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Sense and Sensibility: UDC+ and Great Expectations

Teedzani Thapelo


It must be hard for the UDC+ to deflect charges of political failure, that is to say, past failures by opposition to take power from BDP, and redefine the political landscape of the nation. But that I hardly think is the issue now; not if you take Botswana politics seriously, the way I do. The opposition, it is quite true, has badly failed Botswana in the last fifty years.

 

The reasons for this failure are many and well known; resource constraints, petty squabbles, regional particularism, ideological idiosyncrasies, bad leadership in some of the partner organisations, lack of political commitment in some quarters of this huge political marquee, structural weaknesses within many past opposition formations, often meaningless political agendas, opportunism, sabotage by the BDP, infiltration by divisive elements; the reasons make for a long list, and interesting reading.


But all this I want to believe is now behind us. As a united front UDC made a sterling showing in the 2014 general election, and there is no telling what they could have achieved had the BCP deemed it their business to harness resources and their strong voice to other opposition parties and square the ruling party. But lost possibilities are not the subject of politics. My point is it would be a terrible mistake for Batswana to view this political grouping as just talk among a group of bad losers.

 

By the way, even talk of this kind among a group constitutes serious politics. Even talk among a hunting group in the bush constitutes politics. What really matters is how this talk always “feedsback” in some key way making for greater successes and possibilities of more good work in the future. Despise UDC+ at your own peril.

 

Laugh at them only if you are hundred per cent positive you have them at a terrible disadvantage, only if you are positive you can beat them decisively at the game they are playing; politics. As things stand, I don’t see many in the ruling party laughing right now. 2019 is a year to watch in our political calendar. The world of politics is not a known world, neither is it knowable. The expression anything can happen in politics should never be taken lightly.


Several things will decide the fortunes of UDC+ in 2019, and the political fate of the nation; its assumptions, origins and political significance in the national imagination. For the first time BDP cadres will have a straining, and frightfully exhausting, opportunity to engage in serious politics with rival political elites. This is one election in which considered judgement should direct the nation towards the imperial need for political legitimacy to be made.

 

The entrenched political monologue of the BDP should now become a thing of the past. 2019 offers Batswana a unique chance to renegotiate not only the contours of political power but also the rationale and policy direction of a new class hegemony. It is an election about the political rebirth of a nation. The desire for knowledgeable governance is in the air and we all can feel it. My own assumption is that the rise of UDC+ is a logical outcome of a unified approach to the study of national problems.

 

UDC+ offers the country the chance to remove from society the ludicrous standoffishness that has kept men and women of character and commitment to social justice apart in our civilization for fifty years. It offers them the chance to conveniently come together in search of solutions that are capable of contributing to the knowledge needed by the democratic polity to hedge desperate citizens against the endless troubles of the new millennium.


The danger, of course, is that energy may in turn be dissipated on a miscellany of merely topical issues. I hope UDC+ will avoid this treacherous path and in this they will need our support and guidance; the very thing I am doing right now, writing this article. If they do not listen, by all means, let us send them back to the sea where they come from. The fundamental, and often neglected, problems which arise in the adjustment of human beings in society must be addressed, thoroughly.

 

Postcolonial society cannot survive on a policy vacuum the way Botswana has been doing this past fifty years. It’s time the entire context of postcolonial significant events was made the springboard of all political action and policy choices. Politics should not and cannot be allowed to create more problems for our bewildered citizens.

 

There is urgent need to increase the knowledge necessary for the improvement of practical democracy; democracy must exist and thrive beyond the ballot box. It is time voting became just a singular day in a contiguous and self-informing march of democratic culture in society. Batswana must learn to live like educated democrats, to eat and drink democratic values and cultures.


As a political system democracy is a watchman. If you don’t pay it much attention it abandons you. Latch it to your heart and it will prosper, leash it to a rotten tree and it will die. We should struggle not only to protect the physical dignity of citizens but also the realization of human dignity in public policy and national politics. It is not democratic for Batswana to go out partying when the entire High Court bench is under political attack from a prodigal and reckless presidency.

 

It is not democratic for Batswana to go and dance polka in Khawa when Basarwa are dying of illiteracy, hunger and starvation. It is not democratic for Batswana to laugh at hopeless young people who are spawn into dangerous and loathsome streets every year-at a rate of more than eighty thousand per annum for a population of 1.2 million people-poorly educated, and facing no prospect of landing good jobs with good pay in their lives.


In a democratic society you do not differentiate between public duty and personal conscience, and if you err you always do so on the side of justice. This is what Martin Luther King taught us. This is what Nelson Mandela taught us. This is what Rosa Parks taught us. If we do not learn these things from our own black people who will be our teachers? I do believe the UDC+ wants to teach us these things. Most of these people have sacrificed lucrative careers in law and academia to pursue these democratic ideals.

 

Who are we to give them deaf ears?  Who are we to turn our backs on them? Who are we to give them cold shoulders? Who are we to march in the opposite direction? UDC+ emerges in our country at a time when we are living in a world of an ever-deepening shadow. The threat to democratic values is real enough. If it does not come from climate change and political violence, it easily manifests in religious mania and terrorism, and worse, nuclear winter.


Under these circumstances it makes sense we use our far too limited intellectual resources for the defence and extension of our democratic values. UDC+ symbolizes a creative rearrangement of, and enlargement of, a political map that defines these problems as perceived by all concerned citizens.

 

Their political diversity is essential for one thing: the obliteration of lust for power just for its sake-a terrible disease in African politics. A united front is far better at dealing with the endless problems that plague us on a daily basis than a driven personality. We have had enough of this nonsense from the BDP. We cannot heal the polity by pandering to the egos of megalomaniac individuals.


Right now Botswana stands as an unsatisfactory social state. About this we all agree. The question is: what is to be done? How can we, as individuals, best fulfil the requirements of social cooperation in conditions of accelerating economic change and hardships? We all accept, I think, it is institutions, and not the moral and economic individualism of the BDP, that are the necessary conditions of satisfactory social coexistence.

 

The UDC+ we all can see is such a political institution; diverse, sophisticated and politically committed to social justice. It is an institution in which many diverse individuals and political cultures have come together so they can more effectively grasp how their actions will always involve the regulation of relationships with others, through one impartial instrument; professional collegial judgement in a coalition of equals. Could there be anything more beautiful than this, could there be any political machine more effective, no, more efficient, at running the affairs of a multicultural society in this most troubling moment in national history?


The UDC+ politician is defined by the relationships he has with others so that even an individual is a social system and not some wayward sovereign maverick.  This is very important for party discipline and policy delivery. Is it any wonder opportunists and political adventurists are already decamping to the feeding bowl that is BDP? There is no room for corruption here, only selfless public service, and the greedy wolves are already running.Good riddance.


Let them go now when there is still time. But the gatekeepers, those who are totally and irrevocably committed, should not open the doors for a mass stampede; political education has never been more crucial. These people know not what they are doing. They need our help and guidance. Teach them and value their contributions. This is how I see the UDC+ as an outsider, as a political theorist. This is my understanding of this strategic alliance. I might be wrong about all these things.

 

But the role of a thinker is not to shy away from what his brain tells him. My duty is to debate these issues, not avoid them. I put them in the public domain with an intellectual purpose which is deliberate; perhaps to a certain fault, to test their validity. It’s not the most empirical way to do things. But my purpose is overtly political. This much is obvious to all readers. I am not going to pretend to any element of objectivity. The future of this country is at stake.

 

And our moral duty as scholars is to protect the country, not the sectional interests of individuals and political parties. If you disagree with me write your own political monograph-I just finished writing two on these very same issues. Meet me squarely in the republic of scholarship. I will answer to your charges pound for pound in the clinical way most profound.


One thing, however, still demands consideration: is it possible the UDC+ may be composed of just a patchwork of individuals and political parties held together by whatever thread appears to be appropriate to the circumstances of the moment? This, in fact, is my greatest fear; that Batswana may be unwittingly nurturing just another unprincipled political monstrosity.

 

Rarely is political activity a conscious human purpose. As I said, politics is almost always unknowable. There is no point in just playing one bunch of political elites against another if there is no real politics in such a game, if their interests are coterminous and mutually beneficial to the exclusion of all other interests.


It is critical that we carefully assess the emerging nature of our politics. This we must do before Election Day, 2019. We must learn to educate ourselves about the world we live in. It’s the only way to guard against political annihilation in modern society. Is UDC+ who they claim to be? Are they truly concerned with our national problems and the relationship of the BDP to these problems? Are they truly concerned with what the BDP does, and what it does not do, to further the health and wealth of the nation?

 

Do they have units involved in policy research and development to originate better ideas and policies to combat the problems that continue to bedevil our national life? Are they just a lobby group masquerading as a political movement? Are they just another pressure group for vested class interests? What kinds of policy arenas, fields, communities, and networks are they involved in? Are they genuinely seeking a fundamental alternative to the present government and its way of doing things? What political reality do they share as a political community?

 

Where do we, ordinary citizens, fit within this vexing political reality? Is this reality problematic enough to effect a radical change in society and affect the lives of citizens positively in the long term?  What are the ties that hold these disparate political parties as a political group, and how durable are these ties? How are they going to deal with the problems of convergence and shifting class loyalties when they get into political office?


If UDC+ cannot answer these questions then they have no business in national politics. Politics, we all understand, is human imagination. It involves experiments in thought. Surely these suave men and women should know what they are about? Above everything else politics is self-education. They must know this country well. They must know our problems as a nation. They must have a plan for the future. They must mean business. But do they really know these things? Do they really care?


This is what I mean when I say UDC+ still has a lot of work to do if they are to rally the entire nation behind them and carry the vote in the next election. I am not trying to teach them their business. But if they need my vote they must answer my questions. No Motswana, I am sure, expects less from them.


Teedzani Thapelo* is former Research Associate at the Centre for Economic Policy in Southern Africa, Distinguished Africa Guest Researcher at Nordic Africa Institute, Economic History Lecturer at the University of Botswana, and author of the bestselling three-part series Botswana epic novel, Seasons of Thunder, Vol.1. 11 and 111

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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