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Response to Kesitegile Gobotswang

LEBANG MPOTOKWANE

Initially, I was going to respond instantly to Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang’s opinion piece (Weekend Post, 23 – 29 September 2017) headlined “Mpotokwane, Midwife or Abortionist”.

Then family and friends advised me to ignore Gobotswang’s piece and not dignify it with a response. But in the end, I decided to respond, however belatedly, because the piece not only contained many untruths about me, but was also misleading and obviously intended to discredit me.

For instance, Gobotswang unfairly accused me of wanting “to ensure that the (UDC) project is aborted.” I’ve been involved (with others) in a tireless and often thankless effort to unite Botswana’s opposition parties since March 2003. Why would I now suddenly try “to cause maximum confusion” in the UDC with a view to aborting what I have spent much energy and personal financial resources trying to achieve over so many years?

Gobotswang also accused me of having made “startling allegations that membership of Botswana Congress Party (BCP) in the UDC was irregular”. As former conveners of the 2012 negotiations that led to the formation of the three-party UDC, Rre Motlhabane Maphanyane, Dr Cosmos Moenga and I were indeed surprised by the presence of the BCP at the meeting of the UDC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) held on 2 August 2017.

Surprised because the UDC’s initial decision to accept the BCP as a new member following the BCP-UDC negotiations was not the final act on the matter. Hence the party’s subsequent appointment of a Transitional Committee (TC) to recommend terms and conditions (e.g. allocation of UDC positions, documents to be signed, joining fee to be paid by the BCP, the need to amend the constitution to suit an enlarged UDC etc.) on which the formal admission of the BCP would be based.

When the BCP attended the 2 August meeting, the TC had submitted its report at the beginning of June, but the UDC NEC had still not met to consider it. This was the reason for our surprise and concern at the presence of the BCP at a formal UDC NEC meeting. It’s worth noting here that in 2012, the founding members of the UDC (Botswana Movement for Democracy, Botswana National Front and Botswana Peoples Party) themselves went through similar formalities to those listed above. So, why should the BCP not do this?

Let’s also not overlook the possibility (which I hope doesn’t arise) that some of the terms and conditions prescribed for the BCP’s formal membership of the UDC might well prove unacceptable to the BCP. Hence the need for the party to see and accept those terms and conditions before it can be regarded as a full member of the UDC. Lastly, if the BCP really fully joined the UDC at “the Oasis historic announcement in February 2017” (as Gobotswang alleged) why was the party’s letter to the Speaker of the national assembly, re-designating its parliamentarians from BCP to UDC MPs, only dated 3 August 2017 (Mmegi, 8 August 2017) which was just a day after the BCP’s first appearance at a UDC NEC meeting?

Gobotswang further found it necessary to announce in his article that when the 2006 opposition negotiations failed, I “withdrew from the talks leaving Mr Maphanyane alone” to handle the talks between the Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) and the BCP, which followed the collapse of the four-party negotiations. This is misleading, for It sounds as though when Maphanyane and I chaired the four-party negotiations, our assignment also included chairing the BAM-BCP talks, which was not so.

I heard of the latter negotiations for the first time from Maphanyane when I had told him I was leaving the meeting room following the collapse of the talks, and he asked whether I wasn’t staying for the BAM-BCP negotiations. My response was that apart from the four-party negotiations, I knew of no others; and feeling tired and frustrated, I didn’t even ask who had told him about the negotiations.

I couldn’t have participated in the BAM-BCP talks anyway, because soon after leaving the meeting room, the leaders of the four parties requested me to brief them on the reasons for the collapse of the negotiations. They then requested Dr Prince Dibeela and me to facilitate their own efforts to resuscitate the collapsed negotiations. Unfortunately, they held only one meeting before the negotiations collapsed again.

Dr Gobotswang also stressed that Maphanyane’s role as convener of the BAM-BCP talks had “ended the day the two parties agreed on a PACT for the 2009 general elections”. He said the parties subsequently merged, retaining the BCP name, and “BAM did not JOIN THE BCP”. He emphasised how, following the merger, the BCP had allocated two senior positions (his own position of vice president, and that of treasurer) to former BAM leaders in recognition of “the level of sacrifice … required to cement relationships between cooperating political parties.” He then concluded: “It is the kind of spirit that is not appreciated by some self-proclaimed conveners”.

I might be wrong, but it appears that in making the above-mentioned comments, Gobotswang was contrasting what happened following the conclusion of the recent BCP-UDC talks, with what happened after the BAM-BCP merger. If so, he was wrong because the two scenarios are very different, as indicated below:

Unlike Maphanyane’s role in the BAM-BCP talks, the roles of the three UDC conveners didn’t end when the UDC talks ended in 2012. Instead, section 28 of the UDC constitution included the conveners among the members of the interim NEC of the party, whose mandate runs until “the first meeting of the National Congress”. This was done at the request of the cooperating parties when the conveners wanted to leave after they completed their work in 2012.

Rather than “merging” with the BCP, BAM in fact joined the latter, hence the retention of the BCP name. Similarly, the BCP is joining the UDC alliance, hence the retention of the UDC name, instead of adopting “UDC+”. This is because when two or more parties merge, they adopt a new name that usually reflects the nature of the merger e.g. the UK’s Liberal Democrats (Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party) and South Africa’s Democratic Alliance (Democratic Party, New National Party, and Federal Alliance).

While it’s easy where party X joins party Y for the latter to “sacrifice” senior positions for the sake of cementing the relationship, this is extremely difficult in an alliance like the UDC, where the holders of the party’s most senior positions are, at the same time, leaders of the autonomous group-members of  the alliance. In such an alliance, it’s risky to assume that it would be easy for a new member to be given a position equal to that of any of the founding leaders of the alliance.

In the case of the BCP, this was made more difficult by the party’s refusal in 2012 to sit down with the others to consider resuscitating the negotiations that had collapsed in 2011. There’s therefore no doubt in my mind that appointing the BCP leader vice president of the UDC alongside the then leader of the BMD was one of the reasons that led to the formation of the Alliance for Progressives (AP). A similar problem would have arisen had the BCP leader been appointed either co-chairman or co-president of the UDC. The issue is that simple!

Gobotswang went on to congratulate me on the role I played in the negotiations that led to the formation of the UDC in 2012. I thank him for the warm compliment. Unfortunately, another baseless accusation against me followed the compliment, namely, that “It would appear that Mpotokwane prefers any opposition cooperation arrangement as long as it excludes the BCP. Hence his latest rumblings following the success of self-mediated talks post 2014 general elections.”

This, in turn, was followed by a reference to the fact that “there were no conveners” during the recent BCP-UDC talks and, much later in the article, that “it is high time Mpotokwane came to terms with the painful truth that he was not the convener of the 2016 negotiations.” To be fair to Gobotswang, the latter comment has also been made by some senior members of the UDC NEC who, as I’ll show below, ought to have known better.

For Gobotswang to claim that I prefer cooperation arrangements that exclude the BCP is to deny my unquestionable commitment to the cause of opposition cooperation in Botswana in the past 14+ years. There isn’t much I can do about such denialism.  My colleagues and I didn’t participate in the BCP-UDC talks because long before they started, we had informed the UDC NEC that we couldn’t participate in them because of our positions on the UDC NEC since 2012.

In other words, we would have been conflicted had we participated in the talks. In response, President Boko had explained that the talks would not need conveners, which we were all pleased to hear. So, there’s really no “painful truth” that we need to come to terms with regarding not having participated in the talks.

Another of Gobotswang’s baseless accusations against me was that before the BCP-UDC talks started, I was “one of the leading proponents” of the view that, instead of the BCP-UDC talks,  “BCP should have been asked to submit an application to JOIN UDC.” He alleged that those who held this view did so “in the name of frustrating the BCP to exit the negotiations.” The truth, however, is that while this view was indeed expressed at a meeting of the UDC NEC, I was either the first or the second person to oppose it, and the meeting mistakenly supported our view on it. Mistakenly, because the UDC constitution actually provides that, “An organisation intending to apply for membership must….”

I therefore apologise profusely to the UDC NEC member whose legitimate proposal I, together with others, opposed. Incidentally, some of the requirements prescribed for new members under the above-mentioned provision of the UDC constitution are addressed in the report of the UDC’s transitional committee, which has caused so much controversy in the party.

Gobotswang then claimed that for the same reason of “frustrating the BCP to exit the negotiations”, “… Mpotokwane and those who think like him never recognised the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on by elections. They never bothered to attend the signing ceremony held in Sekoma, describing it as a BCP-BNF agreement.” This was also untrue. The reason why many members of the UDC NEC didn’t attend the Sekoma ceremony was that they first heard about the MOA on the news, when it was too late to try to attend. Had there been enough consultation and information about the MOA, many more UDC NEC members would have attended.

In conclusion, I urge Dr Gobotswang and other BCP members to desist from their repeated attempts to discredit my efforts over the years to unite Botswana’s opposition parties. In particular, I caution them that in the 14+ years that I have spent on this important project, I observed some examples of questionable conduct on the part of the BCP or its members. I am, therefore, in a position to make accusations against them that would be far more serious than their feeble attempts to discredit me. 

However, I’ve kept such information to myself so far, and intend to continue to do so going forward. I’ll do so because that’s who I am. But if BCP members continue to make false accusations against me, I reserve the right to reveal whatever I know about them and their party following my interactions with them over the years.

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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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