Wednesday, August 10, 2022

When indigenization of the “colonial master” passes for Independence

I always enjoy reading the contributions of my fellow citizens to the newspapers. It’s as though we have suddenly woken up from some kind of slumber. We better because from the look of things the house is catching fire, so to speak.

I have lately noticed with some degree of pride and satisfaction that increasingly, individual citizens are taking interest in sharing their views on a wide range of topics. It is such a delight to see my compatriots applying their minds to the issues around us collectively as citizens of Botswana, and sharing your insights so substantively.

I am always challenged by the analysis and opinion columns as they crystallize out some very pertinent issues in our country today.

Of the many esteemed contributors, I believe that the one that might help us most on the topic I want to throw out there is Dr. Thapelo Otlogetswe (The Linguist Chair) as some of this stuff touches on his area of authority. The issue I wish to address, albeit from a layman’s perspective (academically speaking) is that of translation of concepts, as opposed to just words.

I consider this to be important because it is when we have successfully translated a concept that we can hope to have shared meaning with the one for whom we are translating. It is not enough to translate only the words, because doing so only renders those words to be labels that are otherwise conceptually empty. Yet I find that in Botswana we tend to use words very loosely without necessarily having a concept of what it is we are referring to when using a particular word.

An interesting example is the translation of the word independence, which is translated boipuso in Setswana. I would have no quarrel if this were just a translation of the word as a label without conceptual baggage of meaning. Unfortunately, as with words in general, that is not so. “Independence” connotes the state of being independent.

This is a state that can obtain for an individual as much as it can for something inanimate, and yet carry a similar concept. That general concept has to do with freedom “from the influence, control, or determination of another or others…”(Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition (2001)). Thus understood as such, “independence” as a concept applies to an individual as much as it does to a corporate and to a mechanical system as much as it can to its constituent parts. For example, we can speak of an independent-thinking young lady who is a member of an independent congregational church.

We also speak of two jet engines as being independent mechanical systems. That is why (thankfully) if one engine malfunctions, the other is able to land a plane safely, albeit with less efficacy. Under the definition quoted above from Webster, are the following additional shades;
ÔÇó Free from the influence of another; controlling or governing oneself; self-governing (emphasis supplied).
ÔÇó Free from influence, persuasion or bias; objective
ÔÇó Relying only on oneself or one’s own abilities, judgment, etc.; self-confident; self-reliant
I am confident that that it is apparent to the reader that based on the fore-going, our translation of the word independence in English, to boipuso in Setswana is conceptually a far cry.

Conceptually boipuso can be understood to only connote the idea of self-governance or self-rule. Thus as per Webster’s definition of independence, boipuso is only a conceptual component (or, in mathematical language, a subset) of independence. Independence encompasses the state of being free “from the influence, control, or determination of another or others”-being self-reliant. Self-rule alone is not independence.

Therefore to have boipuso is not equivalent to being independent, whereas if you are independent (in the context of a country), by definition you also have boipuso. I therefore suggest that boipuso is not an accurate translation of independence.

It is conceptually too thin. Note that attaining boipuso involves putting in place a system and proclaiming such a system at an event to mark a new status, which event can later be commemorated (as indeed applies to Botswana and the other African states) on a particular day. That’s why we can talk of a day on which we were given (or in some countries, won) boipuso, i.e. started to rule ourselves.

On the other hand independence is a state that has to be attained through a process. It is a state that a country aspires to and works towards through the process of developing its people, by equipping them with relevant knowledge and skills that can enable them to meaningfully participate in the economy. Thus the concept of independence for a country is fundamentally economic and people-centered. Independent individual citizens make up an independent country.

From what I have articulated above it follows that total independence is an ideal state which a country can only work towards, but can never attain practically. A country can and must aim for an ever increasing degree of independence by empowering its citizens to have a more meaningful stake in the economy.

That is what we need for Botswana. So which of the two (boipuso or independence) have our leaders striven to secure for our people in the past 4 decades? What do we celebrate on September 30 every year; having received the power (the leaders) to rule, or economic empowerment of the common citizen?

Who is therefore truly celebrating; those in Government or the ordinary citizen? If both are, are they celebrating the same thing? At a personal level the African leader can well celebrate both the fact that the day marks the beginning transfer of power from the colonial master to him (go se kotama, boipuso) and the fact that from then on he was able to essentially do as he pleased with the resources of the people (independence).

The African leader has historically always been a trading partner to outside traders at the expense of his people’s welfare.

Is Botswana’s case different? A mme gone re independent kana ke go busiwa fela? Change must be made.

Mbako Ronald Nnyepi, Mogoditshane


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