Augustine Makgonatsotlhe, a relatively new appointee who was selected by President Lt. Gen. Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama to be an Ombudsman just a year ago is a man on a mission.
In his endeavour to make maximum impact in his new role, he released a hard-hitting report this week “authenticating” the state broadcaster Botswana television’s complaints of “biasness”. He implied that the station is favouring the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) at the expense of opposition parties in terms of coverage. The report was a response to a complaint lodged on 15 February 2016 by a member of the public, who also happens to be Vice President of the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) Reverend Dr. Prince Dibeela.
In his report to the accusation directed to Btv, Mokgonatsotlhe also clearly stated in his findings that indeed Btv has given the ruling party an undue advantage by their unbalanced coverage of political party activities and the documents (Btv mandate and editorial guidelines) provided by the respondents (Btv management) clearly supports the claim. He observed that it resulted in injustice to other political parties and those with an interest in Botswana’s political sphere as they were denied the opportunity to compete fairly with the ruling party.
“It is my view therefore that Btv’s coverage of political party activities does not meet the requirements of balance, equity and inclusiveness as set out under mandate and guidelines. Such needs to be corrected in order for Btv to play its role properly and effectively,” the Ombudsman lashed out in the report. He revealed that Btv availed a document titled “BDP, BCP and UDC stories aired on Btv from June 2016 to May 17, 2017” which showed the unfairness in coverage of political parties in Botswana. The document, he said, lists a total of 90 events, out of which only 1 titled “BDP VP-BCL” of 18 October 2016, does not immediately come out as a political party activity.
“Of the 89 (eighty nine), 73 (seventy three) were for the ruling party and only 16 (sixteen) for the combined opposition parties, BCP included. In terms of percentages this accounts for 82% coverage for the BDP against 18% for the combined opposition,” he said. The Ombudsman said Btv, also specifically relied on the document in denying the allegation that it rarely covered the events of opposition parties, arguing that they regularly cover those and that nothing can be further from the truth than the accusation.
“In response to the question on what influences their decision to cover political party events and whether the identity of the party has any role in influencing such, Btv stated that they aspire to cover all newsworthy events, which was however, not always possible due to resource constraints.” As such the state broadcaster officials said they have to prioritise, a process that is influenced by factors such as newsworthiness, magnitude of the event, availability of resources, and the need for “inclusion.” The Btv management emphasised that the leadership and top government officials are thus given priority coverage in order to inform Batswana on service delivery of government and also to get their feedback.
“In my assessment, and unless some information has been left out, the picture painted by the document cited is not one of equity, balance and inclusiveness in the coverage of political party activities,” Makgonatsotlhe maintained in the scathing report. He continued: “it cannot be equitable, in my view, that out of the 89 political party events aired on national broadcaster who seeks ‘to ensure that the public is fully informed of the policies and programmes of all political players’ and to provide ‘equity and balance’ in their coverage of such, that one party enjoys 82% coverage compared to 18% for the rest.”
According to Makgonatsotlhe, the issue of newsworthiness as referred to by Btv, is hard to believe because out of the 89 activities, only 16 from the combined opposition were found to be newsworthy, compared to 73 from the ruling party. In the report, the Ombudsman said that in his view the allocation of airtime slots on Btv is an administrative function of the leadership of that entity, and that he found that they have, in the performance of such, unduly favoured the ruling party over the opposition, thus giving them undue advantage in obtaining political mileage.
He said that clearly caused an injustice to the opposition parties and gave the complainant (Dibeela), being a member of the public with an interest in influencing Botswana’s political landscape, the right to raise the complaint with the Ombudsman. “Finally, the reference to the activities of the leadership and high ranking government officials appears to be inapplicable in this case as all the events listed were clearly political in nature and have nothing to do with government policy or service delivery. The events here cited were either celebratory of the achievements of the particular political party or were meant to inform the public of its activities, or to prepare it and its members for forthcoming bye elections. A failure to achieve balance and equity in the coverage of such activities therefore gave one party an undue advantage over the others.”
He pointed out that Btv should therefore ensure a proper application of the principles stated in their mandate and editorial guidelines to ensure that their reporting of political party activities is balanced, inclusive and equitable, both in terms of the content and on the number of events covered.
What prompted the investigation of Btv?
Having received the complaint the ombudsman was relying on section 3 (1) to investigate the matter. The said section states “subject to the provisions of this section, the Ombudsman may investigate any action taken by or on behalf of a government department or other authority to which this Act applies, being action in the exercise of administrative function of that department or authority, in any case where: a) a complaint is made to the Ombudsman by a member of the public who claims to have sustained injustice in consequence of mal-administration in connection with the action so taken.” Also as per section 8(1) of the Ombudsman Act No. 5 of 1995, Makgonatsotlhe said he sent the report to a concerned department, Btv, Department of Broadcasting Services (DBS) which falls directly under the Office of the President for the “injustices to be corrected”.
Ombudsman rebukes Btv while praising BBC, SABC models
According to Makgonatsotlhe, when compared to other broadcasters like Britain’s British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and South Africa’s South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), BTV is left un-wanting and leaves a lot to be desired, particularly it’s set up. Btv, unlike BBC and the SABC, he said, is an entity under the Department of Broadcasting Services of the Government of Botswana.
“It was not established or created by any law and, only operates under the two documents as already provided (Btv mandate and editorial guidelines), whereas BBC and SABC have both been created by some instruments called Charters which are laid out in their founding legislations. The documents are its foundation and provide the necessary guidance on its operations.” What Btv can learn from BBC, Makgonatsotlhe said, is that there is a Charter which provides, amongst others, the appointment of Governors.
The Governor’s duties include, amongst others, setting clear objectives and priorities for the BBC and monitoring how they have been met; ensuring that the BBC is directed and managed in the public interest; is accountable to the license fee payers and parliament and ensuring that the BBC complies with the law and maintains high standards. The Ombudsman continued to highlight that the SABC on the other hand, is also created by a Charter as a public broadcaster and makes provision for the appointment of a Board of Directors. He also said the Charter is laid out in Chapter IV of the Broadcasting Act and requires the SABC to provide a wide range of programmes that advance the national and public interest. He explained that in a democratic set up like Botswana, it is therefore, imperative that institutions such as a national broadcaster should be: established by law or some instrument that will clearly spell out their mandates and governance structures; transparent in the discharge of their mandates and functions; and accountable to the nation and parliament in particular.
What model is Btv and what prompted the report?
According to documents the station’s mandate is to promote and publicise government’s programmes, projects and national events for the benefit of the citizenry. In so doing, they are guided by internal and professional standards and guidelines. The document further states that Btv observes a professional media code of conduct and ethics. It says Btv espouses high journalism ideals, including accurate, balanced, fair and equitable reporting.
The editorial guidelines provide that both employees of Radio Botswana and Btv will “ensure that during political and election broadcasts the public is fully informed about the policies and programmes of all political players”. That notwithstanding, Dibeela alleged that, although it is a public broadcaster and is sustained through the taxes paid by all citizens, whose interest it is supposed to serve, Btv is instead used to serve the interests of the ruling BDP, in that: it rarely airs programs of opposition parties and regularly bombards the public with BDP propaganda.
To expand his allegations, Dibeela highlighted the broadcasters’ failure to air the unveiling of the tombstone of one of Botswana’s former opposition leaders, Dr. Kenneth Koma in November 2015, as well as the reception of Dr. Margaret Nasha, a former BDP activist, into opposition party ranks on 14 February 2016, although the station employees were present at both events.
Dibeela as such explained that Btv’s editorial policy totally excludes coverage of opposition party events, and allow for the over editing of shots to the point where the stories were rendered incomprehensible. He also complained to the ombudsman that the station allows for the late airing of stories after the events, when people would have psychologically moved on and were no longer expecting them. Such, according to the complainant (Dibeela) amounted to abuse of a public facility and was tantamount to mal-administration.
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.