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The rise and rise of ‘President’ Masisi

In less than a decade Mokgweetsi Masisi's political star kept on shining brighter if not the brightest in sub-Saharan African political landscape. This feature looks at how a political novice's own political machinations and providence catapulted him to the pinnacle of Botswana's political system.

It is no longer in doubt that His Honour, Vice President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi is one foot into the highest office on the land.  April Fool’s Day Sunday 2018 will crystallize this dream into reality when he takes oath of office before the parliamentary building. What is in question is how an erstwhile political lightweight in less than a decade ago in Botswana political landscape and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has managed to have a meteoritic rise and an exponential political growth to grab power in front of the politically anointed altar boys and the BDP high Priests. Masisi played his cards close to his chest and the proverbial Indian Karma was also in abundance in time of his need. Masisi is a political Machiavellian whose some of his political tactics can be derived from the famous book; The art of war and 48 laws of power.

Before 2009 Masisi’s only claim to political fame was his losing to the late Moshupa legislator Mr. Maitlhoko Mooka in the BDP primary elections prior to the 2004 general elections. At that stage of his career he had never had any political position within the BDP both at national and regional level. Before his coming to parliament in 2009 His Honour was a BDP outsider, only his family name made him to belong. He is the youngest son of the late Edison Setlhomo Masisi who was a high ranking member of the ruling BDP and a member of our first parliament to the eighth parliament who also served under Sir Seretse Khama and Masire as cabinet minister in different ministerial postings.

After winning the parliamentary seat in the Moshupa constituency, President Ian Khama chose him as the junior minister in the ministry of presidential Affairs and public Administration. This deployment meant he had a close working relationship with the president and the quickest time to acquaint himself with the likes and dislikes of his superior and benefactor. When we became the laughing stock of the global community through Khama's developmental agenda of Poverty Eradication Programme by back-yard gardening, Masisi became the president spin-doctor and cheerleader, traversing the length and breadth of the semi-arid terrain of our country promoting his party leader's populist pet project. 

He promoted this programme with passion and aplomb to the point where the down trodden masses of our society took it as gospel truth that indeed back yard gardening will be the panacea to totally obliterate their pangs of hunger and their abject poverty. Masisi somewhat acquitted himself with flying colours; the bearer of bad news who turned them to glad tidings.

He did this by also ducking blows from the opposition which mocked the programme calling it unsavory names and defended the president from antagonistic elements within the broader sector of the populace. This programme execution and defending the president from the opposition detractors somewhat endeared Masisi to President Khama who equates total allegiance and blind loyalty to him to patriotism. This was the beginning of Eric Masisi's upward trajectory in his political sojourn.

He got his remarkable reward more than he had expected. As fate would have it, he got promoted to a full ministerial position when his superior Daniel Kwelagobe was made to choose between his ministerial position and the party position of chairmanship. Kwelagobe preferred the latter over the former. Masisi steered the ship of the ministry with dexterity in the eyes of his superintendent, Ian Khama. The next test of his loyalty to the powers that be was the infamous public sector strike of 2011.

Masisi struck his neck out and came to the rescue of his superior by risking his dignity, promising political career and his intellectual prowess by telling all and sundry, who dared to listen that the public sector unions mostly BOFEPUSO, can go to hell, come sunshine and hailstorm, the 16% salary increment they were demanding will never be effected let alone any salary increase however small. What the public servants will be getting will instead be no work, no pay. This was Khama's hardline stance regarding public sector wage negotiations which Masisi wholly embraced.

He only did not embraced it, he lived and preached it. Other cabinet ministers did their bidding but Masisi's ministerial portfolio was the one responsible for public sector, so he championed the course of his master with the description of superlatives only. After the 2011 public sector strike there were ensuing court battles and the public sector federations declaring war on the government and the ruling BDP head honchos including Masisi. Masisi got on well with his ministerial duties as nothing has happened.

He was still the president's blue eyed boy but at that stage a political minnow in the party hierarchy. He went about biting the bullet for the president whose high affinity for praise-poets, sycophants, loyalists and boot-lickers is second to none. By this stage of his career Masisi had already located Khama' soft spots, sensitivities, fears and vulnerabilities. He knew the person he was working for and the traits he embraces from his inner circle of cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, technocrats and others.

 Time was also crawling to the heartbeat of the Moshupa legislator. Then came the time for the BDP primary elections dubbed Bulela Ditswe. What came out of the primary elections was politically unprecedented. Some of the party stalwarts had been heavily defeated by what was seen to be political 'mosquitoes'.

The likes of Phandu Skelemani was beaten by Buti Billy, Ian Khama's cousin Dikgakgamatso Seretse was for the umpteenth time beaten by his longtime rival Kgotla Autlwetse, Peter Siele by Alfred Madigele, Reverend Setlalekgosi was beaten by  Tshenolo Mabeo. The sad reality was that all the losing candidates were cabinet ministers and the party's golden generation. They were openings for the party young turks to come to the fore to take their rightful places in the high echelons of BDP structures.

 In Moshupa constituency Mokgweetsi Masisi was elected BDP candidate unrivalled. He was given a clean bill of health to wrestle the constituency with the opposition which was now a quadrilateral alliance of the Botswana National Front (BNF), the BDP splinter group named the BMD, BPP and the Public and private sector union federation, BOFEPUSU. The quadrilateral alliance was now seen as a force to reckon with the ailing and fractious BDP and the political tide of the time was pregnant with regime change expectation.

Even though there was panic among the ruling party functionaries, what was given and apparent was that the BDP will win the 2014 general elections. What was remote and latent was the extent at what damage the alliance will cause, who among the political heavyweights are going to be causalities. Electioneering had begun in earnest, political vitriol and venom were spewed from both side of the Rubicon.

Masisi was among ministers who were on the hit-list of BOFEPUSO, who were seen to be enemies of the working class. During the campaigns Masisi declared himself a progeny of sycophantic ancestry, himself a bootlicker of repute both in government and at the tribal kraals at Moshupa and Manyana. This statement seemed to have put Masisi in the most treasured parts of Ian Khama's 'golden' heart. Khama with no iota of doubt knew Masisi was one of his trusted lieutenants. Khama being the believer in the power of the spoken word and unpretentious believed in what Masisi meant.

Masisi was growing in political clout and stature more than any person he found in the party. At that stage his words carried weight and was now acted upon in the party by elders and those who were ahead of him in the party hierarchy. When the American Embassy in Botswana sponsored radio political debates before the 2014 elections, Masisi took a unilateral decision which was later agreed and endorsed by the party leadership not to partake in the debates but instead create their own debates on the national television, Botswana Television, (BTV).

He told the ruling party faithfuls to open false social media accounts to stem the tide of opposition which was at its highest point ever in Botswana political atmosphere. These high commands were ordered by Masisi to the party general membership and party leadership thanks to him taking center stage when the party was experiencing leadership vacuum under the weight of a marauding opposition

He acquitted himself well when he appeared on national television against opposition, when presenting his party manifesto and credentials. He was a star in the rising but he was not yet khama's political right hand man. He was may be in the top five of khama's trusted lieutenants. Before the general election Kitso Onkokame Mokaila was the preferred Khama's Vice President candidate and there was utmost consensus in the party and the first family.

The Mokaila's are the Khama's family friends. Looking at his competencies and aptitude he was befitting the vice presidential credentials. The 2014 general elections came and went but their repercussions and aftermath was ghastly to contemplate. Their destruction of political lives of some of the president's untouchables was beyond comprehension. Kitso Mokaila was one of them, his chance of becoming the vice president went begging and Khama was left blushing. His preferred candidate cannot be Vice president because constitutionally, for one to become VP he must be an elected member of parliament.

The other causalities of 2014 general elections included long time cabinet ministers and strongmen in the mold of Jonnie Swartz, GUS Matlhabaphiri and Daniel Kwelagobe. The brighter side of it was that political newbies had hatched from the BDP golden egg and they were now parliamentarians. The quadrilateral alliance of UDC had left the BDP with only seven constituencies South of Dibete.

Masisi was among the Parliamentarians who came unscathed from the grueling duels of the election. To pacify the opposition from entrenching their stranglehold South of Dibete, a Vice president from down South was a political imperative… With the President Ian Khama from North of Dibete, half of the presidium had to be from the South to balance the act of Botswana's North and South divide regional politics.

Among Khama's trusted top five allies apart from his brother, Eric Masisi was the only person who fit the bill of becoming the Vice President. He was elected Vice President with purported conditionality but nonetheless he accepted. Masisi knew it was better to be within than to be outside. Part of the conditionality was that he would serve only for two years before the ultimate Vice President will be chosen to assume presidency when Khama leaves. He continued his loyalty to Khama, served a stint as minister of Education as well as Vice President.

In less than a year into his vice presidential position, one of BDP strong man Guma Samsom Moyo persuaded him to try his luck for party chairmanship. Masisi reluctantly accepted the proposal. His reluctance emanated from his superior's perception about his political ambitions. At the initial stages of the chairmanship race Khama's brother Tshekedi, Tebelelo Seretse and Dikgakamatso Seretse were the front runners.  Masisi’s candidature for the ruling party chairmanship was akin to throwing the cat among the pigeons.

He won the party chairmanship convincingly. This was the turning point in Masisi's political career. He was now in the big league of Botswana politics. The ruling BDP chairmanship and State vice Presidency are not mean feats, they mean absolute power. Masisi's assumption to BDP chairmanship was accepted by Khama reluctantly and viewed with suspicion. The positions Masisi occupied made him slightly invincible in the greater scheme of things. Time came for the conditions that were initially given to Masisi to effect but nothing happened. Some small machinations were played when Goodhope – Mabule Member of Parliament James Mathokgwane resigned his seat for a plum job at SPEDU, to create a special dispensation for Eric 'Hardrock' Molale.

The opposition consuming fire continued to ravage everything on its way and Molale was not spared. He suffered a humiliating defeat at the onset of his political career. This seemed to change Khama's perception regarding His Honour Eric Masisi's suitability to succeed him because fate always seemed to favour him, when arrows and bullets were aimed at him. Khama had no options in his political closet, only skeletons of his political bosom buddies and confidantes whom in his eyes were more suited to succeed him not Masisi. Khama started breaking BDP's long held tradition of factional neutrality by openly endorsing his Vice for the retention of the position of chairmanship in the 2017 elective congress which was held in Tonota.

Masisi and his faction dubbed Camp Dubai swept all the positions in the Central Committee to quell any doubts over his arrival at the plateau of BDP and Botswana politics. The cherry on top of his political clout was when President Ian Khama announced to the nation during his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) that he will be relinquishing power next year into the capable hands of His Honour the Vice President. It might be the stuff of legends and myths, we should by now practice to say His Excellency Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi.

KEITERILE PHINEAS MALETSI is a freelance journalist

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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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