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Trouble with Botswana Politics: Hedgehogs and Tortoises

In this provocative article Botswana poet and novelist, Teedzani Thapelo*, argues that the salvation of African nations demand the rise of statesmen in democratic space. We need, he says, to rid politics of the idle voluptuousness that very often reduces it to the level of immoral luxury, and Botswana politics is in particular so insipid and shallow it will always fail us in hours of darkness, unless we can somehow manage to redirect politics toward the demonic center of the world we live in, work, and die. Botswana opposition, he says, should heed this message, since BDP has long abandoned the art of good politics.

Why write about politics? It’s such a tiresome subject. But is it really that bad a job? Come to think about it, is it really boring, both as topic for discussion, and job? I think not. Oh, no, God forbid, I am not a politician. I swear I am not one of those fellows, and you will soon learn why. After reading this article I am sure those people who proudly write on their Facebook timelines, under employment, the word politician, may very, very seriously want to reconsider; though I doubt many politicians will consider quitting, and that’s the paradox of politics. It is in reality more than just a complex art, it is an infuriating occupation; both to the theorist and the practitioner. Some are drawn to it by that façade of idle voluptuousness that very often reduces it to the base ladder of immoral luxury. A few by its lofty ideas, poetic appellation to human imagination, and even a fewer number think it can help them change the world.

But would life be really interesting if we all just sought security and comfortable occupation in politics as it is general discoursed, and practiced? I think not. My first objection to politics as it is practiced in Botswana, and much of Africa, right now, is that it fails to both investigate and improve human experience. Second, it erroneously equates public noticeability with civic duty, a social vanity I find most irritating. More than 2000 years ago Socrates warned us against the barrenness of a busy life. But Batswana refuse to listen.

Who can ever forget the annoying cross country tramping by Ian Khama and his useless cabinet these past ten years? I am told they visited every village in Botswana. But what did they do for those poor villagers? Nothing…the barrenness of a busy life. Now Ian is taking goats and chicken from those villagers, people he did nothing to help, not even the worst politics ever gets so low. When Kenneth Kaunda returned to his mothers village after twenty seven years in power he screamed, visibly shocked; “Oh, my God, nothing has changed! God forgive me,” and then burst into tears. The barrenness of a busy life…African politics.

Politics though is an elemental force in human life; perhaps even something more than that. Just like religion, food and God, we cannot live without it. The real question is what kind of politics is useful for the management of human affairs? Both the businessman and intellectual who say they are not politicians, or interested in politics, are liars. Otherwise how can one do business and the other write his theses and research work without kneeling at the altar of politics? The priest speaking at the altar every Sunday is a politician. Otherwise how does he grow his parish? How does he remain relevant to his community?

The greatest practitioners of politics, to me, though, are those men and women who only go into politics at the point when they become self-conscious enough to participate in the making of their own destiny, those who refuse to abandon their lives to chance, and the dictates of cruel fates, and these great human beings I call statesmen. Most people who attach to themselves the label of politics are nothing but opportunists-the Masisis of this world.

The real problem with African politics is insufficiency of conventional practical knowledge in the face of darkness. We just don’t have enough intellectual insight to look more deeply into the demonic center to the world we live in, work, and die. That is why our politics always fails us so miserably in the face of terrifying circumstances, and irreparable conditions. Of course the fundamental imperfection of fellow human beings is also a problem, but these things can be remedied.

We do bad politics because inadequate human perception, our poor grasp of reality, our weak grip of the deep subconscious energies of humanity, all work against our best efforts. But more often than we exert far too little, to no effort at all to improve our political enterprises, and this is the reason why I have no time with most postcolonial liberation political parties in Africa, especially in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Politics is not synonymous with partying; it is an art of governance.

Those who wish to govern should be willing, and ready, to set aside their wishes and desires, and prepare to do what is really expected of them. This is a message that opposition parties should note. By dismissing politicians we are not saying there is no significance to human effort, only that people can, and should, do better.

Politics fascinates us because it concerns all the things that madden us, torment us, stir up the lees of things-human and natural-all the truth with malice in it, all the troubles that crack the sinews in our bodies and lives, cake the brain, all the subtle demonisms in human life and society; all evil, politics is art, it is music, it is poetry, it is religion, and we must respect, and improve it. This is the only reason why I write; to summon the reader not only to the monstrosities and carelessnesses of public life, but also things so pertinent to human existence, and human enterprise, they harness all the manifestations of human life itself… are Batswana aware of the political watershed that is unfolding before their eyes?

In a few weeks Ian Khama will be sent out to pasture. Masisi will automatically succeed. The same way Mnangagwa, and Ramaphosa, took the baton from Mugabe and Zuma respectively. The comparisons are not frivolous. The three men will, if they win the pending elections in their blighted neighboring countries, find themselves placed in the unique position of deciding the fate, and future lives, of almost 70 million human souls, 60% of whom are under the age of twenty five; a daunting task by any means, and an incredible political privilege. The statistics are contestable. That much I grant. But that is not the point. The real question is, are these men up to the task?


The moment this question reared its head in my mind I thought I should for once critique, not the major problems facing these countries, per se, but the nature, and character, of the men and women, we routinely elect to govern our countries, and solve these perennial problems. The utility of this premise is obvious. I get a good chance to look at both the people in power, and those in opposition, to assess, and critique those who are departing, and, more important, to shed light, on those who are coming into office. I have followed the careers of these men for close on forty years, the exception being Masisi. The focus on Botswana is simply to illuminate the historical character of the other figures, and help explicate the problem of politics facing citizens today.

We have a big problem in Botswana politics, and this is, in fact, a problem of African politics. I am talking about the devastating drought of statesmen in national politics, and the worrisome, and annoying, flood, of politicians, in democratic space. What do I mean by a statesman? A skilled, experienced, and respected leader; already we are beginning to disqualify some of the people I mentioned above.

A statesman always stands on political principle, and his ambition is country first and other considerations, including the particular interests of his political party, second. He leads the way, and the people, with a vision whose clarity is beyond doubt. He has education, conviction, and ideas, and builds his platform on a foundation of firm, unchanging, unchangeable, fundamental truths.

Think of Nelson Mandela and racial equality. That man, almost single-handedly, taught an entire generation of politicians, black and white, the value of living together, respecting, and loving each other and building a community called a nation. So did Martin Luther King, and many others before him. Can we say the same thing about Mugabe? No.

Statesmen, guided by a moral compass rooted in a profound sense of absolute right, and absolute wrong, build nations, not political constituencies. Can we say the same thing about Ian Khama? No. The statesman leads by moral authority, and represents the best qualities in his countrymen. Can we say the same thing about Zuma? No. He is a man capable of rallying his people to his vision, and convincing them of the soundness of his political philosophy.

Think of Abraham Lincoln laying the foundation for American democracy, through blood and fury, till a bullet struck him dead. We need such leaders in African politics. We need men and women who always speak to the very best within their fellow citizens, leaders who exhibit great wisdom, and an ability to directly deal with vexing public issues. We need leaders who build a national consensus to achieve proclaimed political vision.

Do we do this kind of politics here in Botswana? No. Already I can visualize some readers mumbling, Teedzani doesn’t know politics, let him try it… these are just words. What does he mean by these abstract, and absurd, heavy political feelings? But wait. I am still talking about statesmanship. I will get to politics, and that wayward species, the politician. Only then can you start castigating me to your heart’s content. The reality is we cannot do good politics if we neglect the bigger picture of these heavy political feelings.

All good politics derive from human intelligence and feelings; from the totality of experienced human conditions. We should never lose sight of this simple reality. What made Morgan Tsvangerai, may his soul rest in peace, and Julius Malema, successful opposition leaders? These heavy political feelings that dry political science maligns, and I would really like our opposition to rid themselves of formulaic demagoguery, and start doing politics the right way; harnessing the power of the written, and spoken word, to the wrath of intolerable human conditions.

I am not the only person exasperated by the conditions of political life in this country. What would a statesman do in a situation like ours? He’d strive for the principal things that Ian Khama failed to do; a constitutional republic guaranteeing freedom and justice for all. Described by the BBC as a man who likes to fly high, Khama proved throughout his tenure in office to be cold, aloof, ascetic, authoritarian, and his callous disregard for Basarwa, whose life he described as obsolete, and extinct, and his particular antipathy to journalists, and roughshod strangulation of the judiciary, and intellectual community, are things completely foreign to statesmanship.

Who can forget that implacably hardening attitude to the press, and trade unions, and the imposition of puritanical discipline on free citizens? Ian worked for the BDP, his family, friends, and close colleagues; not Botswana, and Batswana. The entire country he turned into a safari destination, a theater for personal amusement. He would, I believe have done a good job as an explorer, but he chose to be a politician, and I shall to return to this subject soon.

A statesman does not crave absolute power, and where he has power he never uses it in an oppressive manner, like Mugabe, and Ian Khama did. Is he necessarily perfect? No, that is not humanly possible. Churchill bombed Dresden, and the Germans are still mad. Lincoln suspended habeous corpus during the civil war…but these are exceptions. He doesn’t use force to rule over the entire country the way Mugabe did.

Lincoln took war to confederate forces, but allowed them to surrender with dignity, laying a clear example for future generations the world over. Mugabe took war to the Ndebele, and used his victory as a useful precedent to deal with future political opponents, and the result? In the end he ruined an entire nation, and republic. Even those who stood by his violent pacification of Ndebele people lived to regret the powers, and veneration, they’d invested in him.

I remember a group of Shona children, and their terror, and bewilderment, when, trying to escape hunger, and death, they found themselves crossing the land of the dead in Matabeleland on their way to Botswana…had it not been for pious Ndebele chiefs and priests, God forbid.

The immaturity and shallowness of African politics is really a terrible thing. That’s why statesmen focus their efforts on the common good, national prosperity, and the inheritance of future generations. Placed in the hands of bad, or weak, men, politics has the potential to ruin, not only citizens, but whole nations, and any prospects for creating wealth, and opportunities, for future generations. Statesmen are always conscious, and apprehensive of this, but politicians don’t care.

My problem is that in Africa, and Botswana in particular, we have too many politicians, and not enough statesman, and not many people seem to understand, and appreciate, the differences between the statesman, and politician. When Batswana say someone is a good politician they mean someone who does them favours, no matter how small..o reka bojalwa, and that sort of thing. Many people were prepared do die defending Zuma. I understand even Zulu warriors were itching to test blood. That’s the sort of narrow-mindedness I am talking about, pandering to partisan interests, and not the public good.

The statesman knows what he wants to do when he gets in office. Does Masisi know what he wants to do when he gets in office? Does he know what needs to be done? Rona ba ga domkrag…malope, really, Batswana? It is things like these that terribly pain me. If Masisi was a good leader he’d long have given rousing, intelligent, motivating speeches to Batswana, spelling his vision, admitting the problems he sees in society, the obstacles to solving them, and inciting participation, and movement, with convincing arguments, and making it hard, if not impossible, for his critics, within and outside BDP, to ignore his message.

But is there any such hope to be expected from Masisi? Nope, like Ian he’s working for his party, and not Botswana, and Batswana. Ditto, Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe. Cyril Ramaphosa seems to be bleating in the right direction, but only just…buffaloes might yet rule in South Africa. Only time will tell.

The trouble with Africa is the flood of politicians in democratic space. It may sound strange to the reader to say this but the only definition of politicians in this context is that they are the major, and most notorious, perpetrators of politics in public life. This is neither sophistry nor tautological nonsense. I have here as I write the classic, In Defence of Politics, by Bernard Crick. I have already advanced his major arguments about the nature of politics in previous articles and I am not going to repeat myself.

So what do I mean when I say politicians are the perpetrators of politics in public life? Simple. They are the men and women who give the word politics, and the art of politics, a bad name. How often have you heard sensible really nice people say; “I don’t get involved in politics? Oh, how I hate politics! There can be no person more dishonest than a politician. Politicians are thieves, rascals, hooligans…”

Talk to people who campaign during elections and you will be amazed by the kind of reaction they get from frustrated women, youth, old man, and other citizens with integrity, and a firm sense of purpose in life. Many times these campaigners get kicked out from homes of really good people simply because they mention the word politics, dipolotiki, and this is not surprising.

Look at the irrelevant endless arguing, preposterous fights, name-calling, mud-racking, back-biting, lying, sense of arrogance and self-importance that passes for politics in Botswana. Many Batswana think these dirty insults the essence of good politics. That is wrong. These things are not politics. Only badly brought up kids indulge is such nonsense.

Politicians stand behind the word politics to hide their lack of principles, personal character, and the courage to stand up for what is right. To these irresponsible citizens politics is a product of pride, the lust for power, and partisan pursuit of self-enrichment. To them the end justifies the means, no matter how disreputable, no matter how dishonorable. Obsessed with power, public images of individual grandeur, and motivated by greed, these shameless men and women in due course learn the artful craftiness of deceit, and cunning methods of distortion, distraction, denial and blame shifting…in short they will do anything to stay in the public eye, to snatch a vote, to remain relevant to the social scene.

These charlatans are found in all political parties, and they are accepted, and respected, as politicians, as patriots. This is wrong. This is where the rot in our politics comes from. These are the people who weigh down struggling opposition parties. These are the people who erode the moral strength, and institutional character, of ruling parties. These are the people who supported Zuma in South Africa, the people who elevated Mugabe to the status of a demi-god in Zimbabwe, the people who vote BDP, the people who are giving Khama millions of presents and money.

What then is politics, Teedzani? Politics is primarily civic duty. It is love of country. It is deep affection, and concern, for those you seek to govern, or already govern. Responsible citizens go into politics the moment they realize not enough is being done to fulfill civic duty; respect for the rule of law, preservation of the republican constitution, involvement in community life to safeguard the republic, watch over government, and police the fabric of society and the nation. People who enter politics from this direction are statesman, men and women, trained in humanity.

Citizens with a strong moral code of right and wrong, and patriots possessed of valuable attributes of honesty, humility, reverence for personal responsibility, and a poignant apprehension of the future state of rewards and punishment. If Mugabe and Zuma where statesmen, they would not have resisted popular censure from enraged populations. But being petty politicians, they already considered themselves demi-gods, angels beyond moral, and legal, reproach.

To me this is the greatest problem with our politics. The simple fact people who call themselves politicians actually do not know politics. This is the tragedy of African politics, the tragedy of Botswana politics. There’s dire need to educate Batswana on this subject. You don’t just wake up and decide to be a politician.

“Why,” friends ask.

“I don’t know. I too want to eat. I must pay my debts.”

Such a person is already a bad politician, before he can even start. Unfortunately this is the direction taken by many people who go into politics. You are working on a biography and you ask the old man, “What made you go into politics?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I was recruited by so and so.”

“Is that the only reason?”

“Yeah, I can’t really think of any reason. I thought it would be fun, and boy, have I done well. Never, in my wildest dream…”
At this point I’d advise you to drop the research project altogether because really you are talking to an ignoramus, a complete fool.

Sad thing is there are millions such people in our countries, and as long as we continue to look at the art of politics this way we’ll never mature as democracies. South Africa is doing very well thanks to its robust institutional framework. But Botswana, and Zimbabwe, well, a lot needs to be done here. A politician like Mugabe never stops to consider that he actually belongs to the state. No, he thinks the state belongs to him. He treats it like personal property. This is not politics. It’s theft.

A politician like Khama thinks only about the next election, not the next generation. A man like Zuma does not possess a strong desire to serve others. He refuses to recognize his imperfections and strive to overcome them, to be the best person he can be. Such men are not statesmen.

Not one of these men defended liberty and virtue in their countries, not one respected and honored the moral sanctity of the constitution. Not one of them put country first, making it stronger, stable, and taking it on high on the bases of growth, inclusiveness, harmony and social justice. Who can really respect all those terrible decisions and judgments made by these men all these many years? As a matter of fact Zuma and Mugabe had no qualms about directing political vision towards personal gain, in broad daylight. Khama chose simply not to bother working with other leaders at home and abroad. Why bother? He’d no political vision. Batswana wanted him to play, and he did.

This is where we stand now; on a most tantalizing political cliff, as anticipation begins to enter the public consciousness regarding the men earmarked to succeed these political failures; Mnangagwa, Ramaphosa, and Masisi. All three owe their elevation to their political parties, and not the best political parties in the world. What should we expect? I am afraid not much. I said before Mnangagwa is a split image of Mugabe. I have nothing to add. Ramaphosa is a self-made man.

He has a strong grounding in civic duty and grassroots politics. He is a firm constitutionalist. But the master he serves, the ANC, is a merciless behemoth. There is, I think, hope for South Africa. Trouble is ANC has already squandered the public will conferred on it by admiring and grateful citizens only twenty five years ago. In Wretched of the Earth, France Fanon argued African liberation movements would start degenerating in twenty five years. Who can argue with that now? Great man, and great philosopher, that France Fanon.

As for Masisi, ah, I think, I should leave him to Botswana opposition parties. This brings me to one interesting point, the drought of statesmen, and flood of politicians, in Botswana opposition parties. What really is happening here? Can the statesmen in Botswana opposition please stand up? Do these people love this country? Why can’t they originate a political vision, and sustainable platform, that actually transcend their petty, almost personal, differences, and move towards the goal of national preservation?


One would assume opposition parties are familiar with the organization of political conflict in society, and that they consider their sole responsibility to be the search for political resolutions. Are these people really interested in good politics? Do they know what is at stake?

Already, Masisi has moved to ads, PR campaigns, futile obsession with public opinion, including the harmless pieces I write-the man is in a panic mood, but does opposition capitalize on this poor political strategy? No, they are busy fighting among themselves, risking loss of public support, and sympathy. Does the reader see what I mean by the value of political education?  Even the few statesman-like people in opposition are being pilloried with reckless ease, and far too many decisions, decisions that eat at the fabric of political unity, are now based solely on power, wealth, and conformity to facile legal rules, and not a look at BDP and its effect on the nation and the economy. Is this proper opposition politics?


Masisi follows the crowds, and if need be he looks set to live and die with his finger in the air, blowing wind, laboring on a dead horse, maintaining an image of leadership even though we all know he is a just a vacillating opportunist, but opposition does not seem to care much to deliver the knockout punch. Is there something we don’t know here? What is happening! Could it be there is some truth in the saying all politicians are hornets and mosquitoes, that citizens can never really understand why they have to endure them? Is politics really this useless? Is it necessary the burden of political affairs should be so irritating? Is it surprising that griping, moaning, and complaining on a daily basis Batswana continue to return BDP political amateurs to office?

Part of the problem with opposition I think is that people in this side of politics often thrive for a while, and then lose steam, or worse, suffer extinction, and just as often these happens to be the people who really care to push the opposition agenda. Mental fatigue is a serious strain in politics-not to mention personal material resources, and dealing with entrenched incumbency does not help the situation. In the end some opposition members begin to feel just comfortable with marginal political participation.

The few really seasoned opposition members also develop entitlement complexes that madden new entrants in the game, especially impatient, and frustrated youth. In the end the chain of moral authority and mutual beneficence collapses and far too much time is spent mending fences.

Pray, opposition must realize this also happens to ruling parties. Giving up is not an option, it is moral suicide, and most of you guys are good Christians. If in doubt adopt the defense strategy of the hedgehog who protects himself by rolling into a tight ball, quills jutting at enemy position, shielding the tucked face, feet, and belly; in short fight with spirit, and determination, never give up. The human spirit is an immeasurable political treasure. In BDP you are face to face with the tortoise.

The shell is still hard though much of this might by now amount to nothing but sham. The tortoise symbolizes longevity in some cultures, and some of these creatures, just like BDP, have been known to live long lives. Adwaita of Aldabra, for example, lived 225 years but eventually, like all nature, died.  Note too that some species of the tortoise, just like BDP politicians, have very small brains and others do not have hippocampus in the brain, an organ that relates to emotion, learning and memory. You can live long like BDP without learning, or feeling, anything, about the people you lead. Both Zuma and Mugabe tried to survive like these tortoises but see what happened in the end. Tjisingapele tjo hula.

More leaders in opposition must really start turning to the amour of statesmanship. Yes, I accept the nuanced subtle differences between the politician and the statesman but it must take advantage of the fact BDP completely abandoned good politics long ago.  If everybody in Botswana remains stuck in political mediocrity, who is going to stop political corruption? Who is going to prevent national ruin? Do you really want all this bribery, extortion, cronyism, influence trading, and peddling, and graft, and embezzlement to go on unchecked? Do you want to facilitate criminal enterprise in the country through voluntary abdication? Batswana have not abandoned you; not yet. The use of power by government leaders to extract and accumulate private enrichment is not permissible.

So the use of corrupt means to stay in power. The repression of opponents. General police brutality. The use of extracted resources for political preservation, and power extension purposes, and the politically motivated distribution of financial and material inducements, benefits and spoils; things like namola leuba and Ipelegeng…these are criminal things, and they must stop.

Batswana need education, jobs, and sustainable social safety nets; not handouts. If nobody stops the gravy train this country will be what nature decreed it to be before we turned it into a home: arid desert and dustbowls. Is this what you want?
I don’t think so. Tembezelani Batjibilibili, shangoyapalala.


Teedzani Thapelo* is author of the novel Seasons of Thunder, and the books, Battle against the Botswana Democratic Party: point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, Argument against the Botswana Democratic Party: an intellectual inquiry, Ian Khama Presidency and Vanity Fair in Parliament: an African tragedy.

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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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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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