Solidarity reimagined at CAL conversations (Botswana)

In an effort to spit fire in uniting various non-governmental organizations as well as civil society organs that serve to empower the people on the margins in Botswana, the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) held an in-country conversation unpacking the genuine meaning of solidarity in Botswana’s context. Follow the thoughts of our Afrolutionist Mmabatho Motsamai on the lessons learnt in creating a culture of genuine solidarity.




unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards


The crisp cold on June 29th was indicative of two important dates in Africa. First, it was a solemn day of the burial of one of Africa’s last Pan African Laureates, Sir Ketumile Quett Masire and it was also Seychelles 41st independence celebrations.


Looking at Sir Ketumile Masire’s undoubtedly fruitful period in office, as well as Seychelles rich history in attaining independence, you can only admit that its successes were achieved through solidarity. Unity is a significant tool in holistically achieving goals for a country, community or institution. Though each of these events were observed, it still played into the importance of the conversations held amidst the greenery of Sanitas Nursery and Garden Centre.


The sessions had representatives from various organizations with different core mandates. From NGO’s that advocate for the rights of LGBTI people, to gender empowerment groups of both women and men. Though all these groups serve different specific mandates, they bear the universal language of human rights advocacy, particularly in Africa.


The sessions kicked off on a light note, with a quick breaking off into scavenger hunting. One could easily term it as a playful means of team building, but it also served as a practice of emotional intelligence. The participants were separated into two teams, and were each granted a trail of clues towards a prize upon completion. Though each of the groups were on their individual trail, they were both aggressively looking at the mystery prize which only one group had privy to. This was a lesson on today’s world, were privilege grants access to limited resources, therefore, in an abstract sense, winners would share the resources awarded them even if they had worked harder (in a capitalist world of socialist ideals). I believe the scavenger hunt was to teach us more than being a united team, but to also try to eliminate the ‘me vs. them’ mentality. The form to remove this mentality is to stimulate dialogue on our similarities. For example: both teams had one goal – the prize, and all organizations invited to the dialogue have one goal: human rights being achieved in Botswana. Though we are characterized of a different make up, we all want the same thing.


The end of the scavenger hunt transcended into the dawn of unthreading the comfort of a quilted idea of solidarity. The group spoke on the ideological meaning of solidarity and the culture of solidarity in Botswana. While each of the participants easily defined solidarity in the abstract sense as working together, they jointly agreed that the culture of solidarity is in its infancy stages. A participant noted that solidarity in Botswana is easily noted in two cases: The umbrella-esque housing BONELA provides for various human rights organizations as well as the case of LEGABIBO being awarded the right to register in Botswana due to the support of different people and organizations. A huge win.


Though solidarity is tasked as an imperative tool in reaching goals, human personalities and cultures become a hindrance to solidarity not working. The group had an honest conversation of how challenges in activism ripple into challenges of forging true solidarity. The first notable challenge is the ‘selective activism syndrome’. Where one’s internal politics reflect into violence of key populations. As an example: where feminism is not intersectional, it becomes violent and solidarity is stifled. Another point noted was that sometimes, activists are swayed by their ego to personalize issues and want to become the face of movements. This fully derails the core of the movement into pushing an agenda of one individual. With some of these challenges noted, one participant asked a pertinent question “what is our (Botswana’s) solidarity informed by, is it informed by global pressure? Research? Advocacy or societal reaction to discrimination or violence?”. This question became the backbone of the next discussion, which was unpacking what we would like our solidarity to look like in terms of its values, creating solutions of conflict resolution, ensuring collective care, team building and strategic partnerships.


Folding into breakaway sessions, participants were split into groups to robustly unpack above noted issues within solidarity in Botswana. An hour later, the groups convened to share their findings. The first group spoke on the values of solidarity and truly ingrained it in our context. Solidarity, according to the team, is a holistic practice of botho in activism. In creating a flow chart, the process of botho began in 1. Empathy 2. Acknowledgement 3. The simplification of knowledge being shared (moving from formal educational lingo into everyday language) 4. Respect each other (see a piece of yourself always in someone else, treat them in a manner in which you want to be treated) 5. Appreciate and celebrate diversity within each other. 6. Affirm each other through celebrating achievements and input. These are the holistic characteristics for forging a united front.


In resolving conflict in solidarity movements, the first imperative function is to acknowledge that conflicts are inevitable, which makes it important to constantly plan a response action plan. It is best to identify the cause of conflict and work together towards a peaceful ground. Each view point must be seen as valid in finding the core cause of conflict. In drafting solutions, activists should craft clear Terms of Reference, setting clear and concise rules of engagement. In order for their views to be heard, there should be a clear safe space for airing concerns and evaluating ways of working together, as this will allow issues to be dealt with as they arise instead of when they have escalated. Most importantly, fair mediation and impartial approaches to conflict resolution where one is not biased to an opinion of another based on personal relationships or similar viewpoints is important.


Collective care was one of the most important issues discussed during the CAL Conversation, as one has a tendency to overlook the mental health of an activist by defining them as a superhero, disconnecting them from their human nature and attributes. Movements run on human capital. Non-governmental organizations and CSOs each bear the responsibility of providing such human capital with a safe space to practice emotional wellbeing, and keep activists resourced adequately in terms of finances. While activists must bear the trait of resilience, it is important for NGOs and individual activists to ensure support systems are in place, and that activists are aware of self-preservation practices.


What does a strategic partnership look like? It looks like two or more institutions that complement each other to achieve a larger goal. The strengths of one organization are complimentary, and not duplicative of the strengths of another. Where one is weak, the other carries the load. This ensures that there are different important roles of activism that are carried out. For example: where one group is creating public awareness, another is behind the scenes lobbying and ensuring policies are placed. The most strategic working function of solidarity is if all groups roll out an action plan to target various stakeholders who are needed to achieve a goal, and it this case – human rights.


In a nutshell, solidarity is a lot more than a press release, a tweet and a Facebook filter on your profile photo. It begins there, but that isn’t where it ends. Solidarity isn’t a weapon for you to build your career. Yes, you can make it into the history books, your work is affirmed, but that’s not the root cause. Solidarity is a verb. It is a practice – a doing word. And its culture, that has quite an unearthed history in Botswana, can be practiced at a larger scale. Hopefully through in country conversations that CAL keeps hosting, it would be easier to track its progress in Botswana.