The high number of deaths from road traffic accidents in the just-ended 2016 festive season has sparked a vigorous debate on the causes of motor vehicle accidents in Botswana and how they can be prevented. In the last two days there has been a column in one newspaper devoted to this, and a major discussion in the breakfast show in Radio Botswana also dealing with the subject.
What is interesting is the wide variety of views regarding the causes, from those who blame the poor standard of driving, due largely to bad attitudes and alcohol and substance abuse, to those who are blaming the state of the roads, especially the potholes. The newspaper columnist suggested a major study on the causes of RTAs. A study could of course range from a major exercise with a longitudinal study taking several years, or could simply be a systematic analysis of raw data that is already in the hands of the police.
While I am not against a study on the causes of RTAs in our country, I believe there are already good pointers at what the problem is. The most challenging thing is to implement preventive measures to drastically reduce both the number of accidents and deaths. In public health, one of the traditional ways of instituting control measures against a disease is to analyse that disease from the viewpoint of the agent, host and environment.
While this approach was developed largely for communicable diseases, especially vector-borne ones like malaria (the agent being the causative organism, the host being the mosquito and the human being, and the environment being the physical environment and the climate), I have thought of using this model on motor vehicle accidents in Botswana. This would help us to analyse the causes or the possible causes of the disturbingly upward trend in the number of these occurrences.
Therefore, applying the model of the agent, host and environment, I take the human being (the driver and the road user generally) to be the agent, the motor vehicle to be the host, and the road to be the environment. I believe there are elements in all these components that contribute to the occurrence of every accident, the question being which component has the most contributing elements. Let us take them one at a time.
The agent: Driver behaviour is a very major contributor to accidents in Botswana, and to some extent other road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, donkey cart users etc. Firstly, anybody driving a motor vehicle on the road has to be well trained and duly licensed. We know that a large number of drivers on our roads are not well trained, they are simply incompetent. This is probably due to a combination of poor training in driving schools as well as devious ways of obtaining driver’s licenses.
This has also been driven by the explosion in the number of cheap vehicles due to availability of the second hand cars from Asia. It is no longer a requirement to have a valid driver’s license before one can get a loan to buy a car. So many people who buy cars can hardly drive- they are either unlicensed or they have obtained a license without being really competent.
The other problems with the host, the driver, is just simply that Batswana don’t care to obey traffic laws or observe the rules. There is a serious macho problem with our drivers. They go through red traffic lights without thinking twice. They over-speed in the highways, and they overtake under very hazardous circumstances. They have absolutely no courtesy for other road users. They will drive at 50 or 60kph in a major highway like the A1 and not bother that they are followed by kilometres-long chains of vehicles, even where there is enough road shoulder to go into and let others pass.
Over-speeding by buses and other Public Service Vehicles is a problem, especially in the A1 and other major roads. A bus with “100” written on it overtakes a vehicle travelling at 120kph and that is routine in the A1. Lastly driving under the influence of alcohol (or other substances?) is virtually routine in our roads.
It is so common that, the only way the Police can really prove it is to do a blood test on every driver who is involved in an accident, not just for punishment, but also to obtain statistics on the contribution of alcohol to accidents. It is not unusual to hear the Alcohol Industry saying only 6% of accidents are due to alcohol. This cannot be true, because those tested for alcohol after accidents are highly selected, at the discretion of the police attending to the accident.
So, to conclude about the agent, I believe the human factor is a very major, in my opinion, the major cause of accidents on our roads. One has just to look at the deaths caused by head-on collisions in the last few months to appreciate this point. The host: For the purposes of this article I will take the vehicle to be the host.
The most serious road traffic accidents are actually related to motor vehicles. So how do our motor vehicles contribute to road accidents, when we standardize for the human factor? Firstly, we have had an explosion in the number of motor vehicles on our roads. Were our road designed with these numbers in mind? Secondly, there are many defective vehicles on our roads that should not be there; what is the contribution of the second hand cars from Asia? Something obviously should be done to control vehicles that are not road-worthy on our roads.
The environment: The road is our most important environment in this topic. During the Radio Botswana programme referred to in the first paragraph of this write-up, I indicated that many callers complained about the state of our roads, especially the potholes, although some mentioned they are narrow, vegetation on the side is not controlled etc. I was rather surprised that few, if any, mentioned the livestock on our roads.
It is my belief that indeed the things mentioned above are a problem. The Roads Department and the Local Authorities have to ensure that roads are properly maintained and that potholes are timely repaired etc. The government, Central and Local, has to deal with the livestock problem once and for all; one can’t help but feel that there is lack of political will to deal with it because the owners of these animals are voters! Adequate negative sanctions could reduce the problem. Also, instead of spending large amounts of money on so-called animal patrols which are running vehicles, it might be worthwhile to consider employing watchmen and putting them at gates on major highways.
In view of the above, I would suggest some measures that could reduce accidents: Relating to the agent, the driver: Ensure all drivers are properly licensed Deal with loopholes that allow unqualified or incompetent drivers to get licences, e.g. corruption Deal harshly with drivers who are not licensed Deal very harshly with those driving under the influence Find ways of policing and catching those breaking traffic laws with impunity- going through red lights, overtaking in wrong places etc. Control over-speeding, with special attention on buses and mini buses in major highways Mount a systematic, road safety education campaign for drivers, but extend it to other road users and stakeholders. Relating to the host, the vehicle: Refine ways of determining road-worthiness of vehicles, both at licensing and during checks on the road Eliminate the corruption factor in this regard- vehicles that are not roadworthy are routinely given certificates! Control imports of second-hand cars: e.g. in some countries they do not allow imports of vehicles older than 5 years or with odometer readings of more than 100,000 km. The environment, the road: Improve maintenance or roads, with special emphasis on potholes Set up a road fund (if it is not already there), financed with fuel levies and motor vehicle licencing, and use the fund for the intended purpose
Consider making the whole of the A1 into a dual carriageway; since resources are limited this could be done incrementally, starting with the busiest parts as is already being done. This is my contribution to this debate as a citizen. Certainly something drastic needs to be done to reduce deaths, disabilities and suffering from road traffic accidents.
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