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The End of An Era?

With the ouster of Mugabe, Zimbabweans have claimed only one scalp of the many-headed Hydra. BENSON C SAILI explains.

On November 15th 2017, The New York  Times asked Victor Matemadanda, secretary general of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Association,  to provide context as to how Emmerson Mnangagwa came to be known as “Ngwenya”, or  “The Crocodile” in English.  A plethora of theories have been bandied about in relation to how the hair-raising label came about, but Matemadanda would not be drawn into a labouring of the whys and wherefores. Instead, he cut straight to the chase.

“A crocodile patiently waits for his target, pretending to be a rock,” Matemadanda  said. “At times you think he doesn’t react, or doesn’t have any solution to what is happening. He doesn’t show irritation until the optimal moment and then he strikes. And when he does, he doesn’t miss his target!”

That day, Ngwenya  had been just under ten days in self-imposed exile in Mzansi and Robert Mugabe was yet to give up the ghost politically although he was long past  his expiry date. But one does not need to be a rocket scientist to get the  pith of what Matemandanda was intimating – that whatever was in the offing in Mugabe’s horoscope was entirely  the work of  the Crocodile. Mnangagwa schemed the palace coup and decided to stage it at a time when Mugabe was most vulnerable – jaded and enfeebled by old age, drowsy all the time even in meetings he himself chaired, stumbling and faltering with every step, his incorrigible kids openly flaunting the family’s ill-gotten wealth, and insinuations of a dynast in the making with his wayward and scandal-prone wife having publicly declared her wish to succeed him.

THE CROCODILE’S FIRST FUTILE BITE

The axing of Emmerson Mnangagwa by Robert Mugabe arose at the urging of “Gucci” Grace, as she has been dubbed lately thanks to her exhibitionist, bling-bling shopping sprees. At a public gathering, Grace accused Mnangagwa of “fanning factionalism” and for being the architect of a foiled coup wayback in 1980. These accusations are not exactly a figment of Dis-Grace’s imagination: there’s a modicum of veracity to them.

To begin with, rumours having been swirling for some time that there’s a Shona versus Kalanga divide in the upper echelons of both the executive and the military, a scenario Grace was trying to exploit in her hare-brained bid for the vice-presidency. The Kalangas are the largest sub-group of the broader Shona ethnic group and Mnangagwa is a true-blue Kalanga. The tribe to which Mugabe belongs, the Zezurus, constitute one of the smallest of the Shona group, which is made up of the Kalanga (southern Shona); Rozvis; Zezurus (central Shona); and Korekores (northern Shona) in the main.

The attempted coup that Grace alluded to is not that well-known, perhaps because it occurred just shortly after Zimbabwe’s independence and to publicise it at the time would have cast the Mugabe government as fragile, weak-kneed, and unpopular when it had hardly set sail. It is indeed curious why Grace omitted to  make reference to the most serious attempt to oust Mugabe pre-2017 – the abortive coup of  2007. The coup was supposed to take place between  June 2 and June 15 2007. About 400 soldiers and up to 10 high-ranking army officers were enlisted in the attempted putsch. The plotters were not tried in a court of law but seven ring leaders, who included the alleged mastermind, Albert Matapo, were detained for seven years.

Now hear this: the seven detainees told their captors that the person who was actually behind the coup attempt was Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was then Minister of Rural Housing and Social Amenities, a post  he thought demeaned him as  a man of solid  revolutionary credentials.  It was he who would have become president had the coup succeeded: all others were no more than   foot soldiers.

Yet  Mnangagwa, and three other senior army officers,  namely Lt. Colonel Ben Ncube, Major-General Engelbert Rugele, and Vice Marshall Elson Moyo, were  not bothered at all: they remained in the army, which goes to show how powerful  Mnangagwa was.  Mnangagwa was untouchable even to Mugabe himself.  It stands to reason that the treasonous act would never have come to trial for fear of the beans the seven would have spilt about  Mnangagwa.

ZUMA, CHINA, AND THE CIA LENT BLESSINGS TO PUTSCH

Addressing a rally after firing his seniormost vice president, Robert Mugabe said he sacked him for plotting to unseat him from the day he elevated him in 2014. Mugabe did not go into particulars but it is clear he did get wind of the plot that finally toppled him. The mistake he committed, which he will always rue, was to tread softly in his reaction when he should have gone for the jugular straightaway. Contrary to popular belief, the coup was not hatched in the wake of Mnangagwa’s dismissal.  According to the highly regarded, London-based newsletter Africa Confidential, the coup was devised several weeks prior. The dismissal of Mnangagwa simply served to fast-track it.

The coup was scheduled for December 2017, just before the ZANU-PF conference, where it was feared by the Mnangagwa faction, who called themselves Team Lacoste, that members of the Grace Mugabe faction, known as G-40, would ascend to plum party positions at the expense of Team Lacoste and therefore consign it to oblivion.

Before moving to execute the coup, Team Lacoste took soundings with three highly influential nations – China, the US, and  South Africa. General Chiwenga in fact travelled to China on November 5 and met that country’s defence minister Chang Wanquan to secure the Red Dragon’s blessings. The alarm bell Chiwenga sounded before China was that the imminent wholesale purge of the Lacoste Team  at the forthcoming December conference was certain to compromise China’s interests in the country as the G40 were populists who wanted to brandish the anti-China card as a rallying cry.

“In South Africa, Mnangagwa, Chiwenga and Chris Mutsavangwa, the 'war veterans' leader and former ambassador to China, talked to local security officials about the implications of their military action in Harare,” said Africa Confidential. “We understand they were given assurances of non-intervention by South Africa so long as the action didn't spill over the borders and remained 'broadly constitutional'. Chiwenga and Mnangagwa promised to find a way to avoid the action being stigmatised as a military coup by the African Union or the Southern African Development Community.”

Citing their own source, City Press, a leading South African Sunday paper,  also reported that,  “The Chinese were keen on knowing who would take over. When the diplomat informed them that it was Mnangagwa, they were thrilled as he is an old friend of China. He did his military training there.” As for the US being in on the plot too, the same City Press source said,  “I can confirm that at this stage, the United States was informed, but played no role in the plan.”

Chiwenga had undertaken the overseas journey on the pretext that he was following up on his routine medicals. During his absence, Mugabe’s informants disclosed to him the true nature of Chiwenga’s mission, whereupon Mugabe issued instructions to the effect that Chiwenga be arrested immediately upon his return. A tipped-off  Chiwenga returned not via the main airport in Harare  but via a little-used aerodrome, where military intelligence turned up in full force  to thwart any attempt on the part of the police to lead him away in  handcuffs. 

CAN THE CROCODILE RISE TO THE OCCASION?

It is said behind every successful man there is a woman. But women have also been the downfall of many a successful man. The voluptuous Delilah led to strongman Samson’s eventual demise. The Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha expired in the arms of a prostitute after she fed him a poisoned apple in the afterglow of a torrid round of lovemaking. The architect of Mugabe’s downfall was none other than the ultra-ambitious and incredibly naive Grace Mugabe, who nudged her almost senile husband to alienate himself from the military top brass.

Mnangagwa was the Chairman  of the Joint  Operations Command, which   comprised of the  heads of the Zimbabwean Defence Force, the Zimbabwean National  Army, the Zimbabwe Air Force, the Zimbabwe Police, the Zimbabwe Prison Service, the Central Intelligence Organisation, the Minister of Defence, and the Governor of the Central Bank. In theory, he was more powerful than even Mugabe himself. To toy with him was therefore suicidal. Mugabe himself was aware how powerful and even indispensable Mnangagwa was, the reason why despite his glaring sins of yesteryears, Mugabe just could not give him the marching orders. 

That said, is Mnangagwa the best man to lead Zimbabwe from Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained? Was  the euphoria that we saw on the small silver screen  warranted or it was pure  delirium? Looking at Ngwenya’s CV, one is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. When about 20,000 Ndebeles were massacred by the  North Korean trained 5th Brigade, Mugabe’s professional thugs,  in 1980, Mnangagwa  is said to have been  the man who captained them.

But  is that really true? For at the time,  Mnangagwa was Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, not Defence Minister, Home Affairs Minister, or even Deputy Prime Minister. The Defence Minister in fact was Mugabe himself. So it is a bit of stretch to suggest that Mnangagwa  superintended over the Matabeleland  atrocities. If anybody is to blame for the carnage, it is Robert Mugabe himself,  who was at once Head of State and Defence Minister at the time. The reason Mugabe was seen to be mollycoddling Mnangagwa may be attributed in the main to Mnangagwa’s comprehensive knowledge of where Mugabe’s haul of bodies are buried.

In 1995 and 1996, Mnangagwa acted as Finance Minister. During that very brief period, he gained a reputation as the best Finance Minister the country had ever had. This was not cheap rhetoric: it was the unanimous  view of the senior technocrats who worked under him, including the ranks of the intelligentsia who majored in economics. So before we dismiss him as a scatterbrain who attained his ne plus ultra as a freedom fighter, let us cut him slack as he has reportedly what it takes to exhume his country from the economic grave and give it a new and sustainable lease of life. In any case, he’s a trained barrister – a lawyer. He’s no dunderhead at all.

HAVE THEY SOWN THE WIND ONLY TO REAP THE WHIRLWIND?

Yet the ouster of Robert Mugabe must be seen in its proper context. It was not an Arab Spring kind of upheaval.  And it was not conducted in the interests of the body politic. It all was about schisms in the ranks of the ZANU-PF. The break-dancing and ululating citizenry who thronged the streets on November 21st to celebrate the departure of Mugabe were swept up in the hysteria of the moment without seriously analysing the causal factors and the politics at play. They celebrated change for its own sake without interrogating the bona fides of the forces that precipitated that change.

Look, the army Generals who put Mugabe to the sword were the same ones responsible for the death of about 200 people during the 2008 elections. It was they who presided over the closed doors rigging of the elections and it was they who issued that unforgettable barbarous threat – that they would never allow a person who did not have liberation credentials to ascend to the highest office in the land. But when their own vested political and economic interests were threatened, they did not hesitate to pounce and show Mugabe the door. Their own individual welfare was primary, whereas the welfare of the nation at large was secondary, if not irrelevant altogether.

As for the opposition coalition, they too have been played big time as pawns of the country’s military-industrial complex. It’s like they have blinkers over their eyes or are so myopic they cannot see beyond the points of their noises. By throwing in their lot behind the overthrow of Mugabe, all they have done is simply consolidate military rule behind the scenes and give legitimacy to a unconstitutional change of a constitutionally  elected president. What they have done is not to midwife a new era of a democratic dispensation but to aid and abet the chicanery of ZANU-PF. 

True, Mugabe has rode into the sunset of political history but only  one of the multiple heads of  the Lernaean Hydra  has been cut: the rest remain in place and unscathed. With such a creature at the helm, what guarantees are there that what happened in 2008 won’t be replicated in July 2018?

In 1991, Zambians dismissed Kenneth Kaunda, who wasn’t half a despot as Robert Mugabe, from a further conduct of their affairs. They celebrated as if they had just won self-rule from a draconian imperial power or toppled an Idi Amin or Jean Bedel Bokassa. It did not take more than five years for them to wish Kaunda had continued to rule for another 27 more years so pathetic was the regime that took over and in full conformity with  the parameters of an archetypal democracy for that matter. Politics, folks, is very fickle. What a dirty game it is!

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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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