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Reviving Civic Voice

Botswana Forum for Action and Reform (B-FAR), is a group of well-meaning Batswana, from different walks of lives, were concerned at the state of affairs in this country. There are many things to be concerned about but I will mention just a few of the things which made us to talk amongst ourselves, agree that something should be done, and sacrificed our time to do it. These are some of those problems:

Economy: Failed economic diversification, citizen economic exclusion and marginalization of local private enterprise;
Society: High and growing levels of unemployment, income inequality, poverty, poor education, health and public services;
Politics: Erosion of democracy, increase in opportunistic politics, tribalistic undertones and political ingenuity;
Governance: High levels of corruption and economic crime, and compromised systems of accountability;
 
In the middle of such problems, the civic voice has been silenced. There is not enough voice of reason, voice of caution, voice of sanity, voice of balance, voice of dissent, voice of persuasion.
 

The theme for this event is in three parts: Reviving Civic Voice; Demanding Reform; and Calling for Action. We want that voice back. This is our country and we should not just watch as spectators when things are not going well. We are here to resuscitate that voice, and we are here to demand reform to address the problems I mentioned earlier, and we are here to call for consistent action for them to be addressed to move Botswana forward. Our call will be to everyone: individuals, institutions, companies, government departments, political parties and leaders.

That group of concerned Batswana decided there is need to establish an entity that will promote the acceleration of the socio-economic transformation of Botswana, and its refocus towards three areas: sustainable development; citizen engagement; and inclusive growth. They are in the process of establishing an entity to be called the Botswana Forum for Action and Reform (B-FAR). The intention was to have completed the process before the elections so that we hit the road running immediately after the elections and get to work with the incoming government. The process is highly advanced and will be completed within days.

B-FAR is being established as a Trust, or in the form of a Trust, based on the instrument we all know as the Notarial Deed of Trust. In terms of function B-FAR is a mix of a lobby group, and advocacy group, a special interest group and a think-tank. B-FAR will be independent and non-party. It is intended to lobby for, advocate for, and represent the interests of an accelerated and radical structural and socio-economic transformation agenda for Botswana with an aim to enhance sustainable development, widen citizen engagement and achieve inclusive growth. We will demand political, institutional, socio-economic and structural reform and call for urgent and determined action in these 3 broad areas.

This will be done through: public policy debate; political education; community mobilization; citizen engagement; leadership development; and action-oriented programmes. We will use various tools to achieve the above, including: opinion polls; media campaigns; publicity stunts; networking sessions; meetings and workshops; exhibitions; newsletters and reports; social media and other communication channels.

Limitations and exclusions. There are two areas we will not deal with: religion and morality. The reason for this is that religion is naturally a divided area that not anyone can bring together, and we believe morality is covered adequately by law unless it is purely of a religious nature. We will be careful in dealing with issues of culture. We love our culture and we will not ordinarily come against it unless it is deliberately misused to obstruct progress.

Strategic focus. We will be deliberately and emphatically pro-citizen and pro-Botswana. We will be for progress and against what stalls progress, regardless of the source. We will commend, applaud, celebrate and be friends with that which is good for Botswana. Whether it is a person, an institution, an organized group, a political party, a stated policy, a pronounced strategy, an action or lack thereof. If it is good for Botswana we will respond positively to it.

On the other hand, we will condemn, denounce, become enemies to and speak against that which is bad for Botswana and Batswana. Our friend is progress and proponents of progress and our enemy is the stalling or reversal of progress and those who do it. Our beneficiary is the citizen of Botswana and our trophy is a prosperous and all-inclusive Botswana.

Our Slogan. We have selected the first four words in the national anthem as our 2-part slogan. “Fatshe Leno … La Rona”. The slogan speaks about the country and about you. It is meant to bring you to the reality that in deed Botswana belongs to you. It belongs to you as much as it belongs to any other Motswana regardless of position and power.

You are like an equal shareholder to a company. You carry one vote as everyone else. No one carries two votes. This should make you feel confidently assured and appeal to your patriotic conscience to do and seek what is right for your Botswana and for you as a Motswana. We intend to prioritize our work. Between now some time after the election, we have selected four areas that we will focus on. These are: Politics; Corruption; Inequality; Unemployment.

Politics. It is an election time and the little time left before elections gives us an opportunity to comment, where helpful to do so, on what we perceive as wrong and what we perceive as right. We are already witnessing self-serving opportunistic politics, a lot of deception and propaganda and the electorate being taken advantage of.  There is a lot to speak about.

Our first message is to advice Batswana to vote wisely. We are at the crossroads where good leadership is particularly critical for Botswana to go forward. It is simple: leaders can make or break a country; they can pull all of us up or down. You only have to look at our neighbours for examples of how leaders can take the country back: South Africa under Jacob Zuma and Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. Similarly, for those that are doing well, the top 2 countries with the highest GDP growth in the world are African.

These are Ethiopia followed by Rwanda. It is not because of ideology, or parties, or manifestos but their leaders. At this point in time, we want voters, especially those that still have to make up their minds, even after listening and referring to the manifestos, to scrutinize the top leaders and vote for a President that will bring the desired change.

Corruption. They don’t call it cancer for no reason. Just as a person who does not deal with cancer dies, a country which does not deal with corruption collapses. Our situation is terrible. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) reported by Transparency International in 2018, Botswana recorded 61 out of 100 and was ranked the 34th least corrupt country out of 175 countries. In Africa, we lost the top spot to Seychelles. All of a sudden, we have become a corrupt nation. We should never forget that we have been corruption averse since time immemorial; we were the best in Africa but not anymore. We have caught the dangerous disease that we desperately should heal from.

Our first call for action in this regard will be to motivate for the outgoing MPs to account for the Constituency Funds that were under their charge in the past electoral period. Going forward, the Constituency Community Projects (CCP) expenditures should be transparent and fully accounted for through a public accounts disclosure system to be developed and followed across the country. This will be followed by the pursuit of accounting for and the retrieval of the huge sums of money that has been stolen from the people of Botswana. We will add our voice for this scourge to be brought to an end.

Inequality. Our view is that after corruption, the next evil Botswana faces is inequality. With an HDI growth rate that is 5th in Africa and an extremely high GDP per capita, the country can be said to be rich, but its people are poor. The previous government has done well to raise the economy but the problem is that it does not reach an ordinary Motswana. The Gini Coefficient is a measure of the extent the distribution of income among individuals and households deviates from a perfectly equal distribution.

According to UNDP, the Gini Coefficient for Botswana measured in 2009 is stated at 60.50 (there is an unofficial mention of 53.30 which apparently was measured in 2017).  This places Botswana as the third (3th) most unequal country in Africa, after only South Africa and Namibia. The question we have is, if the minority white people dominate the South African and Namibian economies to the extent that it has caused so much inequality it can be likened to ownership of those countries, who owns Botswana? Why and how would anybody else other than Batswana own Botswana? This is the message that needed to be told or debated but there was no one to tell it strongly enough even in manifestos and political rallies.

Our first call to action is to interrogate pro-citizen programmes of the political parties and point the electorate to any promises made. We should emphasise life-changing programmes not promises of free gifts of items or money meant to lure voters, but programmes intended to directly target citizens and improve their lives in a meaningful and lasting way. Those programmes should come to life after the elections.

Unemployment. Botswana’s unemployment rate is not only high but growing. Officially it increased from 17.6% in 2016 to 18.1% in 2017. Some people argue that the figures are low because we have deliberately excluded what is classified as Frictional Unemployment, Structural Unemployment, and Seasonal Unemployment.  Despite this exclusion, Botswana’s unemployment rate is the 11th worst in Africa. To make matters worse, the high inequality situation is such that unemployment affects certain sections of the society more than others, and it happens to be the women and youth.

Our first call for action regarding unemployment is not to the politicians but to the institutions. We are going to probe 3 institutions (Ministry of Investment, Trade & Industry (MITI), Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN)), and demand their commitment in relation to large scale commercial production of industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana, initially exclusively for export.

This is an industry that has raised ailing economies elsewhere and has even entered the stock market in places like the USA. This is in addition to it having substantial beneficial and sustainable employment creation potential. Going forward, we are going to interrogate our pre-occupation with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as opposed to Domestic Direct Investment (DDI) and the impact of existing citizen economic empowerment programmes.

B-FAR will follow a 4-stage internal process of consensus building and effective targeted delivery. The four stages are: 1. Selection and prioritization of issues; 2. Fact-finding around the selected issues; 3. Agreement on how to deal with the issues; and 4. Acting on what has been agreed. We will not present individual opinions or decisions but those of the Forum. We will endevour to ascertain that when you come across something being said or done by anyone of us under the name of the Forum, you should understand it to be the position of the Forum.

As I wind up, allow me to state the obvious. You are the media. You carry and transmit and deliver messages. You have heard about the planned B-FAR, our immediate calls for action upon its registration and we invite you to work with us in making sure that the messages reach the intended audiences. I thank you once again, for being here and listening to our story. We pray that we become friends with you.

As I said earlier, our friend is anyone who does what is good for Botswana. We trust that you always do, and naturally we should be friends. But we also ask that we be partners. As an industry you have the interest to promote what is good. But you are also Batswana. It is your country too. “Fatshe Leno … La Rona”. You have to help us to make it better.

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Opinions

Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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Opinions

The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Opinions

Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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