Friday 17 August 2007

Are we patriots?

Do we have a national inferiority complex? Do we think we are somehow less talented than our cousins in other countries? Do we think that because someone is in a bigger, more well-known country then they are somehow better than us? Are we really patriotic?

I wonder sometimes.

We heard last week of a phone call received by a consulting and training company. They got a call from a senior training manager from a parastatal company that everyone knows and almost all of us use.

The training manager had been advised to call by a former customer of the training company who thought the parastatal might want to use their services.

The training manager asked about some specialist skills they needed and did they know any companies who could help them develop such abilities? Yes, they said, rather proudly, they could, they’d be delighted to help. On the other hand if they couldn’t they knew lots of other companies here in Gaborone who maybe better qualified.

However they had misunderstood what the parastatal actually wanted. They wanted training in South Africa. They didn’t care who delivered it so long as it was done in SA. Why? No reason, they just wanted the training to be done in SA.

I can’t help but wonder why. OK, there’s the obvious reason. It’s nice every so often to have a trip away from home particularly when someone else is paying for it. A nice stay in a hotel, 6 hours of snoozing during day, free food and drink and, no doubt best of all, a per diem payment that can go towards that new fridge back at home. Who knows, there might even be some high-risk depravity as well.

Then there is that other reason. The feeling that training delivered elsewhere is better than training delivered here at home. That people trained or educated abroad are somehow better qualified than those of us who did it here. Not just training, all services. Yes, certainly there are more options, more variety in places like South Africa but that doesn’t mean that the quality is actually any better.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen this. A couple of years ago a young techie I knew in a very large organisation needed to be trained in a fairly well-known bit of software technology. It was still pretty new at the time but there were several IT companies in South Africa who could do it very effectively. So where did he end up going to be trained?

Tokyo. For three weeks.

I don’t want to know how much this cost but the customers paid for it. That’s you and me. Our taxes paid for him to have the trip of a lifetime. I’m not blaming him of course. If a company with money to burn offered to send me somewhere exotic I’d jump at the chance. But my desire for self-indulgence wouldn’t make it right.

This is all just so utterly wrong, counter-productive and, dare I say it, shameful?

I’ve tried hard over the last few days to think of services that it’s not possible to get in Botswana that can only be obtained in other countries. Yes, there are certain industrial services we don’t do here. We don’t drill oil, we don’t make cars and there are certain agricultural things we’ll never be able to do because of our climate and geography. It’s a tragedy but Botswana will never be a major producer of wine.

But when it comes to business services what can’t we do? We have hugely qualified accounting firms, graphic designers, marketers, HR professionals, recruitment companies, the list goes on and on. We have some fantastic lawyers, although I can’t help but observe that a few of them seem to have a minor breathing problem. Breathe in, threaten defamation, breathe in, threaten defamation, breathe in, threaten defamation...

I know that in South Africa they have a tradition of public campaigns to support local industry but why don’t we? Why don’t WE have little labels on our locally produced food stuffs, our local services, our locally produced beer saying “Buy Botswana”. You see the “Proudly South African” slogan all over the place in South Africa so why not here?

If we really want to make a mark, a mark as big as we can given our relatively small size, why aren’t we sticking up for ourselves instead of sticking up for products and services that benefit other countries?

I think it comes down to a sense of patriotism. Now before I get carried away I do NOT mean that vile form of nationalism that suggests that my country is better than your country, that all other countries are somehow inferior. Dr Johnson said that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” but I think he meant politicians who appeal to patriotic impulses when they have no better arguments. I think patriotism is more to do with loving your locality and wanting it so flourish. It doesn’t even have to do with the passport you carry. I know plenty of expatriates who love Botswana, who love here, who are convinced that they’ll be buried here and really want Botswana to succeed.

So why don’t we start being proud of what we do here not just because it’s cheaper than going elsewhere but because it’s the patriotic thing to do?

This week’s stars!

  • Eric, Adrianna and Edwin from Video Ezee at Riverwalk, for yet again being cheerful and for taking the plunge and going it alone. Good luck!

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