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Cry My Beloved Country

MAXWELL MOTHAPELARURI MOATHUDI

I am deeply concerned my brothers and sisters. I am deeply concerned about my country; makes me remember Alan Patton of “Cry my beloved country” novel, during my teenage years at “Swaneng ke Swaneng”. Go diragala eng ka hatshe la rona betsho?

 Since 2014 or there about, I have spent sleepless nights asking myself this very question; albeit with no answers. Our country has been inundated with streams and streams of arguments and counter-arguments aimed at nothing. Nothing because it seems the arguments and counter-arguments are not providing any answers. The newspapers have been choke-filled with articles concerning politics and corruption, with no end in sight, though this is something (kudos my brethren in the private media industry), at least.

We have been busy cultivating corruption and corrupt people and making them part of our culture. Yes! Culture is man-made; but do we have to inculcate corruption into it (our culture)? Our clinics and hospitals are without the requisite drugs, to a point where, in a bid to cover up for our failures, we have started categorising drugs as vital, necessary and so on and so forth.

A drug is a drug, and its purpose is to save and/or preserve human life; no matter how we try to classify it. So! Let there be drugs, vital or whatever, for our people need them. But, is this possible with this rampant corruption? Hardly! The decade up to 2018 saw unabated and unprecedented corruption in our midst. Let us draw a list (even if I tried or anyone tried, the list cannot be exhausted: corruption has been made part of our culture):
 

  1. Morupule B Project (P10 billion +)
  2. Fengue Glass Plant (P500 million +)
  3. National Petroleum Fund (P250 million)
  4. Botswana Public Officers’ Pension Fund (BPOPF) – P400 million))
  5. Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture Development (MYESC) – BOT50 Independence Celebrations (millions of Pula)
  6. e-Government (P500 million +)
  7. Digital migration (P180 million +)
     

The list goes on and on … and I am not going to attempt to address all the above incidences; I leave it to you to conjure-up what effect this will have on an ordinary Motswana’s livelihood. At the least, these are some of the scandals that made major headlines and have an everlasting impact on the lives of us, the ordinary citizens.

Do we have any recourse? I doubt; for we are a very humble people and believe all will come to pass. Come to pass, my foot, whilst the majority of well-meaning, hardworking citizens die of hunger and disease. Come to pass, my foot, while the majority of our citizens do not have portable drinking water, accommodation, electricity, you name it. What in God’s name happened to this beautiful country and its humble people? The answer lies somewhere in the just past decade.

We need to be reminded that, with the disappearance of the pension funds, and mind you, this affects the whole public service, a hundred thousand (100 000+) and counting; people are going to suffer. Let us remember that these are the very people who the Unions, Medical Aid Funds, Banks and so on and so forth pester during their active life and avoid like a scourge once they are out of work (pensioning).

Some might ask; but what is the direct impact of this on society? The question is very appropriate, and I will attempt, from my lay-man’s point of view, to hazard (just on the surface though) the impact this unabated corruption has or will definitely have on the masses; I take two or three examples.
 

Morupule B Project

How many of us depend on electric energy from Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) for a living? Oh! Is it living or survival? I guess the question should be; how many of us depend on BPC electric energy for survival? You might not recognise it, but for us to just survive, we depend very much on electric energy. How many of you ever considered how life “will be” if there is no telecommunications? Just telecommunications, nothing life threatening.

I am saying “will be” because the electric energy fiasco is far from over, and all because of the rampant corruption. Mascom, be Mobile, Orange and even the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) fixed lines and associated services will go down in the absence of electric energy from BPC. The services will go down since all these entities do not have back-up systems, or if they have, they are entirely unreliable. If you think I am lying, just wait and see.

Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) depends on BPC electric energy to pump the very water the lucky few who have access to portable water rely on and if they have any back-up system to talk about, it is not reliable enough for our survival; just wait and see. The hospitals and clinics; do they have any reliable back-up systems? Just wait and see. What use will be our mobile phones, our lap-tops, desk-tops and all such goodies, in the absence of BPC electric energy? Just wait and see. We still import basics like candles, and they are going to be in demand, and expensive; who can afford paraffin with the ever rising cost of fuel? Another by-product of corruption.

Do not let anyone lie to you that our electric energy problems are about to be a thing of the past. I learnt very recently that the sale of Morupule B is on the cards once again. Will this be in the interest of Batswana or we are just opening another avenue for corruption. “Ke a bona madi a motho a saa berekelang, madi a bogodu, a monate thata”. Are these few ladies and gentlemen permanently wired for corruption? Is corruption part of their DNA? It seems, otherwise how does one start to explain their insatiable appetite to destroy “the people’s lives”. In Phikwe we are left in the dark every time the wind blows or it rains. I assume there is no money to repair the very old electrical infrastructure. And where has the money gone? The corruption route; where else?

Fengue Glass Plant

This is yet another project where we failed as a nation, because of the rampant corruption; and we remained and still remain silent. The loss of a job by the then Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) chief accounting officer was not a solution. A thousand prospective jobs disappeared into thin air. These jobs will have gone a long way in alleviating the growing unemployment and attendant poverty. These one thousand people, who would have been employed at the plant, would have assisted us in fighting the growing poverty; we still depend on the extended family structure mind you, and now more than ever; we just might not realise it.

Botswana Public Officers’ Pension Fund (BPOPF)

This one is really heart-breaking; how exactly does one explain stealing from one-self? I thought maybe we could hide behind a finger and claim the government money we steal is not ours; but stealing pension funds, how absurd! So! We steal from ourselves; how shameful! We are talking of money belonging to more than one hundred thousand people, the majority of whom are innocent, hardworking family men and women. In short we are talking of stealing directly from more than three hundred thousand people; that is a sixth of the population. Re bolaile sechaba! I keep saying we; yes it is us because we are as guilty as those with their hands in the cookie jar. We are not making the right noises and therefore we are as guilty as the real culprits.

I mentioned earlier that we still depend on the extended family structure and as such we need to factor in three or more people per “one” of the more than one hundred thousand plus directly affected and we are talking of more than a sixth of our population. Shameful, isn’t it? But here we are, silent as ever. These corrupt fellas take our silence as motivation. We should be making a lot of noise, this despite the legislation denying us the right to peaceful demonstration.

Geez! Fifty years on and we are still not allowed to go into the streets to protest, and it is as normal as going to sleep on an empty stomach, in a dark, little house without portable water! Yes! We are the real cheer leaders! Go on guys, loot the country, there is no one watching! I do not know, “gongwe re tshaba di-sjambok! A mme gone thupa ea bolaya?” On a serious note though, are we willing to subordinate our rights on the basis of fear of being beaten up? Are we willing to let a few individuals enrich themselves at the expense of more than two million people on the basis of fear? Come on!

This deafening silence is amazing and leads me to think that maybe we are all involved. Are we lurking in the shadows, to pounce, in the event that an opportunity presents itself? Or maybe, just maybe, from the extended family perspective, we all get kick-backs from this incessant corruption. I fail to understand how a people, robbed in broad day light, can afford to sit back and relax and think this milking of our economy will come to an end.

You see, corruption is like an infectious disease, it permeates society to a point where everyone is infected. It seems we might just get to that point, a point where every jack and jill is involved in corruption. I call upon you Batswana, let us stand up against corruption, that is, if we are not all involved. We cannot leave it to state machinery like the DCEC, they cannot fight it alone.

As if the above is not enough, our Chiefs are at it. I wrote in one of my past articles that our Members of Parliament (MPs) will soon be demanding luxury, chauffeured seven series BMWs. Before the ink has even dried on the paper, members of the House of Chiefs (Marara), are up in arms demanding chauffeured seven series BMWs. Come on guys! Where will the money come from? The above list represents roughly P12 billion of wasted/looted public funds and you want to add more to these losses. I have just enquired on the price of a brand new BMW seven series (P1.2 million), and from the top of my head we have roughly forty (40) members in the House of Chiefs. So! Our dear esteemed Marara want to take at least another P48 million from the public coffers, and for what, absolutely nothing!

I wish we could take ourselves more seriously. Where is the P48 million coming from? A total of 46 432 candidates sat for this year’s Primary School Leaving Examination, with a 99.9-% pass. Assuming they will all be admitted to Junior Secondary school, we are looking at nearly 50 000 pupils who will need classrooms, well paid and motivated caretakers (teachers, cleaners, cooks, etc., etc.), stationary and the like. Where do you think the money needed to take care of these poor fellas’ education will come from?

These are your very own children, your very own grand-children, ladies and gentlemen in the House of Chiefs, please think of them. It is required of you to be selfless. It is required of you to serve this nation, please be reasonable and stop comparing yourselves to Government Ministers. What will happen to this beautiful country and its humble people if everyone else wants to have what others have? If at least you had a reason for wanting luxury chauffeured cars, besides comparing yourselves to Government Ministers, I might just, just might, be on your side, not now! What value does a chauffeured BMW seven series add to the job you do? Absolutely nothing! You will still be expected to carry out your duties diligently even if you had to drive yourself to work in a “MaoFit”.

Some of us are working very hard to acquire such BMWs for ourselves, without asking the tax payer to foot the bill; why can’t you? Some of us are trying very hard not to be wasteful of public resources, because they belong to the future generation. Let us all, dear Batswana, strive to make this, our country, a bastion of selflessness. We have a future generation to think of. A generation of innocent children. Let us think of them!

Maxwell Mothapelaruri Moathudi writes from Selebi-Phikwe 

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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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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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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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