Youth in Botswana and beyond have a fire in them that is burning brighter than before. I can’t speak of a majority but the growing trend is the departure from the traditional mindset of the Regular 8 to 5 job. They don’t want job security, the BPOMAS retirement plan, the monthly car and health insurance premiums or the loans that end up putting a hole in their budgets. In fact as far out as it sounds, the youth don’t even want to live on a budget at all!
In the past 10 to 20 years there has been greater assimilation of foreign [read American] lifestyles, culture and principles into that of locals. It is much more difficult not to be enchanted by the success stories of the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world; entrepreneurs who seemingly came from nothing, formulating solutions and founding companies with current profits running in the millions if not billions.
What youth see in Botswana as a country is an opportunity to go beyond replicating models that exist in other countries but to go further and apply what they know outside the classroom and be pioneers in their own right regardless of the industry they are in. This of course hasn’t been easy because of the many points of opposition.
The conservative traditionalist mindset of the older generations has always been a stumbling block for many generations. Parents have unwittingly become barriers to progress dissuading their kids from following their dreams. The refusal to extend the definition of intelligence to more than just mathematical and computational skills has been one of the major barriers.
There IS such a thing as musical intelligence which throughout history through geniuses like Bach, Michael Jackson and prodigies like Mozart. These people have an incredible ear for music, contributing to composition and production. It is actually a celebrated talent everywhere else except in Botswana where academics are start all and end all.
The other is what psychologists have called Body-Kinesthetic Intelligence which is possessed by individuals gifted in sports, dance and activities involving body movements. There are many cases where someone who is not “book smart” shows talent in one or more of these fields but it is only after going through years of shaming in the classroom setting before they are set free if you will and allowed to be who they are destined to be.
In many conversations I’ve had in different spaces, there is the usual complaint of the lack of a fully formed and functioning extra-mural program in Botswana’s public school system particularly in music. This means children without academic brilliance but gifted in different fields end up losing their talents instead of being nurtured and polished in line with their innate gifts.
In a New York Times article it was articulated the following;
“For a generation digitally wired from childhood, and reared on apocalyptic videos and computer-generated movie epics, (sic) these events showed the real world to be as tightly networked, easily disrupted as the virtual one, even as the grown-ups in charge, the guardians of order, seemed overwhelmed and overmatched, always a step behind." This adds to an on-going conversation in many corners pleading for a new education system that takes into consideration the intense stimulation that the youth of this age are receiving from media which have rendered the traditional classroom setup and methods of tuition archaic.
The easy access to the internet through the many open university programmes has made a wealth of information on different subject matter freely available. I went to a seminar recently headlined by billionaire entrepreneur JT Foxx promising new ways of approaching business and growing your portfolio but what I realised a day into it is that everything he was preaching was nothing new;
- The marketing and branding insights were information that I had read from fee e-books sourced from a publishing site.
- The lectures on how to do business I had learnt from watching interviews with CEOs on finance and business channels.
- The field work and how to negotiate, network etc were lessons I learned on the ground in various companies I worked with.
That is where I believe the future is; the ability to source knowledge from various channels because sitting through years of lectures creates knowledgeable workers but unwise citizens. The social entrepreneur is the new employee of the month that wins every month consecutively. The proactive and curious mind is the gift that keeps on giving.
The seminar however did provide a niche in the fact that it offered coaching which is something that is not common here in Botswana. I feel that there isn’t a culture of mentoring, shadowing and a disconnect, whether incidental or by design, between the struggling entrepreneur and the established mega-rich; one is the peasant in the muddy trudges rummaging for food daily and the other is the nobleman enjoying banquets of excess amongst similar ilk. Its said success is not a respecter of man but principle, its all about following the same principle and getting the equal result. I believe increased dialogue and sharing of these skills will obliterate the disparity between the two camps.
The uncertainty of success when branching off to start a business is a reality that the parent “inherits” from the entrepreneur child. So great is this reality that it manifests into an insurmountable fear turning the supportive parent into a bitter heckler and constant dream killer. In the music industry, an industry I am more familiar with, it is even more apparent. For as long as I can remember anyone who is a singer, rapper, actor, dancer, poet etc making money off their art without a regular job was labelled a misfit or the more familiar Setswana term raskanta for musicians. Botswana society has never found the creative arts as a respectable and “real” occupation worthy of recognition.
The creative arts has been something to pursue part time for applause and a generous toss of pocket change at the feet but the minute its pursued full time, the applause reduces and the confused stares multiply. In post-independence Botswana the steady reliance on a western education system with the intention of churning out the next generation of thinkers specifically bred to bring Africa up to speed, into a new world governed by economic prosperity, ushered in an age of both cultural and social reorganisation. This created a shift in priorities placing intellect and the development of cognitive skills over all.
The low regard for creative arts has shown itself through lack of structured legislature, though the Copyright Society of Botswana (COSBOTS) is making strides, total disregard for ethics when it comes to dealing with artists, low wages for performers and shortage of venues to showcase talent among others. The government has stepped in to help where it can by promoting creativity and its products through Brand Botswana, Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture and the President’s Award. There is a lot that can still be done because some of these initiatives are marred with complaints of favouritism and lack of a clear-cut selection criterion. There is a general distrust of institutions with a call for transparency always echoing.
The corporate world itself only sees value in sponsoring events as a way of attaching their name to them in an effort to score “cool” points. On the other hand there haven’t been many big deal direct artist-brand endorsements that have stood the test of time or benefited the artist greatly. The few artists that have managed to cross-pollinate include producer/musician BK Proctor and Samsung who came together at the start of 2014. The partnership was a great move but the collaboration is failing to gain steam because, in my opinion, there is an unclear strategy and role set out for the artist.
Kwaito-kwassa-gospel (I’m equally confused) artist Vee, having developed a strong brand over the past 10years, took the unbeaten path by making his own branded products; MaVeeta mineral water launched arond 2010 and LaVee condoms not much later. Although failed projects that fizzled out and disappeared from the market after a year, they terminated paradigms and broke the ceiling in a way redefining and adding a new notch for other artists to aspire to.
What is common between these two artists is that combined, they have over 20 years in the industry and these opportunities come from a shared desire from the start of their careers to be full time musicians exploring their creative abilities. Although the journey came with many difficulties their parents, the other common thread, were constant sources of encouragement, believing in them and fanning their flame.
It is this same flame that burns through the different types of entrepreneurs in Botswana. In spite of months of zero income, a string of non-paying jobs, piling debt, unabated Hercules-strength hunger pangs they still manage to wake up every day to work on their dream. The question is; will the outside world be the torrential downpour that keeps putting them out or the easterly winds that fan the flames.