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Privatization War in Botswana: Rally against Crony Capitalism

Teedzani Thapelo

In this article novelist, historian and poet, Teedzani Thapelo*, puts a new twist to BDP privatization strategy arguing that a rigged process of private acquisition can only result in harmful actions like asset stripping leading to massive loss of jobs, and that this thing cannot succeed in a political system already grappling with instability of public revenues, an economy in bad shape, and a departing corrupt political class.

Such a process, he says, is hardly an answer to underinvestment at a time when commercial banks are struggling to keep market friendly relations with Batswana, and that only Asian capital can benefit from vastly unfair contractual agreements, that will ultimately seriously erode our political freedoms and prospects for growth in the long-term

In a previous articles I argued against BDP privatization of public sector enterprises like Air Botswana, Botswana Meat Commission, Botswana Railways, and many others. I don’t want to repeat my objections here. My present bone of contention is anchored on several observations. First, BDP can only implement a rigged privatization process designed to maximize the amount of money Ian Khama, Mokgweetsi Masisi, and their cabinet ministers, can appropriate for themselves.

Not even BDP supporters in the rural areas are going to benefit anything from this process. Botswana workers should not even dream of getting a share. Second, no efficiency gains will accrue to the economy since the process is going to benefit individuals, and not the treasury. Third, value chain investment will be relinquished to Indians, Chinese, and other BDP foreign friends. All this, of course, assumes a small dose of economic sense in their privatization project. The worst that can happen, and, knowing these people, is that, the new owners of these privatized firms are not going to use them to expand industry, and create jobs. Instead, they will find a better incentive to strip assets, and destroy our small industrial base.

Furthermore, Batswana must realize that privatization at all costs is going to destroy our fragile economy, and this, surprisingly, is the road BDP proposes to pursue. The first victims of this madness will be Batswana workers, and immediately thereafter, small businesses, and alongside that, the entire economy, and Batswana as a whole. These people want to create another Zimbabwe in Botswana, another Zimbabwe in SADC.

Does this make sense? Should such a thing be allowed to proceed? Privatization is only good if it is designed to be an effective force for economic growth. BDP privatization, on the other hand, is simply going to result in decline. If anything, it is going to be a powerful force for undermining confidence in democratic, and market, institutions, diminishing, in the process, prospects for foreign investment in the economy. Is this what Batswana want? Are we really that stupid?

Let me explain. What are the fault lines in BDP privatization process? First, false assumptions. I want to debunk the orthodoxy that private property rights here are clearly defined, and BDP new owners of privatized corporations will have sufficient incentive to ensure that the assets are efficiently managed. Fact of the matter is Ian Khama has more than compromised the integrity of the judiciary; which is the bedrock of private property, and fundamental freedoms, and individual rights, he has, in fact, destroyed it. We can no longer trust his judicial appointees to safeguard the interests of Batswana. Our judiciary has been turned into a thieving arm of BDP self-interest.

Like in Zimbabwe, they will always do what it takes to please their BDP masters. Mokgweetsi Masisi is going to make sure they play to his flute, the way Khama did. Once we allow this process to take-off we might as well forget about reversing it through the legal process. This is war, pure, and simple. In Zimbabwe at one point things got so tragic, so hilariously ridiculous, that Mugabe appointed a night watchman, one Chimbote, if I remember the name well, to replace the Chief Justice. Batswana must understand that in Africa the law remains a stable public safeguard only so far as primary patriotism is on its side. Once the looters are in control, the law means nothing. The law is an easy instrument to disarm.

We failed to defend our judges, and the judiciary, against Ian Khama. How can we expect to win a war against vested class economic interests, backed by hot Asian, and Arab petro-dollar money?  I see now even the Japanese are coming in to assist BDP in this horrible game of thievery. It’s hopeless to think judges who have already been cowed into submission by BDP can take the side of citizens in the future. A compromised judiciary is like a desperate prostitute; it provides service with bad temper, and administers justice in favour of sleaze.


It might appear we have an appropriate legal structure to guard against harmful actions like asset stripping, but the reality is that under BDP privatization everything is negotiable, and bribes, and intimidation, speak louder than moral rectitude. Political indignation alone will not be enough to reverse BDP privatization. Only a new government can do that, and even then, it will still take long before new capital, and entrepreneurship, can create new industries, and jobs. This is why I say BDP privatization should not be allowed in the first place. The other problem is BDP ideas to cope with problems of underinvestment are not only economically unsound, but outright politically suspect. In the previous articles I wrote about timing, sequencing, and pacing of the process of privatization, and showed why BDP has no interest in these serious aspects of successful, and long-term beneficial, privatization. Today I want to argue about the foreign element in BDP privatization strategy.

Perhaps, I should start by clarifying one thing. Batswana are now agreed, and the world can easily see, that, within BDP, state enterprises are regarded as modern versions of traditional Tswana cattle posts. For fifty years BDP has used them both to shore up its political fortunes, and create a middle class aligned, sympathetic, and loyal to the ruling party, and its political ideology. As the cattle industry kept on falling behind in development, BDP moved its political cadres, and mostly the bastard, and biological, children of its senior members into parastatals. Lovers, concubines, and loyal foreigners, have also long been strategically placed there to protect BDP economic interests.

It is therefore not surprising to observers like me that at the point of its political departure from public space BDP should try so hard to loot, and destroy, these parastatals. They regard them as part of their economic inheritance; ba tsaya meraka ya bone. They are jealous of a new, different, party, a new political generation, moving into what they consider to be private property. This attitude is typically African; a sickening, and rotten, Tswana mentality, an apparent psychological difficulty to square the imperative exigency of political modernity. Anthropological research has long demonstrated that the simple-minded African always reverts to the niceties of past forms of accumulation the moment he realizes that the new system of politics he has just embraced; in this case, democratic-republican politics, all of a sudden seems to be a threat to his own life, and personal fortunes. Jannong ke mang yo o santseng a dumela go re batho ba madomkrag ba thabologile?


They also worry about the future of their children, and grandchildren, who have up to now, survived on these modern BDP versions of meraka, and other centres of power like Radio Botswana, BTV, and DIS, even certain positions in the military. Finally, there are those within the BDP who are determined not to take the impending road to political oblivion, and a life of poverty, and misery, without looting provisions for that fatal destiny; ba tsaya mofako. Former Gambian leader, Jammeh, is not the only greedy African politician who found it necessary to loot the treasury before running into the political wilderness.

We have in the BDP our own thousands of Jammehs, and if we don’t stop them we should not complain tomorrow when we find our nation destitute. Batswana are now paying a heavy price for allowing this country to be run by cattlemen and their herd boys for such an unconscionable long period of time. But it is not too late. We can still rescue the situation, and make sure Botswana does not revert to past barbarian forms of capital accumulation; that the country continues in the path of democratization of all spheres of public life in our young republic.

The French experience provides refreshing assurance to all our national democratic warriors. Recently elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, has just accomplished an amazing political feat. He managed not only to destabilize, and destroy, the main political parties, in that country-parties that had morphed into daylight corrupt classes enamoured to a culture of dry political emptiness, but also ushered into the French republic, new political personnel, a new diversity of political ideas, a completely new political machine, a new validation of political candidature, and a new political force for France.

What remains to be seen is whether he will now deliver a new interpretation of republican political tools and values, an entirely new political culture, and capital, a new validation of political decisions, and process, and a new sense of French patriotism, and national pride. This young man is only thirty-nine years old. He now leads a parliament whose average age is forty-eight. If young people can do so well in France, the country that gave the whole world democracy, and republicanism, in the first place, why should our own children not do the same here? Come on, don’t disappoint us! You are just as well educated. Like the French, Batswana youth are passionate politicians. Don’t allow your republic, your country, to die. This country is still very rich land, and the future belongs to you. Why are you silent, when BDP has already declared war on society?

Our response to this war by governors should, I think, start with vehement opposition to privatization, and emasculation of labour rights, power, economic security, and constant mobilization, and vigilance, against the depredations of unruly international capital. In recent years the face of international capital in our country has progressively, and disastrously, turned oriental; that is, Indian, Chinese, and Arabian. White South African capital, mostly concentrated in retail and construction for many years, and some few but influential portions of the rural economy; mostly the cattle industry, is retreating home, and BDP, now controlled by Asians, is assisting its departure, through overt intimidation, and outright political pressure. So if we privatize, who is going to finance that process? BDP, and Asians.

And where is the money going to come from? Chinese banks, Indian Banks, and petro-dollar Arab Kings, and their spoiled children. Already this is an alarming pattern. The same money that raised Osama Bin Landen and company, incubated, and gave birth to, modern terrorism, and continues to advance the ideology of radical Islamic fundamentalism, is going to be diverted to Botswana to finance privatization, and looting, of our public assets.

Since this process involves so few corrupt people, it is hard to establish if any jobs are going to be created, if the economy is going to grow strong, and if so, how long this is going to take before it busts, leading to a Zimbabwe style tragic economic meltdown, and national ruin. It is hard to figure out what is going to happen to the thousands of Batswana who lose jobs, and social security. It is hard to estimate the economic damage resulting from a rapid influx of hot money into and out of the country.

The only thing that is certain is that such a rigged process of privatization is going to lead to political crisis, and social chaos. The streets are going to be the only places where such issues are discussed, further compounding the crisis. Batswana will lose faith in the political process. Is this what we want? We must remember the unemployed are people, with families, whose lives are affected, sometimes devastated, by continued lack of opportunities, and continued absence of incentives to strive above the bare threshold of survival networks, and that, already we have far too many such people in our country; just what is going to happen to them? A privatization process that benefit Indians and Chinese, is nothing but a murder weapon to all these people.

Our political system is already grappling with instability of public revenues, the economy is in a bad shape, and I just wonder; what is going to happen after these foreigners start packing up their bags, and living this mess to us, the fools who benefitted nothing from such a rigged process of private accumulation. Rich BDP members already own houses in European capitals and Middle East capitals. They are learning Chinese. Most already speak Indian languages. Our Kids still speak Setswana, have a hard time learning English, and no chance in hell of ever owning houses, and homes, in Botswana. Ah, Batswana. Would it not make better sense to make our own children, our own people, the focus of any privatization process?

As I write Asian banks entering our market are already squelching the domestic market. Yes, the banks they find here are not local but we have worked with them for years but now the entrants, awash with hot cash, some of it suspect, are attracting depositors away from these banks. Small businesses, and farmers used to get loans from these banks but now they don’t make much money, and even prospective house buyers have a hard time accessing credit. Bank of Botswana interest rate policy now works against the interests of banks that are struggling to keep market friendly relations with Batswana.

Look at these new banks, and you find BDP members are working there, making money through them, abandoning banks that made this country what it is today. After abandoning banks they will also abandon those Batswana who remain behind. Madomkrag are working hard to be Asians; like Robert Mugabe, Jacob Zuma, and their families, Madomkrag are working for future life in India, China, and the Arab world, eating rice, noodles, and drinking green tea, sitting on Persian rugs. What about us?

I know people out there who do not believe these things are actually happening, people who think BDP is fighting a colossal battle against political corruption, and I have bad news for you. This is baloney, absolute rubbish, hogwash. BDP policy is to overlook grand larceny, and take a strong stand on petty theft. Steal a needle at a government office, and the entire anti-corruption machinery will come tumbling on you like a tonne of bricks, and let a cabinet minister or one of those well-connected to political royalty steal millions, and everybody at Government Enclave will pat the chap on the back, giggle nervously, and start asking where he is thinking of retiring, and how often he intends to start pumping grease on the backsides of poor Batswana girls who need money for schools fees and rent.

In other democracies knowing what government is doing is regarded as an essential part of government accountability. Sadly that’s not the case here. Who knows what government is doing here? Not many people, certainly not more than a thousand people. Yet, knowing what government actually does is a right, and not a favour conferred by government. I share this information to help mature our political system, and public processes. But I know BDP will impugn me. Not that I care much about that, unless of course they kill me, in which case I will even care less.

To stave off a bad, premature, badly managed, privatization, let’s work hard to keep this thing off the political agenda of the BDP now, and throughout the coming elections. Under any circumstances, privatization is a difficult task fraught with risks, enormous risks. Under BDP, and the tutelage of heartless Asian money, privatization can only destroy Botswana. BDP is ready, and prepared, to bear the risks of privatization, to benefit a bunch of well-connected foreign nationals; not even Botswana private investors. Does this make economic sense? They are ready, and prepared, to live up to vastly unfair contractual agreements, with foreign looters, so long as the greasing of bureaucratic wheels-to the great advantage of all other Batswana-goes on smoothly. Have Batswana ever wondered why it is so easy for Indians and Chinese extract special privileges from the BDP government? This practice badly distorts market incentives.

It undermines democratic procedure, and process. Why do we allow it? What is so special about these Asians? Their investments do not promote growth. Chinese shoes, Indian loaves of bread…come on! Even Jesus, the Son of Nazareth, could do better than this. Also Asian investments remain stubbornly insensitive to the broader social context. These people abuse, and exploit, Batswana, on a routine, daily basis, with appalling impunity. Why then do we tolerate them so much? Why is BDP sleeping with them? Real incomes in rural Botswana have plummeted because of Asian businesses, and the social costs of this deprivation are huge. In fact we no longer have a middle class in the rural economy. This places an intolerable burden on our small cities. Why do we allow these things to happen?

With incomes and wages falling, and unemployment soaring, aren’t we creating volatile grounds for urban violence? It must be remembered that when government abrogates the social contract, the very thing that binds us together as Batswana, and binds us to the government of the day, then citizens may, out of wounded political consciences, not honour this contract, with each other, and with the government, resulting in chaos. Is this what we want? I don’t think so. But all appearances are that BDP remains unfazed. Nothing disturbs their equanimity. Why are these people so arrogantly self-assured? It is obvious they know something that we don’t. They scoff at our anxieties, and laugh at our misery. Now we are cold lazy people. We don’t know how to steal well. We deserve to be laughed. Time will come when Batswana decide to repay these sordid attitudes in kind, and what then? China is not going to welcome every Motswana carrying BDP membership card. India has long declared war on its own citizens through a marvellous policy of poverty embellishment.

My sociology professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science taught us that part of the social contract entails fairness; that the poor share in the gains of society as it grows, and that the rich share in the pains of society in times of crisis-a simple enough political principle to remember for a lifetime. But here the poor shared nothing in times of prosperity, and now the rich are migrating to China, of all the places in this crazy world, in times of crisis. What is wrong with us! Just two million people, in a frightfully huge, and enormously rich, country, and we can’t live together. Surely, there must be something awfully wrong with our government. That much is self-evident. I will not place any blame on economics.

We all know even under the best circumstances possible, a rising tide does not lift all the boats. No economic policy can ever enrich all the people. But politics can level the playfield, and shield the weak from the strong, the poor from the rich, and that is where we need each other. But madomkrag want to eat alone, and when things get really bad, migrate to Saudi Arabia, and other exotic oriental capitals…well, let them go. But never make the mistake of financing their departure. They have crimes at home to pay for; all in good time. This sordid political game of theirs will end in tears, on their part, and triumph, on the part of those now suffering, and, of course, the common national good.

There is need on our part to despair. Hope, we must never forget, is a political concept; perhaps the only political idea that hedge all suffering humanity against fatalism, and political cowardice that often results in the triumph of evil in society. We have got these people where we want them; the wrong side of the law. Our duty is to exact public revenge, and this is something we must teach our children. It is a moral duty. The strongest political tool available to us is the electoral process, and the numbers are on our side. The youth, who BDP has bruised, brutalized, neglected, humiliated, and thrown to the worst possible economic wilderness, are on our side; a strong enough energy to burn down any house in no time. Victory is certain. But we must know what we are going to do with political power. As Joseph Stigliz, to me the most famous Nobel Economics laureate of the previous century, often argues, in his famous international lectures; ‘the essence of freedom is the right to make a choice-and to accept the responsibility that comes with it.’

Let us not repeat in our country the foolishness of the Russians, who forfeited both political freedom, and economic prosperity, through a ridiculously flawed, and politically rigged, mass privatization experiment. In that country privatization decimated a precariously rising middle class, and implanted a terrifying system of crony and mafia capitalism. The entire emerging democratic culture was devastated. Press freedom was destroyed, and the rights of revolting citizens trampled upon to such an extent the country is now not at all different from the Stalinist totalitarianism of the past. Authoritarian political excesses have become a norm in that ill-fated country. Incomes have deteriorated, drastically. Poverty remains a haunting spectre in the lives of citizens.

More than twenty years later this damage stubbornly refuses to be repaired. Political and social instability are on the rise. The future remains cloudy, bleak, and uncertain, and poor Russia has no way of running a controlled experiment, going back in time to try an alternative strategy. This is the sort of disastrous, and frightfully, political cocktail that BDP madness is hell-bent on visiting upon us in this country. What Batswana must understand is that certain political and economic judgement calls have already been made, and these being survivalist strategies, BDP cannot reverse them. The evil they intend doing must see the light of day. They are fully committed to mortgaging this country to foreigners. Never mind what they say in public.
 

We live on land that is being auctioned on a daily basis. Most of these things are already now in the open; for those like me who want to see. Other Batswana may choose to bury their heads in the sand, and hope evil will not triumph but this is not going to stop the vultures from feeding on the carcass that is dying Botswana. BDP is going to ignore the advice of scholars knowledgeable in our history, economics, and society. They are going to circumvent what laws are in force, if not break them outright, just so they can put into private hands a whole array of major industries. There is already a radical change in how economic decisions are made. The nation, and the people, no longer matter.

We must expect an enormous reallocation, and redeployment, of resources, from certain sectors to areas where financial leakage is possible, and difficult, to detect; especially the mining and energy sectors. Already certain types of public professionals are being weeded out through arbitrary registration. This is a grand, secretive, strategy, to create a BDP-Asians dominated parallel economy, a black market that will benefit select BDP tycoons, and their families, after 2019. BDP simply intends to replace government monopoly of public assets with a cabal of select, and highly favoured, private monopoly. Forget all the twaddle about promoting a burst of economic output, promoting youth entrepreneurship, and social transformation.

Sure, there is going to be a new kind of entrepreneurship; a kind of entrepreneurship that is good at circumventing government rules and laws, new enterprises that are going to help redeploy resources that had previously been inefficiently used, in the direction of BDP beneficiaries through hook and crook. Give them the vote in 2019, and wholesale auctioning of Botswana will begin in earnest. As I write we know thousands of BDP chaps who are already millionaires, and nobody knows where, and how they got this wealth. But the paper trail is becoming clearer to interested investigators, and serious journalists. The patterns of political corruption are unfolding, and becoming obvious to all. Only fear prevents people from speaking out. But, is fear going to pay your bills? Is fear going to help you educate your children?  

Quick privatization is a dangerous thing. It creates a huge number of people interested in capitalism, and if they have a corrupt machine to climb to the top, like the BDP, nobody can stop them from looting like greedy children. This is what is happening in Botswana. There is a difference between creating new industries, and exploiting bad government policies to get rich overnight. No man should become rich without working for his wealth. But at BDP you just join the choir, acquire an addiction for bowel irritating foods, and wallah; you are on the way to affluence. Not even the most heretical economists can approve of this behaviour. Batswana, it is our moral duty to restrain, investigate, and punish, these people; not vote them into political office again.

They are children. No adult, mature, serious, people, can do this to their own country. In Africa only Nigerians and Zimbabweans are professionals in working the hardest they can to destroy their own country, and further impoverish their fellow citizens for generations. Now we have joined them. Where is this wickedness, this satanic demonism, coming from? If other people want to live like savages is it necessary to follow their example, without knowing what motivates them? I finish this article before going to watch what remains of the Sir Ketumile Masire Memorial Service on TV, a man whose politics I strongly disapproved, but could find little to fault in his patriotic affection for his country, and its people. It would help if BDP members took a leaf from the history of this man, and start reflecting just a little, and maybe, just maybe, you mind find it in your dark hearts that there is still something about this beautiful country that is worth cherishing, upholding, nurturing, and preserving for future generations.

Teedzani Thapelo*, is author of the Botswana novel series Seasons of Thunder, Vol. 1(2014), Vol. 2 (2015) and Vol. 3 (2016) and forthcoming books; Battle Against the Botswana Democratic Party: the beginning of the point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe: abandonment and revolt, The Argument Against the Botswana Democratic Party: an intellectual inquiry and Khama Presidency and Vanity Fair in Parliament: an African political tragedy, and Sir Ketumile Masire: willow in the limelight and the gathering storm.

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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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Opinions

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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