A lot has been said and written in the media about the University of Botswana (UB) of recent, especially prior to and after the recent closure of the University that lasted for about one month.
The decision to close the University came from the Chairman of the governing Council of the University. Most, if not all, of what was in the media was blame game, character assassination and an over simplification of the recurrent problems at the institution. Consequently, the media missed an opportunity to take a comprehensive analysis of the problems at UB by going beyond finger pointing and name calling and became part of the problem. The student riot that led to the closure of UB was nothing but a symptom of bigger malaise at UB.
Therefore while closing UB, appointing an acting Vice Chancellor (VC), and forming a committee to find a replacement for the former VC who resigned out of frustration with stakeholders, were all necessary, they are insufficient in themselves as far as finding a lasting solution to the problems at UB. Reactive measures instead of a more comprehensive analyses and understanding of the situation will only perpetuate the problems.
Just like the media missed the opportunity to critically analyse the situation, the government through its Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology missed the opportunity to comprehensively analyse and advise government on the way forward. UB is a flagship University for which Botswana as a country and Batswana as a people have a big stake and have invested in heavily. It is therefore in the interest of government to see to it that it is well managed to provide the required human resources to drive the economic development of the country.
The problems of UB have grown dire over the past decade or so. The scope of the problems can be categorised as structural (poor policy framework), leadership (lack of visionary leadership at all levels and by all stakeholders), human capital (incompetent and poor human resources), poor funding (funding crunch), and poor discipline (irresponsible and ill-discipline of students and staff). Permit me to examine these problems one by one.
The policy framework, which was set in place by the then Vice Chancellor Profs Sharon Siverts and Bojosi Otlhogile, was premised on the assumption that UB should be run based on a business or corporate model. The basic conception of the business or corporate model is driven, often, by short term profits. Usually, vision and mission statements and strategic goals are myopic and do not capture long-term additive and multiplicative value of education.
As Prof Mahamood Mamdani (1993) would put it, a university is not a business venture. It is more of an infrastructure comparable to a bridge, power station or a road. Returns on such investments are not measured only in monetary terms. The returns are not only economic or quantitative but are social as well as qualitative and often unquantifiable and unmeasurable Mamdani (1993).
To enhance efficiency, so Profs Sharon Siverts and Bojosi Otlhogile believed, they created about 20 directorates, each with a director, deputy director, assistant directors, secretaries and office attendants. Directors are paid at the level of professors and deputy directors at the level of associate professors. This policy resulted into a bloated administrative staff and consequently huge administrative and overhead costs. Unfortunately these costs were completely unrelated to the core activities of the University (teaching, research, and community service).
Similarly, the creation of the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) may have been appropriate at the time but unsustainable and duplicates activities of other academic centres. For instance, all courses taught at CCE can be better offered in other academic centres (faculties). This renders CCE unnecessary and expensive project. Closing CCE down will save UB a lot of money and make other academic centres more efficient. Another section that would benefit from reorganisation is the Graduate School.
Does UB really need a Faculty of Graduate Studies? Probably not. Graduate education is best handled in the respective faculties coordinated by an Associate Dean responsible for research and graduate studies. Furthermore, two thirds of Secretaries and Office Attendants have nothing to do all day long except gossip on phone and spend time in the Staff Canteen drinking tea and eating fat cakes from 9 -11 am, eating lunch from 12:00 noon to 2:30, and knocking off at 4:00 pm. The majority of workers in the Maintenance Department have nothing to do all day long.
They report to work at 9 am and play board games the whole day. As a result of these redundancies, the number of support staff is more than double the number of academic staff. Consequently, these “waste centres” (e.g., the Directorates, CCE, Graduate School, Secretaries, Administrative Staff, Maintenance Staff, etc.), are a few examples where UB can reorganise and save space and money especially during this time of funding crunch.
When Prof Thabo Fako tried to reorganise the university to make it lean and mean and focus on the core mandates of teaching, research, and community service, he met with stiff resistance and an avalanche of court cases. Without a painful and radical reform of the current structures and policy frameworks, UB will collapse under the weight of its unnecessary and expensive “super administrative structure”. It is high time the stakeholders understand that UB cannot be run by courts. Running to courts when the University has structures and fora where such issues can be addressed, is childish, an abuse of the judicial system, and a waste of time. The courts should not interfere with the running of government and its departments. This undermines the principle of the separation of powers.
The second major problem at UB is leadership: leadership at all levels from Sections, Departments, Faculties/Directorates, Senior Management, Senate, Council, and Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology. UB has leaders at all levels whose understanding of the local and international higher education landscape leave alone the idea of university education is terribly lacking.
If you listen to the higher echelon of leaders at the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology talk about higher education, one cannot help but cry! They do not have a clue leave alone a vision for higher education in the country. This is evidenced in the proliferation of not only substandard but unnecessary universities in this country. Besides, apparently, there is no regulator with the capacity to assure quality of lecturers, programmes, and students admitted to the so called universities, which, in fact, are big secondary schools.
UB council comprises people who have no knowledge of how institutions of higher education should be governed. When students rioted because their allowances were not paid in time, the Chairman of the UB Council decided to close the university. The students who were rioting were less than 150 in number! This number translates to only 1 percent of the total number of students enrolled at UB. Moreover, this group of students were the criminal-minded hooligans who went on to loot shops, vandalise property, and abused national symbols.
The same group of students had previously looted and vandalised property on campus. Deploying riot Police to round up this group of hooligans would have secured the university and prevented an otherwise unnecessary closure of UB and destruction of property. To close UB because of the action of one per cent of the student population was uncalled for and ill-conceived. For sure, the Chairman Council did not think of the enormous reputation damage that the closure did to UB. Industry and international research organisations funding are very sensitive to riots and strikes in universities. Has anyone ever heard of Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford closed due to student riots?
The quality of leadership among lecturers even those with PhDs, is appalling. One often hears ‘yunibesithi tse tsa rona’, especially among the citizen lecturers. The word "university" originates from the Latin phrase universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which translates to "congregation of teachers and scholars” whose main life goal is pursuit of knowledge and truth. A university is an oasis where scholars and teachers from all over the world come to quench their thirst for the truth and knowledge. Citizenship in universities is universal. To think of a University as “ours” and not “theirs” is parochial and small-mindedness. In addition, such lecturers do not have an inkling of how the human resources of this country should be trained by the best brains from all over the world.
Academic leadership at Departmental and Faculty levels is woefully lacking. The majority of lecturers, especially citizens, are what one may term as “armchair academics”. By Thursday evening most of them are already off to the Cattle Posts only to return on Monday evening. If in doubt, a visit to the University on Fridays will help clear your doubts. This “cattle post mentality” is a hindrance to teaching, supervision of masters and PhD students, and research.
No wonder, the majority of the professors shy away from supervising postgraduate students leaving one wondering what they profess! Many of the professors have not published a single article or presented at a conference for the past three or even four years. When the former Vice Chancellor, Prof Thabo Fako began to emphasise performance, the non-performers were all up in arms against him. In fact, the mechanism of mediocrity at UB is so strong that it will require a mad VC to handle. In the Faculty of Education, Department of Guidance and Counselling, there are over 100 students pursuing a degree in counselling and being supervised by less than 8 lecturers who have never published or presented at a conference in the past three or four years! The students are not only half-baked but ill-prepared to function in the world of work.
At Departmental and Faculty levels, supervision is appalling: absentee heads of departments or Deans without any inkling of academic leadership. Majority of lecturers only come to the university when they are scheduled to teach and leave immediately thereafter. Those who stay a little longer congregate in the corridors, walkways, or staff lounge to gossip and talk about anything but academics.
The majority of the Heads of Departments and Deans are mainly bent on creating a chiefdom over which they superintend and will do nothing to rock the boat. In the Faculty of Social Sciences for example, a former Deputy Dean who was relieved of his duties was promoted to Associate Professor yet he had only consultancy reports and a few low quality articles in local and some Indian-based journals! Moreover, this same deputy Dean had been sponsored by UB to pursue a PhD abroad but was unable to complete because he spent all his time abroad drinking and smoking. In many universities, even on the African continent, he would not qualify to teach at the University, if only for reasons of failing to complete his PhD despite enormous investments by the university.
Another leadership problem at UB is that it operates as if it is still the only university in the country. It requires leadership to gain an understanding of the current higher education terrain in the country, especially with the proliferation of universities in Botswana. UB acts arrogantly and insenfdsitively to all its clients including students.
Perhaps the greatest weakness at UB is poor human capital. To begin with, UB has more politicians than academics. Political activities are more pronounced at UB than academic activities. For the majority of the lecturers, especially the citizens, the main question is to which political party one belongs. Many of the lecturers talk more about politics than top journals within their fields of study, that is, if they know of any.
UB is probably the only premier university with “random professors”, that is, professors without a field of study who publish randomly on any subject in any field and get promoted for being just that, random academics. Absurdly, one does not require a PhD in order to be promoted to the rank of associate or full professor. Yet UB should be in a league of universities where a PhD should be a minimum requirement to be recruited as a lecturer.
What is even worse, many of the professors are engaged in “fake research” and are protected by their heads of Departments and Deans. The majority of UB academics publish in bogus and often poor quality journals and publishing houses with low or no impact factor at all. Moreover, only a handful of UB academics get cited at all by their peers within their scientific communities.
If you disregard self-citation, you will hardly find UB academics with more than 20 citations in a year! If in doubt, check Google Scholar citation indices and enter their names. Worse of all, plagiarism has taken root in almost all departments. For example, a Nigerian professor of Statistics who is a well-known plagiarist and was found guilty of plagiarism by the Disciplinary Committee is still in the Department of Statistics. Another Indian professor in the same Department of Statistics who is famous for plagiarism is proudly referred to as the father of the Department.
A former Dean who was relieved of his duties for misconduct and incompetence had previously brought to the Department of Psychology a “fake professor” from Nigeria who was plagiarising and recycling his publications with academic members of the Department of Psychology. The current head of Psychology had to fight hard to get rid of the Nigerian professor and his local partners with whom he plagiarised and recycled his previous publications at will and with the protection of then Dean. In the Department of Economics, for example, more than 70% of their publications are in two journal outlets (Botswana Journal of Economics and Asia-Africa Journal of Economics and Econometrics ) whose editors in chief are the two professors in the same department.
Does this ring a bell? The two journal outlets are the factories for plagiarism and recycling previously published articles. In the faculties of Business and Education, professors who are known to plagiarise are protected and shielded by their respective Deans because the Deans want to build a power base to enable them become Deputy VCs or VCs in future. Moreover, promotion at UB is based on fake publications in predatory journals without any review processes and often plagiarised and published within days upon payment. UB is choking with plagiarism and it is high time the few clean academicians stand up to challenge and change the status quo.
To make matters worse, the uncritical media refers to such disgraced professors and Deans as decorated professors and VC materials. Yet these professors have never received any accolades whatsoever. Currently, these same failed and disgraced Deans are behaving like hyenas. They are all over campus adorned in fancy suits and garbs talking to groups of lecturers trying to build support for their candidacy for the vacant VC position. Aside from the structural, leadership, and human capital problems, UB is in financial crisis.
UB gets more than 90% of its operating and capital funding from government. Globally, funding for education, especially university education from government has been declining over the years and may continue to decline for the foreseeable future. With the proliferation of tertiary institutions in the Botswana, all looking to government for funding, the future looks bleak and funding crunch is anticipated to continue.
The question then is what is the way forward? UB needs to work hard to attract industry and international research organisations’ funding. But, does UB have the calibre of academic staff that can attract funding for the university? Again, the former VC, Prof Thabo Fako tried to restructure UB management to include a division to be headed by the deputy VC for Research and Innovation with a mandate to drive the research and innovation agenda of the university and get industry funding. Again, unless the quality of human capital at UB is radically improved, achieving the mandate of this division will be difficult.
Very few professors at UB can write a proposal for a research grant leave alone win a competitive research grant from international research organisations such as National Institute of Health (NIH), Wellcome Trust (WT), the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), CODESRIA, etc. Many universities in the region such as the University of Pretoria get 60% of its funding from industry income and research grants from research organisations and the majority of employees get paid through industry funding.
This can only happen if the quality of human capital is high. Many of the professors and senior academics at UB would rather do consultancies. The difference between research and consultancy is that in research, the researcher formulates the research questions and is driven by quest for knowledge whereas in consultancy the client frames the research question and is driven by the quest for money.
In sum, you do not need to think in order to do consultancies. UB has been turned into a consultancy factory for lecturers to get side income for themselves and not UB where they are employed. With such magnificent and world class infrastructure, UB can only make it to the league of world class 21st century universities if the quality of human capital with visionary and competent leadership, is urgently attended to.
Finally, two issues regarding students in tertiary education require urgent debate: student financing and discipline. First student financing should be opened for debate. Currently, government pays tuition, living-out allowances, book allowances, among other things. In light of the current economic reality and competing demands, isn’t it time to debate whether government should continue picking all the student bills? To begin with, which socio-economic backgrounds are these students from? Isn’t it true that the majority of the students are from Marua-Pula, St Joseph’s, Rainbow, Legae, and other private schools where their parent spend a lot of money for their education?
Is it morally right for government to continue footing the educational bill of students whose parents are well to do and could afford to send their children to elite well-resourced secondary schools that afforded them the opportunity to come to university in the first place? Instead of giving students book allowances why not use the funds to stock the library instead? Isn’t populist to even think of giving the students cash to buy books? Is Botswana creating a Nanny Society by nurturing the culture of entitlement to public resources by those who are well to do? Is it time for cost sharing? As a country, these questions should be soberly debated in a non-partisan way to be able to arrive at a credible and morally acceptable student funding formulae. Such formulae would include those who truly deserve full, partial, or no scholarship at all.
Student discipline is an important area that should be addressed. Over the years, the rate at which students complete their programmes on time has plummeted and currently stands at a paltry 58%, that is, out of every 100 students who start their studies in first year, only 58 will complete in time. What a waste of resources! Majority of the students who do not complete in time do not attend classes, are lazy, abuse drugs and substances, and are just not interested in studies.
Their perception is that they are doing a favour to the country by pursuing higher education. It is all about their rights and not responsibilities. Why should government continue to spend money on these lazy and irresponsible students? The government is nurturing a mentality of entitlement to government resources which will ultimately lead to a Nanny society or a welfare state that encourages laziness and discourages innovation and the long-standing national value of self-reliance (Ipelegeng). As Prof Fako once lamented, this is likely to lead to “… less self-discipline, less willingness to work hard, less conscientiousness, less commitment, less selflessness, and less sense of a common purpose and destiny”.
The way forward for UB: To move UB forward, all the stakeholders need to deeply reflect on the existential problems outlined above and radically reform. I will make some suggestions for reform: What Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science & Technology can do:
First, immediately set up a Visitation Committee of eminent persons with sound knowledge of higher education landscape in the 21st century to critically analyse the perennial problems at UB and advise government accordingly. Membership should include persons from outside UB, if possible, outstanding academics from world class universities. The African saying that “it is the visitors who can see the cobweb in your house” may help.
Second, a rigorous independent oversight and monitoring agency should be put in place to provide oversight function to all tertiary education institutions. The agency should have the capacity to deliver and ensure high quality academic programmes and human resources in line with national development goals. Both Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) and Human Resources Development Council (HRDC) do not have the capacity to regulate all the universities and tertiary institutions in the country.
Third, diversify tertiary education. Not everyone who completes form five or high school should go to university! Wherever you go in this country, you will not find a citizen mechanic, electrician, plumber, and all other types of technicians and artisans. Government should make these and other trades attractive by offering full scholarships for them and partial scholarship for courses such as Media Studies, Economics, Law, Political Science, and other programmes in Social Sciences, Humanities, and Education.
In sum, government should put its money where its mouth is. Similarly, government should revisit the policy of ever increasing number of universities in this country while at the same time crying that there is no money. Increasing the number of universities leads to increased overhead administrative costs and loss of talents to administrative positions. For example, UB lost Prof Otlogetswe Totolo, a renowned scientist to Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).
Prof Otlogetswe Totolo should be heading a research consortium on Climate Change in Botswana instead of being wasted to administration. Many professors and technocrats at UB left for BIUST as well. Yet, there are no courses at BIUST that could not be offered at UB. In fact, UB has better infrastructure than BIUST to offer all the courses currently offered at BIUST. Moreover BIUST sends their students to UB to access facilities and equipment they require for their studies. This is not a wise use of limited resources.
Fourth, government must come up with a credible and well thought out funding model for universities including UB. Parameters should include relevance of courses to national development, research output, patents, graduation numbers, maintenance of infrastructure, foundation courses such as Mathematics, Physics, Languages, Health, and not just student numbers. Ten students in a physics class may be more important to the national development goals of the country than 100 in Law, Economics, History, or Divinity.
Fifth, the university Act is not only outdated but out of synch with the exigencies and realities of the current higher education landscape. For example, the appointment of top officials of the University like the Vice Chancellor and deputy Vice Chancellors should be revised to safeguard the process from murky and often dirty institutional politics. For example the appointment of a VC could be done with the approval of Parliament. Similarly, members of the University Council should be nominated and approved by Parliament and should include eminent persons of repute and not carpenters or local mechanics with no clue of how a university should be run.
Sixth, there should also be legal clarity on the powers of staff and student unions. Currently, the staff union with only about 100 members and student SCR appear to be supreme over the University Council and are the cause of perennial riots and strikes. For example the current acting VC was one of those who signed a memorandum to Council against the former VC.
If the UB Council was not dancing to the tune of the staff Union, why was she appointed the acting VC when she was complicit and part of the problem at UB? The current search for a VC should exclude any professor from UB if the university is to radically and meaningfully transform because the majority are involved in dirty institutional politics to undo each other as they jostle for the offices of the deputy VC or VC. All what these professors are interested in is to be deputy VC or VC without any vision for the institution.
Finally, for equitable distribution of wealth and resources of the country, the government should decentralise student financing to districts through a quota system. This will go a long way in reducing the ugly inequality that is a time bomb for this country. Moreover, decentralising student financing will, in the long term, improve performance in the districts and tap the potentials of rural districts and reduce unemployment through access to higher education.
What UB can do?
First, UB needs to recalibrate and define its niche within the current tertiary education landscape in Botswana. UB currently faces an identity and existential crises with the proliferation of universities in the country. It has been an only child for far too long and now the parents have decided to have more children. With very young siblings to play with, UB looks awkward. At 35 years of age, UB should be in middle age and mature enough not to compete for undergraduate students with four- or five-year old Ba-Isago or Botho universities.
Currently, more than 90% of students at UB are at undergraduate level 99% of whom are citizens. UB has to change from a mainly undergraduate and instructional to a postgraduate and research university. The number of undergraduates should gradually reduce to make way for graduate students. Botswana as a country needs more well trained people with masters and PhD degrees in key sectors to manage and maintain the high middle income status.
Second, UB needs to develop its research capacity and become the “think tank” of the country. This will help drive the national research agenda for Botswana. These research agenda would include: climate change; economic diversification; water, energy, and food security; health; drug and substance use; and poverty alleviation among others. Training solid researchers, developing research themes, collaboration with and across disciplines, should be core activities of the research and innovation department.
Third, UB should open its doors to more self-sponsored students to reduce the number of government sponsored students. By doing so, UB will attract students from other countries within the SADC region and beyond. Similarly, since UB is operating a semester system, admission should be done every semester and not only once as it is the case now. All core courses should be offered every semester. This will make admissions more efficient and the system more flexible.
Fourth, universities in Botswana still operate like the public service. For instance, single spine salary structures, age limit requirements, localisation policy, permanent and pensionable employment terms, etc., do not belong to modern universities. Academics in a university should not be treated like public servants in a public service. Universities are universal institutions that should be globally structured while responding to national needs. Permanent and pensionable contracts make getting rid of deadwoods difficult and not an incentive for hard work and productivity. Localisation and age policies belong to public service and not universities.
Fifth, UB has redundant staff at all levels. There is need for a forensic human resource audit of all categories of staff including academic, administrative and support staff to establish whether they have adequate duties or workload to undertake during official working hours. All deadwoods must go! For instance, a grace period of between two to five years should be given to all lecturers without a PhD to upgrade or be fired.
All those with master’s degree only should be turned into Graduate Assistants and should be appointed on a two-year renewable contract and paid a stipend instead of a salary. Without this, UB will remain an undergraduate teaching institution without the academic cores to live up to the expectations of its vision statement: to be a leading centre of academic excellence in Africa and the world and join the league of world class universities.
In conclusion, UB has a 21st century infrastructure but the leadership, human resources, and legal framework belong to the 19th century, the reason the University is out of synch and currently facing an existential and identity crises. At the moment, UB is yearning for radical reform. It is difficult to see whether this yearning for radical reform can come from within UB since that is where reform needs to happen in the first place. A visitor with a new broom is in a better position to see the cobweb of problems and the quagmire UB is in. While lack of money is a problem, it is certainly not the most important problem. The main problem to the perennial problems at UB is not funding, it is poor human capital.
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.
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
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