We read with shock the statement of one Takula Lenyatso of the BPP in the local media in which he attempts to ridicule the statement by UDC President Cde Duma Boko on the death of Fidel Castro. It is not in my nature to respond to ideologically-naked and pubescent statements but I felt compelled to do so in this instance in defence of Fidel Castro, socialism, and the unity of the UDC.
This statement is neither an isolated incident nor a frank and honest criticism of Boko’s stance in celebrating the life and legacy of Castro. The statement is a culmination of many controversial incidents and statements by the BPP’s young turk. These political gymnastics and acrobatics of Mr Lenyatso and the BPP must be confronted head-on in defence of principle and the legacy of Fidel Castro.
It seems clearer by the day that the BPP cadres (mainly the ‘flat cap arrivalists’) have adopted a pernicious and reactionary marketing strategy in which its young cadres will provoke the mighty BNF and its leader to make newspaper headlines and in the process positioning their party in the public discourse.
It doesn’t end there. The young folks have gone further and adopted a provoke-and-later-apologise strategy in which they provoke the BNF and after causing uproar, pen an apology to calm the storm.
For the record, I am a student of Marx and Lenin, and wholly subscribes to the ideal of open, frank and honest criticism even from within party ranks. Lenin characterises this open and frank criticism as one of the fundamental components of cadre discipline.
Mr Lenyatso in his latest onslaught on Cde Boko writes that ‘President Boko recognised Fidel Castro as his inspiration, and hailed the Commander as a hero. Duma Boko was wrong’. This is astonishing to say the least. Mr Lenyatso betrays his already-in-doubt Pan Africanist credentials by denouncing the legacy of Fidel Castro.
He comes across as a piecemeal reader of the Cuban Revolution and the role of Castro in Africa. I posit that Castro played a decisive role in assisting many Pan-African and Marxist oriented political formations at the height of decolonisation. Unlike Takula’s liberal’s friends who shunned liberation struggles waged by the peoples of Africa against colonial rule, Castro supported the struggle.
He was an astute internationalist who valued solidarity. As a progressive, Castro rejected racism, imperialism and the exploitation of the African resources. Castro dared to confront mankind’s worst enemy- Capitalism and exploitation. Surely Castro passes the test of being a hero and an inspiration. Boko was correct to honour this stalwart.
Takula and the BPP depict an acute misreading of history and the contribution of Castro in the liberation of Africa. Who can forget the watershed and decisive cuito cuinavale victory in which thousands of Cuban lives were lost for the independence of Africa?
Mr Lenyatso’s piecemeal critique on the legacy of Castro does not account for Castro’s active and practical involvement in the dismantling of Apartheid in South Africa. It is disappointing for a man of Mr Lenyatso’s intellect to analyse Castro from a laissez-faire prism of human rights and democracy without appreciating the geo-political context under which the Cuban revolution was waged on.
I wonder if Mr Lenyatso is aware that western democracy is not the sole omnipotent system which is God-given or inherently natural. The Cuban context required a tailor-made equitable system to address the injustices of fascist oppression which oppressed the Cuban people for decades. Castro hated, with passion the people who presided over the murder of Sankara, Mondlane, Cabral and many heroes and heroines of the African struggle.
I must admit that the legacy of Castro is subject to many interpretations and misinterpretations. However, it is nerve wrecking for a member of a dinosaur Pan Africanist movement to delegitimise the role of Castro in defending human rights and supporting the people’s revolutions across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Castro is known for his contribution in fighting an evil system called Apartheid and racism. Castro was a champion of the poor and he enormously assisted the peoples of Africa in areas such as health care and education. I suspect that even in Mr Lenyatso’s native village, Castro’s footprints are visible in that Cuban doctors have served across the length and breadth of Botswana.
After reading Mr Lenyatso’s diatribe I wondered what will Motsamai, Matante, Mandela, Neto, Cabral, Mondlane, Machel, Garvey, Malcolm X and all other Pan-Africanist would have said if they were still alive. My guess was that they would have remarked; Is the BPP worth its salt? This question is an indictment on Mr Lenyatso and the BPP leadership to answer and convince some of us to the contrary.
Their bona fides and commitment to regime change seems unsatisfactory. The silence of the BPP leadership and its inaction to put a leash on Mr Lenyatso invites nausea and revulsion on my part. On the eve of Kalakamati bye-elections, the same bandits pulled stunts and made some Judas Iscariot pronouncements which compromised the unity of the UDC ahead on an important bye-election.
The silence of the Pan-Africans within the BPP in the midst of irresponsible and knee-jerk utterances made by Mr Lenyatso remains a paradox! Without a doubt, an attack on the credentials and legacy of Fidel Castro is an attack on Pan Africanism (by extension the BPP).
Mr Lenyatso knows internal party processes in which he could have advanced his anti-Castro stance and persuaded the leadership to be indifferent on his death. Instead he engages in an egoist crusade to attack the leader of the BNF/UDC in the media and belittle the legacy of Castro.
That cannot be constructive, honest and frank criticism as Lenin conceptualised cadre discipline. With this response Mr Lenyatso (and your handlers, if any), be informed that we will meet eyeball to eyeball to defend the BNF and the unity of the UDC. This time around, your provoke-and-later-apologise strategy won’t stick. Is the BPP worth its salt- I wonder!!!
As progressives, we are advised by Chairman Mao to be always vigilant in the midst of ideologically impotent sections of the society such as Mr Lenyatso. Without vigilance, these characters will pollute the rank and file of a mass based organisation and potentially derail the revolution.
It is common cause that Mr Lenyatso’s record in opposition politics is somewhat untidy and in suspect. I remember whilst at the University of Botswana, he was a member of the BMD. After realising that his lust for power and position will remain unconsummated within the BMD, he jumped ship to the BPP after some spell in the cold.
Without any congress held, we learn that Mr Lenyatso is now the president of the BPP Youth League!! How does one lead a youth league of a party that he has not even spent atleast a year? Stuff of legends! We should not allow rented BDP mercenaries who masquerade as Pan Africanists to derail the UDC- the people’s project.
Mr Lenyatso must know that we are aware that his political persuasions differ depending on his geographical location. Back home, I am told that he is famed to have played a leading role in the campaigns and subsequent victory of MP Butale. In Gaborone, he is a different political animal altogether.
The question is why is the BPP leadership indifferent and unable or unwilling to reprimand Mr Lenyatso? The silence of the BPP leadership in the midst of Mr Lenyatso’s provocative behaviour is too loud to ignore.
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