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Botswana Roads Infrastructure – a ticking time bomb


A couple of months ago the Botswana Institution of Engineers published their position paper in the Weekend Post Newspaper titled “BOTSWANA ROADS INFRATRUCTURE FACES POTENTIAL MAINTENANCE TIME BOMB“. Incidentally, about this time last year (2016) I wrote a short article in a newspaper called Boidus Focus trying to say the same thing about our infrastructure in general, not just road infrastructure.

But I don’t know if my message came out as clearly as the BIE position paper puts it: “…Unless the road network is adequately maintained through the requisite funding the country will pay a highly amplified cost for having to undertake an ever increasing kilometrage of back-log maintenance which equates to an untenable maintenance time bomb.” In my article I concluded:  “Lackadaisical approach to preventative maintenance… eventually leads to more urgent and expensive maintenance faults. Therefore lack of preventative maintenance eventually leads to higher maintenance costs of your infrastructure”.

The discussions and conclusions as presented in the BIE position paper remind me of the story of “the Urgent file V/s Current file”. The story goes: at one point the Police Service in a certain country in Asia found themselves inundated with urgent files (urgent cases to investigate). Every now and then a senior police officer would bring an urgent file to the junior officer and instruct him/her to set aside the current file and work on the urgent file. And the junior officer would oblige and do the work with due diligence and attention. Except that more urgent files kept coming leading to more and more current files being set aside.

Eventually the complainants for the files set aside started coming one by one to the station commander to plead with him to treat their cases as urgent as they had been delayed for too long, and as we all know, “justice delayed is justice denied”. So the station commander would then take the files down to the officers and declare them as urgent. That meant the number of urgent files increased even further and by the same token, the amount of time delays on current files also increased even further, leading to more pleading with the station commander to treat them as urgent and thus fueling the vicious circle. 

This is exactly what happens overtime in facilities management if no due attention is given to preventative maintenance, but it usually happens in such a subtle manner that management does not notice it. In fact many property mangers; facilities managers or  organizations whose mandate includes maintenance of some property or infrastructure such as buildings, street lighting roads, power lines, pipelines, equipment etc, often find themselves caught up in the same situation at one point or the other.

Why? Because the mindset of limited resources sets up a competition between responsive maintenance and preventative maintenance, and responsive maintenance often wins as it shows the symptoms of damage to the property. Therefore it is treated as more urgent than preventative maintenance.

However, there are some unintended consequences of making the decision of prioritizing responsive maintenance over preventive maintenance. Over time, it is these unintended consequences that come back to add to the problem you were trying to eliminate in the first place. What then happens is that the fix or the attention to the problem grows and since there is “limited resources”, less attention is given to preventing the problem from occurring again. And so the problem keeps coming and increasing, slowly but surely in quantity and severity.

Here is how the problem looks like from a systemic viewpoint:

This structure is called “Fixes That Backfire”. The S Next to the circular arrows denotes same direction while the O denotes opposite direction. The big circular arrows indicate how the parts interact and affect one another over time. e.g. as the level of problem goes up, the level of fix goes up (same direction).

In a Fixes That Backfire situation a problem symptom cries out for resolution. A fix is quickly implemented which alleviates the problem. But overtime, the unintended consequence of the fix exacerbates the problem symptom, leading to more fixes. The cycle continues and the problem symptom gets worse and worse with time. In our structure above if you insert “demand for responsive maintenance” in place of “level of problem” and insert “action on responsive maintenance” in place of “level of fix “, and then insert “number of roads that missed preventive maintenance” in place of “unintended consequences”,  you will start seeing the picture.

Due to “limited resources” the responsive maintenance competes with preventative maintenance and so when there is action on responsive maintenance there is no action on preventative maintenance. Thus, over time the number of roads that missed preventative maintenance increase and reach the stage where they also call for responsive maintenance. And so, as more and more infrastructure calls for responsive maintenance less and less attention is given to preventative maintenance. The vicious circle then continues to run.

Interestingly, as this vicious circle continues to run, overtime another competitor then joins the raise: Emergency Maintenance! When emergency maintenance enters the raise both responsive and preventative maintenance are given less or no attention, and so the level of unintended consequences starts to grow faster. That means the vicious circle now starts to run not only faster but also more severely. And I am told we are at this stage with regards to our A3 road.

But this type of problem does not only exist in roads maintenance. It is prevalent in all other types of infrastructure – buildings, water pipelines, sewer systems, street lighting, equipment etc. etc. For example, how many of us can recall buildings which at completion of construction had nice well working central plant air conditioning system but are now infested with ugly wall mounted consoles or split air conditioning units?

Or how many of us live in villages where the water pressure is always so low that water only comes out of our taps at night because when the supplier tries to increase the pressure numerous pipe bursts occur that lead to closure of the line and worsens the water shortage situation? Or how many of us have now come to terms with the fact that street lights would go off more often during the rainy season? These are simply symptoms of organizations that are caught up in one of the systemic archetypes like the one described above.

But there is no blame! It’s a case of unintended consequences. Here is what the truth is. The systemic structure or Archetype called Fixes That Backfire as depicted above runs in most of our lives and our organizational systems. As we solve problems we create some unintended consequences. These unintended consequences eventually come back to us as more and more problems to solve. This is why we are so attuned to the culture of problem solving that we don’t find time to develop the culture of systemic thinking. Yet it is only when we have the systemic thinking skills that we can uncover and reverse the underlying structures that keep generating these problems.

Lackadaisical approach to preventative maintenance as depicted above is a sign of lack of capacity for systemic thinking. It is similar to setting aside the current file and attending to the urgent file. It is a sign of an organizational culture that is leaning more towards problem solving and less towards systemic thinking. The term organizational culture here we refers to the industry as a whole, not just those responsible for maintenance of the roads.

This culture of problem solving, doing more responsive maintenance at the expense of preventative maintenance, eventually leads to more urgent and expensive maintenance faults, which is more like the situation we are in as described by the BIE position paper. Nobody intended to leave the roads until the status they are in today. It is the underlying structures that led us to this stage. But we couldn’t see the situation unfolding because we don’t know how to see it clearly. It is not due to the aftermath of cyclone Dineo that we find ourselves in this situation. It has always been coming but we couldn’t notice because of the subtleness of the underlying structure that was driving the situation. 

So, what should happen regarding the current status of our roads? Of course we must find money quickly and attend to the roads now, lest we find ourselves in a worse situation next year. But it is also more important to start learning to see how the underlying systemic structures lead us to such situations, and then learning how to work with such structures to prevent the situations from happening again in the future.

So, while honing our skills for problem solving (timely response to damaged roads before they dilapidate) is necessary, it is even more important to develop the skill for systemic thinking – seeing ‘the whole’ rather than isolated parts, seeing interrelationships rather than things; seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots. In other words, learning to see archetypes in play like the Fixes That Backfire as demonstrated above and learning to discern points of high leverage is the way for sustainable solutions.

For any comments, questions and/or further clarifications feel free to contact me at:

TEL:  71793207 /     email:

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021


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:

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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.

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


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.

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