Monday, June 14, 2021

US diplomat couldn’t schedule official meetings with Batswana on Fridays

“At the time, the author was a United States diplomat accredited to Botswana,” writes Dan Henk in a book about the Botswana Defence Force’s anti-poaching operations. “He found it unwise to schedule official meetings with his host-nation counterparts on Fridays (or on other weekend days) because of the exodus of officials to their rural home areas.”

A diplomat, Henk chooses his words very carefully and while he never once uses “lazy”, he nonetheless manages to painstakingly stitch together diplomatic language that describe such negative attribute very effectively.

“Official meetings” tells the reader that these meetings were not after-hours, social get-togethers at the Grand Palm Hotel but were supposed to happen during working hours. “Other weekend days” would include Mondays when the people that he wanted to meet on Friday would probably be on their way back to Gaborone or taking rest that they should have taken during the weekend. “On Fridays or on other weekend days” clearly shows that Botswana effectively has a three-day workweek. “Exodus” describes how the problem in question runs across the civil service – which at one level, is really a mere extension of the social welfare programme. With senior government officials away in their villages on Fridays and Mondays, junior officers are basically left to their own devices – WhatsApp-enabled smart phones in this case. Henk’s statement also illuminates the weekend farming phenomenon that is problematic in the manner Henk for office labour productivity as well as for agricultural productivity.

Henk was a military attaché and in the category of “host-nation counterparts” would have been senior officials at the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation as well as senior BDF officers. It is actually possible to identify the individuals that a US military attaché working in Botswana in the years that Henk was posted here would have wanted to meet.

Westerners, especially Americans, never have good things to say things about Africa – which the sitting US president has described to as a “shithole.” However, no honest person can deny that there is an exodus of government officials to their rural home areas on Fridays and that not all of them come to work on Monday. Resultantly, labour productivity suffers badly and successive Global Competitiveness reports from the World Economic Forum show that the work ethic of Botswana’s labour force is among the worst in the world. Interestingly, this same labour force was among Africa’s best during the administration of the founding president, Sir Seretse Khama. What is even more interesting is that in its 2019 elections manifesto, the Umbrella for Democratic Change had pledged to create 100 000 jobs and never provided specific details of how it planned to improve labour productivity. Basically, the party the wanted to expand the scale of an already unmanageable problem that it had no plan to solve. The latter means that contrary to what some believe, Botswana’s more pressing problem has to do with people who are already employed and not those who are unemployed.

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