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2018: Managing the pace of change in Africa – the year ahead

The success of African governments is increasingly defined by their ability to manage the pace of social and political change. Africa’s burgeoning youth populations are flocking to the cities, embracing new forms of communications and media, and vocally demanding greater accountability from their governments.

Young and aspirational societies are above all hungry for jobs, but they also expect better public services and more evident social justice. This tide of expectation from the grassroots makes change inevitable. But while governments cannot stop it, they can still shape the pace and direction of change.

The African continent today is characterised by two types of nations – those led by reform-minded governments with the political will to deliver on their development strategy and overseeing robust growth driven by their private sectors; and those that resort to window-dressing efforts at reform while clinging to power through a reliance on patronage. In 2018, I anticipate more bumps in the road for African leaders who fail to respond to the clamouring of their young populations. But I also see the emergence of a new generation of leadership, like ours in Botswana, which has grown responsive to the needs and expectations of its citizens.

The new administrations of Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa, Joao Lourenco in Angola, and Emmerson Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe, while facing notable political and economic challenges, will all strike a more reformist and accountable tone than their predecessors in 2018. I anticipate Ramaphosa will make bold cabinet selections in South Africa to reassure the capital markets, step back from some of President Jacob Zuma’s more controversial recent populist policy interventions, and importantly, push for investigations into some of the alleged graft which has rocked South African politics in recent years.

This will not be an easy task, such is the divided nature of his party and the fragile state of the economy. But he will look to assert his authority and strike a note of change, while upholding aspects of the ANC’s radical economic transformation agenda, which remains so critical to South Africa’s long-term socio-economic rebalancing post-apartheid.

Lourenco is also making waves in Angola as he seeks to assert his authority over the state apparatus and dilute the lingering influence of the dos Santos family, who have dominated Angolan politics for the last three decades. From his new position of growing strength, I anticipate that Lourenco’s reforms will move beyond personnel changes to actually tackle some of the monopolies that thrive in Angola’s heavily politicised business landscape. It remains to be seen however, whether such actions constitute part of a coherent development agenda, or whether they are simply a means of wrestling control of key patronage structures from one faction to another.

In those countries where leaders have sought to push back and resist the forces of change, political risks will increase, as was evidenced recently in Zimbabwe. In perhaps the most prominent example of this dynamic, President Joseph Kabila’s dance around the international community in the DRC will continue to fuel a political and security crisis in 2018 that carries risks of escalation. Kabila will continue to play to the gallery on his commitment to elections, but I see this as a means to detract from his entrenchment in power. This dynamic will continue to foment unrest and violence as the country limps along to an inevitable transition.

Between populism and pragmatism
Linked to this same demographic pressure for reform and progress, governments are having to make tough decisions on how they run their economies, make policy and fund their development plans. With commodity prices still somewhat subdued, donor streams proving unreliable, and China taking a more restrained approach to the continent, in the last two-to-three years African governments have been forced to place a greater focus on economic diversification, debt-raising, fiscal reform, and efforts to broaden the tax base.

Such reforms are much-needed to strengthen the macro-economic sustainability of many countries. But they also carry structural risks, and notable opportunities and risks for business, which need to be carefully evaluated. With regards to structural risk, IMF chief Christine Lagarde in December 2017 sounded the warning bell over resurgent public debt levels in Africa, with external debt in particular vulnerable to foreign currency appreciation noting the likelihood of further interest hikes in the US and Euro-area this year.

After a swathe of debt write-offs in the 2000s with the launch of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) in 1996, African debt is again on the rise, with many governments using commercial and conditional borrowing to plug persistent fiscal and budgetary gaps. On a positive note, unlike in previous debt cycles, much of the focus of recent borrowing has been to fund capital spending on infrastructure and developmental projects.

However, many governments have also proven either reluctant or unable to trim the public wage bill, cut back on subsidies and reduce wastage in the system by pioneering robust public-sector reform. This has proven evident in the challenging IMF negotiations around concessional reforms to enable extended credit facilities in countries like Mozambique and Zambia.

While 2018 is unlikely to be the year when the tide turns on African debt, we expect this issue to come increasingly into focus with several bond issuances nearing maturity, and the long-term sustainability of debt in countries like Guinea, Ghana and Kenya being called into question. Fortunately, African governments appear more engaged with the IMF and other lenders than they were during the stubborn debt crises of the 1980s.

But public-sector reforms will prove a bitter pill to swallow, and with governments under pressure to maintain spending and preserve jobs, the debt mountain is more likely to swell than deflate. This issue could well come back to bite, and donors are unlikely to countenance a second bailout along the lines of HIPC, underlining the long-term structural risks this presents if spending is not contained.

On the other hand, the move towards economic diversification – particularly in resource dependent economies – presents huge opportunities to business. These range from reforms and incentives to open untapped or under-productive sectors like mining and agriculture, to the launch of Special Economic Zones or ring-fenced industrial parks like the export-oriented manufacturing hubs being developed in Zambia or Ethiopia. Such moves are unlocking significant potential for both companies and government, with an aligned benefit from wealth and jobs creation, and increased fiscal contributions.

Yet in other areas, fiscal reforms and efforts to broaden the tax base come with risks for business. Internal revenue generation in Africa is lamentably low due to a combination of poor checks and systems, high levels of informality in the economy, low tax rates, and corruption. The drive to address this issue forms an important step to build more sustainable economies.

Yet while improving tax collection systems and broadening the tax base to capture untaxed areas is likely to be a positive move, we are also likely to see a struggle play out between the need for pragmatic fiscal management and the desire to secure easy populist wins which carry political capital. In particular, where tax authorities target the low-hanging fruit of existing tax payers to drive up tax collection, this is likely to carry risks to business and in some instances, have a detrimental effect on economic activity.

In 2018, we are likely to see hikes in excise taxes on consumer goods that are seen to carry health and environmental impact – notably drinks, plastics and tobacco products – and the telecoms sector will also face similar pressures as a perceived cash-cow for government. While environmental and health issues will be used as the rationale, often the real driver of fiscal change will be short-term revenue-raising requirements. And while the foot has been taken off the pedal in terms of resource nationalism in the extractives sector after a wave of fiscal and regulatory reform in the last decade, tax and regulatory enforcement – including stringent sanctions for non-compliance – is likely to remain a feature for this strategic sector, where local content and beneficiation will be the primary government focus.

Businesses will need to be alert to these risks, which can originate domestically or result from contagion stemming from ‘influencer markets’ like South Africa which wield significant regional influence. While the risk of contagion from the more radical forms of policy that has been pursued in recent years in countries like Zimbabwe or even Tanzania is limited by the realities of the political-economy in other markets, tax and regulatory pressures are likely to become a growing challenge for business, requiring robust and proactive engagement to manage the impact on operations and the bottom line.

Marcus Courage, CEO of Africa Practice Group, a pan-African strategy and communications consultancy with offices in London, Gaborone and six other African capitals. www.africapractice. com

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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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