being nervous as I was talking about an extremely personal experience after two very competent and able presenters. After presentations were made, the floor was opened for questions, observations and discussion. While the auditorium was not packed, the ensuing debate was lively. The audience was engaged and by the end of the evening I got a sense of what it’s like to be part of a movement that’s come together to make a difference. It was invigorating and since joining BOSASNet, I’ve felt a ground-swell with regard its aims and objectives. I see more people, ordinary citizens like myself, climbing on board and owning this cause; civil society participation in Botswana’s social, political and economic future. Civil society actors ÔÇô including NGOs, labour organizations, faith groups etc ÔÇô are more important than ever. The past decade has seen the rise of the increasingly aware, connected and educated global citizen demanding new ways of engaging with business and governments in a time of economic and political turbulence. The fact is that in today’s financially tight times, the list of government priorities is endless and it cannot hope to solve all of society’s ills and challenges on its own. With respect to good governance and societal betterment, civil society has a core and vital place and a role to play.

This is the lesson I learnt this week.

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