"The most well-established environmental determinant of levels of violence is the scale of income differences between rich and poor. More unequal societies tend to be more violent."
This statement was made by one Richard Wilkins, in an article titled, “Why is Violence More Common Where Inequality is Greater?” It illustrates that where there is a greater gap between the rich and the poor, there is a greater tendency for a poor quality of how we treat each other. Essentially, inequality is destructive for society. This of course is something we may passively consider, but has to be explored more, particularly where there are reports of individuals and groups of persons attaining or really amassing wealth through corruption, at the same time that more crimes, usually against women and children are being reported, with a great majority of these being more heinous by the count.
Studies have been done in countries similar to Botswana in terms of how the poverty sits side-by-side with the extremely wealthy, and it has been shown that inequality slows overall growth, but also creates unjust barriers based on individual’s gender, amongst other factors. This corrodes trust between members of the society, increases levels of anxiety and illness and apparently encourages excessive consumption. It is no mistake that the malls in the cities, towns and even peri-urban areas are constantly being built and renovated, with our government directly assisting the setting up of international chain stores. It is also not a mistake that the rates of violence are on a steady rise, with increased rates of rape reported, and most going unchecked, beyond the occasional reports by the Botswana Police Service. Of course both violence and inequality are complex issues, and this piece does not seek to overly simplify them, but instead, it seeks to suggest that perhaps our government’s priorities need re-direction, particularly because the two are undeniably linked. In the meantime, there should not be such loud silence in the prioritisation of the protection of and prevention of violence against women, children and the LGBTI community.
It is evident that conflict, social unrest and instability show up where there is inequality and poverty, driving social exclusion. Violence and inequality are a vicious cycle which proliferates underdevelopment. In the budget speech delivered to the National Assembly, by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development on the 4th February, and under the topic of Consolidating Development Gains for Economic Transformation, an address was made on Inclusive Social Protection. Specific welfare programs were listed , which the Minister suggests are programs developed to assist vulnerable persons, “to cushion them from hardships”. The programmes are listed as, Old Age Pension, World War II Veterans, Destitute Persons, Community Home Based Care patients, People Living With Disabilities, Orphans and Vulnerable Children, and Supplementary Feeding to primary school children and vulnerable groups at healthcare facilities countrywide.
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It is always necessary to give context. At the commencement of the 16 days of activism against violence on women and children in 2018, the president made a public address, stating that he stands against all forms of violence, and cautioning against violence on the LGBTI communities. Scoring a shameful 61 out of a hundred on the Law and Order index however, Botswana was in 2018, rendered amongst some of the most dangerous countries in the world, and placed second in the region’s countries with the worst incidences of rape. Over the just ended festive season, there were 109 rape cases recorded and no record as to how many perpetrators have been charged. These were recorded over 14days.
It would be moot to even venture into a discussion on the levels of inequality in the country. These are obvious. The great concern though, is that as the country moves ahead, in terms of it’s economy, within which the wealth and income are in the hands of the very few elite, this will continue to create disenfranchised and frustrated communities, which do not have access to, or a say in the wealth of the country. The neo-liberal economics, which are spreading intense and brutal competition for resources, are only going to cause broken individuals, less concerned with society and more concerned with themselves individually.
It is concerning, that as government has made it clear from the budget speech that the priorities are the increased inequality, by moving the country and not necessarily the improved wealth of her people, that measures are not taken, besides money put to prison facilities, to ensure the protection of women, who are the worst hit by these crimes. Like the country, which is now synonymous with corruption, being a victim to the “haves” who keep wanting more, the women, LGBTI communities, children and marginalized tribes too, are victimized. The budget, as it stands, “cushioning” some against hardship, and not cognisantly considering violence, and it’s eradication by closing the inequality gap, we can surely predict that the violence will keep growing. The question then becomes, as the budget speech says little about this -besides the mention of more money to prisons- should it safely be assumed that even the crime is elite controlled?