Friday, 23 March 2012


For the first time in years, perhaps even ever, I went to a conference recently and it wasn’t a waste of my time. Anyone who has attended conferences both in Botswana and elsewhere in the world will know the normal experience. Lots of sitting down, listening to people talk about rather dull subjects in rather dull ways and, above all, that horror of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Death By PowerPoint.

I really don’t know what it is about Microsoft PowerPoint that brings out the very worst in otherwise smart and (sometimes) interesting people. I’ve seen some of the most brilliant people I know go out of their way to bore me to tears with their presentations. So here are some free PowerPoint tips from someone who NEVER uses PowerPoint.
  1. Your audience is not illiterate. They are capable of reading just as well as you are so don’t read your presentations out loud. If you really want to include a lot of text on a slide, let them read it for themselves. While they are doing do, keep your mouth shut.
  2. Unless there is a VERY good reason (and it better be REALLY good), never put more than twenty words on a single slide.
  3. Your slide is not a piece of paper so don’t use a white background. When shown on a projector it will be almost impossible for your victims to read it.
  4. Never have two consecutive slides that only contain words. At least every second slide must contain a relevant picture or illustration. Remember that “a picture paints a thousand words”.
  5. Anyone who uses bullet points excessively deserves a bullet.
  6. Did I mention that you should never read things out loud?
Here endeth the lesson.

The conference I attended, the first in living memory that was actually useful, was by the still brand new, squeaky clean Competition Authority. These are the guys who, seemingly within moments of existing, were placing notices in the papers saying they were looking into proposed mergers and acquisitions of companies with only the consumer’s interests in mind. I can imagine (in fact I know) that if you are the owner of one of the companies trying to merge it’s an added irritation for you, having to wait for the new authority to make their decision but genuine competition is what consumers deserve. That’s what these new boys and girls will be doing.

The problem that the Competition Authority has been created to resolve is a big one. I know it sounds dull but competition is essential for good quality customer service. If you need evidence of this then just compare two particular industries: cellphone networks and power supply. Which of these industries offers better customer service and prices? It’s certainly NOT power. The absence of competition facing BPC is why they can afford to treat their customers with such contempt. Mascom, Orange and BeMobile, while they’re not perfect, are genuinely afraid that you or I will switch to their competitors and so offer us freebies, moderate customer service and an absence of insults. Competition helps you and me directly.

The Competition Authority’s job is to make sure that any mergers of companies or companies buying one another don’t reduce the levels of competition we benefit from. If Company A buys Company B we need to know whether the new, bigger Company A will dominate the market the way BPC does. Even if they don’t end up as a monopoly like BPC, having a dominant position in the market undermines the competition we deserve.

It’s even more complex than this. They also have the power to investigate “fake competition”. Many years ago I worked on a project with one of the largest manufacturers of light bulbs in the UK. As well as producing the light bulbs they also “branded” them. They would print not their own company name on the bulbs but the names of a huge variety of supermarket chains. These supermarkets would then sell these bulbs as if they had produced them. No problem so far, until you discovered that they all sold them for different prices. Up-market stores would sell them at a much higher price than the down-market stores would sell the identical bulbs. But all the bulbs were exactly the same.

While I’m not a believer in telling stores what prices to set for products I DO think that bodies like the Competition Authority have a right to investigate and tell the public about this. They have a job to educate us. They have the power and resources to do this, you and I don’t.

The only problem is that the Competition Authority is limited. The Competition Act, the law that created the Authority, places limits on who they can investigate. For instance they have no power to police “enterprises operating on the basis of statutory monopoly in Botswana”. Unfortunately (or perhaps because the-powers-that-be couldn’t cope with the effects) monopolies like BPC and BMC are exempt from competition. I don’t see why. Why can’t other companies generate power and feed it into our grid? Why can’t I then decide who I want to buy electricity from?

It could be just like BTC. They still own the infrastructure such as the landlines that other providers use to make their connections, but also offer their own cellular services in competition to the other two companies. Why can’t BPC be like this? They can own the cables that cover the country and others can feed in power to the grid that I can then buy. I won’t be able to select the individual electrons I use, just units of power that have been fed into the grid. This is exactly how it works in other countries, so why not here? Are we still so afraid that our monopolistic parastatal utility companies won’t survive? Do we actually care??

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