The coming together of UDC and the BCP is surely a welcome development in respect of Botswana politics. The recent launch of the UDC has brought about some hope to this nation that come 2019, their livelihood might change for the better.
That is, the expectations by Batswana that their hopes and dreams of a new system of governance that would possibly result in among other things, a diversified economy, real job creation, improved standard of living, free and quality education, regulated private education, a corruption free society, a truly independent judicial system, an independent electoral system, a free and independent media, as well as the long overdue overhauling, restructuring or demise of the current intelligence service will ultimately be realised. The mood in the country is clearly that of a nation just waiting for 2019 to get rid of the current regime that has been in power for more than fifty years and has certainly become obsolete and therefore a serious liability to this nation.
As indicated in my previous articles to this publication, this public mood has revealed itself in some joint party activities where members now constituting UDC have worked collaboratively to exhibit some spirit of commitment, comradeship and cohesion as if they already belonged to one single entity.
Although sceptics especially the enemy the BDP, and some in the media have painted a bleak picture about new UDC, there has been clear indication in some constituencies that work not just to win by-elections, but to prepare for the upcoming elections in 2019 started in earnest even long before negotiations were concluded. The mood has always been that of people who long embraced the UDC formation, and for them the launch was just more of a public relations exercise.
But even with this positive camaraderie, naturally there is bound to be some confusion and apprehension once the public domain flourishes with alleged evidence of cracks and disunity within the UDC. Whether or not such allegations are credible is another story. The reality however, is that in as much as a concrete agreement has now been sealed, it must be noted that in any political deal of this magnitude that involved diverse negotiators there will always be challenges.
Although the sole purpose is to ultimately come to a consensus, my experience with political talks involving different parties; negotiators, including party leadership, would not always agree on issues on the table, but also find themselves having to seriously and emotionally engage in robust debate on a wide range of pertinent issues of divergence. Fundamental in negotiations is to bear in mind that even as you do your utmost to reach a consensus it’s not always that all actors would be completely content with the final outcome.
Without suggesting that there are never any instances of points of convergence, in many cases it’s sort of a fragile matter of give and take than decisions arrived at unanimously, and of course it is also in this spirit of give and take that individual parties can thereafter request for certain resolutions be revisited, something some may describe as portrayal of evidence of a major division amongst negotiating partners.
It would therefore be naïve of all of us to conclude that, just because a deal has been reached, the challenges will also cease to exist. Although one cannot cite a particular and peculiar reason as to why challenges should continue to exist after what seems to have been a successful deal such as is the case with the UDC, there could be a wide range of probabilities.
These would include a high possibility that even after a deal has been concluded, some might still continue to express their reservation about the manner in which things would have turned out to be, and as democracy and justice would dictate, these people have the right to be given a hearing of some sort for the agreement to work.
Rumour mongering also has the potential to adversely affect the stability that the opposition needs to achieve its intended goal of not just unseating the BDP, but also to turn around the economy. As it stands media stories that all has not been well since the launch including allegations that the very same leaders who collaboratively and collectively presided over unity talks that delivered UDC have since fallen out could easily rock UDC.
As can be expected these turn of events, some of which may have been deliberately twisted for different reasons, would certainly reach inter alia, opponents of the deal within and outside the opposition. When they lay their hands on such news of alleged disunity, they would do everything to ensure that they as much as possible make it go viral, shaping public perceptions such that the information is ultimately misconstrued as an accurate reflection of the situation on the ground.
Admittedly, some of the stories including those coming from the media for instance, maybe an exaggeration deliberately intended to mislead and course maximum damage, and in other cases just unsubstantiated insinuations that border on personal series of same stale attacks we have heard before. Here I’m referring to stories not firmly rooted in the journalistic tradition and ethics.
By the way the establishment of some media houses has to do more with entrepreneurship and therefore their main reason for existence is to as much as possible maximise profits through writing of stories some of which are grossly unethical. In a democratic dispensation such as ours, political opponents will also have a field day twisting the information for political mileage.
The reality though is that this is what constitutes freedom of speech and democracy, something that the opposition should cherish and embrace at all times, regardless of whether or not what they report is its favour. It is my contention that the media is not the main threat to the new UDC establishment, but instead what would threaten opposition’s intended long term resilience and tarnish its good name are its own people.
Many of the stories that reach the media, political opponents and others are leaked by opposition members themselves, and what usually happens is that some of the recipients of the leaked information may just twist them a bit to suit their agendas. Imagine a situation where the media would have been completely bared from attending what should have been a private meeting of leaders, and a few hours before an official media statement can be made public, the information is already on radio, television and newspapers.
Other instances of indiscipline on the part of some opposition members have revealed themselves in their utterances about their own comrades, including that of their own leadership. Further cause for concern are insinuations of possible and even imagined infighting in the four political parties that constitute the UDC which could also turn out to be a key factor that contributes immeasurably to instability in UDC.
Of course it is fine for Comrades to critique UDC or each other within the organisation as this helps to introspect, but deliberate badmouthing to criticise and disparage other Comrades has a huge bearing on possible instability in the UDC and therefore stifle and delay concerted effort by the opposition to ensure regime change in 2019.
Further, even more toxic could be fights for existing or anticipated positions, a situation that may completely obliterate the organisation before it could even commence the journey to attaining its intended vision. It is profound that people do understand and accept that not all of us will get an opportunity to represent the organisation as Members of Parliament and Councillors, or that only one person will become President, or else UDC’s journey to attainment of power would be tough. My argument is that it is only when we lack discipline and make explosive utterances to the media that are sometimes misleading and dangerous, as well as cause unnecessary incidents due to power struggles which could have the greatest propensity to sow seeds of discord in the entire UDC family.
We therefore have to commend efforts that have been made to address people’s concerns arising mainly from media reports, thanks to the manner in which both Cde Keorapetse and Cde Mohwasa have handled the situation to weather the storm. They have been quite level headed in their responses and managed the situation with a great deal of aplomb. I also listened to Cde Mangole and Cde Rammidi on radio clarifying a number of issues that had engulfed UDC to the utter dismay and confusion of its members.
This definitely complemented both Keorapetse’s and Mohwasa’s efforts and further allayed fears pertaining to unpalatable media stories about UDC since its launch a couple of weeks ago. It must however, be noted that even these officially sanctioned efforts by Comrades will not bear much fruit unless all in the opposition exercise restraint and solidly rally behind UDC. In political parlance this obviously calls for discipline that requires members to adhere to and uphold UDC’s code of conduct which in turn should give the party moral high ground to speak to the nation as a genuine government in waiting.
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