Technical challenges linked with the procurement and distribution of set-top-boxes has undermined the much hyped analogue- to–digital migration in Botswana. Government is struggling to get companies to commit to selling and distribution the technology that will ensure that the migration is successful.
At the SADC-SABA Broadcasting Forum held in Windhoek, Namibia recently, Botswana decried the lack of locally produced content as one of the reasons why the digital migration is slow. But on the sidelines of the Forum it emerged that potential distributors of set-top-boxes had approached government for tax rebates and or discounts should they import the gadgets for later re-sale in Botswana because of the costs involved. However Government is not keen on the proposals.
Just recently Government put an advert on the Daily News publication urging companies with the capacity to order and sell set-top-boxes to raise their hands and get free advertising in all government media. It is understood that Government wants to launch Btv 2 but the challenge is – who will watch it, where? The view of insiders at Mass Media is that 9000 demonstration set-top-boxes cannot validate a television channel launch. The 9000 set-top-boxes are not sold anywhere in the country, they could only be found at Mass Media and were distributed by means of call in competitions.
Botswana is said to be also still battling issues of limited manufacturing or assembling capacity of Set Top Boxes (STBs), economic challenges, unfavourable terrain requiring gap fillers in many areas and inconsistent disbursements of funds for digital terrestrial television (DTT) migration. The Windhoek Forum also established SADC countries that have not yet migrated to (DTT) and are facing a lot of challenges ranging from a lack of finance, shortage of expert human resources and lack of attractive local content.
In the last session of parliament, the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Governance, Eric Molale revealed that his ministry had wished for set-top boxes to be produced locally. “We identified a number of young persons who have the suave to do things that relate to technology, Information Technology (IT) and the like. All the time when they were ready to start production, they then gave excuses. We are still encouraging more to come forward so that these set-top boxes are produced here, so that they can even be exported to other countries in Africa.”
The minister highlighted that that set-up would have led to the funds being retained locally. Botswana delegates at the forum also submitted that there was serious lack of local content to fill in the broadcasting space. Currently Botswana Television viewership continues to diminish in the wake of new entrant, Kwese. Previously Multi-choice and South African television networks dominated local viewership.
Although it was launched 17 years ago, BTV continues to be heavily criticised for its lack of content and recycling programmes. The television station is viewed as lacking entertaining content, particularly for the youth who make up 60% of the population. However, the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports & Cultural Development has been in the process of setting up a commercial, sports and entertainment channel, BTV 2.
Albeit digital migration went live in June 2015, the new channel which was expected to feature on the Digital Terrestrial televised set-top box together with the traditional Botswana Television 1 have yet to beam any content. Reportedly, neither channel has content to air. The main challenge for Btv 2 is how it will be accessed by the population because there appears to be a problem of set top boxes.
This publication also established that an amount of US$2.5 million (approx. 21 million pula) has been earmarked to assist local producers in creating programmes for sports viewership and entertainment documentaries and native films for the 2017/18 financial year. This will add to over 180 million pula which has already been used in the entire analogue to digital transformation 2 years ago.
Officials continue to be aggrieved by the slow pace at which the transition is effecting, so far, a lot of households still cannot get hold of set-top boxes; there are delays in the release of the digital dividend and there is continued use of analogue TV frequencies, especially by neighbouring countries, which officials say delays the release of the valuable DTT spectrum. At least 50% of Botswana households run on analogue transmitters while only a few consumers in urban areas have already received DTT on satellite, according to the department of broadcasting.
PROGRESS IN OTHER SADC COUNTRIES
Meanwhile other SADC countries are also facing an uphill battle in the transition process of analogue-to-digital migration. Malawi is among the only four SADC Member States, including Namibia, Tanzania and Mauritius who failed to successfully migrate from analogue to digital before the set deadline of 17 June 2015.
According to Zadziko Mankhambo, Broadcasting Manager at the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority’s (MACRA), Malawi like Botswana is facing inadequate local content challenges on all channels, low uptake of STBs due to economic challenges, unfavourable terrain requiring gap fillers in most areas, slow growth of the network in other areas and poor operating standards by some content service providers (CSPs).
Other challenges include delayed rollout affecting implementation of final Apps Store Optimisation (ASO) for the country, a capital intensive process, resulting in slow progress in all areas. “SABA should find ways of enhancing local content production in the region. There should be ways of stopping developed countries from dumping analogue equipment to developing countries,” stressed Mankhambo.
Swaziland was able to successfully switch off analogue transmitters on the 31 December 2016 following a successful migration process. The country is now working on the licensing process for Digital Dividend 1 and 2 spectra to telecommunications service providers for broadband applications and the process is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. â€¨Challenges for Swaziland include the low uptake of STBs attributed to perceived high prices of the boxes and the lack of attractive content on the DTT platform. The Swazi government has, however, subsidized the price of STBs to citizens. Other challenges include limited content (local content) to fill up the channels that have been made available by the DTT project.
Among SADC Member States, Namibia was the frontrunner in terms of digitalization and offered 70 percent of its population a digital TV signal before the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) deadline of June 2015. South Africa missed the June 2015 transition date but has brought in the participation of the private sector, telecommunication companies and broadcasters to help expedite the implementation rollout. “We are working on an aggressive project plan to expedite rollout,” said Wonder Dlangamandla, chief director of technology in the Department of Communication
He added that they aimed to complete STB rollout by December 2018. A lot of challenges exist for South Africa as the country has a huge land mass and challenging landscape of about 1.2 million square kilometres. There is an uneven population distribution with big concentrations around urban metros with diverse cultural and regional make-up; varying living standards measures (LSMs), varying commercial interests and a tough balancing act.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”