For the umpteenth time, Botswana was ranked Africa’s least corrupt country by London-based watchdog Transparency International (TI) for the year 2015. The announcement as is the custom was made in a subsequent year, 2016.
Our lofty perch in the corruption perception standings seems to be a foregone conclusion. We have practically become the sang paradigm of such a laurel, which may engender complacence and be a recipe for self-denial about the profundity of corruption in our country. Should the graft busters in the DCEC ranks clink glasses and dance a pirouette?
Before they do, maybe they should listen to my own beef with TI’s take. This is that our exalted position on the corruption-averse log simply do not square with the facts on the ground, or, shall I say, with what we’re given to understand in hushed-tone chatter by outraged Peeping Toms and eavesdroppers, the steady stream of exposes (or something to that effect) that have now become the staple of tabloids and broadsheets alike, and what some of us experience firsthand from time to time.
Let’s take the year 2010. Just like it did this year, TI in that year announced to the whole wide world that Botswana had outranked every other country on the continent on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). But almost at once was a resounding rebuttal, when His Worship Lot Moroka gave a gobsmacked congregation at an anti-corruption workshop held in Gaborone to understand that Government alone was possibly losing up to a billion Pula a year in corruption and economic crime.
Justice Moroka has since been elevated to the bench, but in 2010 he was a regional magistrate. He said his court alone was handling cases of economic crime amounting to close to P500 million. Given that there are 19 magistrate courts in Botswana and assuming that each was snowed under with cases of the sort amounting to a figure of the same order, we’re talking in the region of P8 billion-plus our national coffers are haemorrhaging of year to year thanks to the artifice and deviousness of some members of our own society. Of course this is too simplistic a way of encapsulating the scale of graft in the country but it is not exactly far-fetched.
PERCEPTIONS ARE NOT FACTS
Somebody sensibly paused this question in relation to the efficacy of measuring corruption in a country: if the abuse of public office for private gain is typically done in secret, under the table or behind closed doors, how can you systematically – and credibly – capture its scale and depth?
Granted, corruption permeates every corner of the globe, but it comes in hues. In some countries such as Nigeria, for instance, it is said to be audacious and even blatant: in others, it is blurry and therefore less apparent, the best example of which are the Nordic countries. As such, it is curious that such an elusive aspect of human behaviour can be pinned down and quantified on a simple scale as CPI implies.
TI’s rejoinder to such a dim view of its hobbyhorse is that it does not measure actual corruption: it highlights perceptions of the degree and prevalence of corruption. Therein lies the rub. Perceptions are not and do not translate to facts. Suspicions – or is it intuitions? – are bandied about but with zero hard evidence to buttress those suspicions. Inevitably, there’s a danger of distorting the reflection of truth, so that a country that is perceived as Africa’s least corrupt – read my lips – may actually be one of its most putrid beneath the facade. Is there a better, more matter-of-fact way of assessing levels of corruption? Successful prosecutions immediately come to mind but TI is quick to scoff at the absurdity of such a notion.
"Corruption generally comprises illegal activities, which are deliberately hidden and only come to light through scandals, investigations or prosecutions,” TI counters. "There is no meaningful way to assess absolute levels of corruption in countries or territories on the basis of hard empirical data. Possible attempts to do so, such as by comparing bribes reported, the number of prosecutions brought or studying court cases directly linked to corruption, cannot be taken as definitive indicators of corruption levels. Instead, they show how effective prosecutors, the courts or the media are in investigating and exposing corruption."
Because of the difficulty of measuring actual corruption and the prohibitive expense of running elaborate surveys, TI has since 1995 published a CPI that ranks countries according to how corrupt they are perceived to be by a tiny corps of individuals who do not even constitute the barest quorum in proportion to the national population. The CPI is compiled by aggregating 13 different perception surveys. The people who inform these perceptions come from basically the same cohort. They are "a group of country economists,"; "experts based primarily in London (but also in New York, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai) who are supported by a global network of in-country specialists,"; "100 business executives per country/territory,"; etcetera.
The opinions TI collates to feed into the CPI are garnered from an internationally focussed elite (with a commonality of innate biases), with the common man conspicuous by his absence. The essentiality of diversity of opinion, of plurality of thought, does not remotely come to bear. That’s not to say the CPI is entirely without merit and therefore an exercise in futility: for all its shortcomings and the unrelenting barbs of cynical strictures, it has done precious much for the anti-corruption cause. But as a nation, we should be sober and rational enough not to take TI’s yearly pronouncements as unassailably factual. Since its methodology is admittedly far from scientific, we cannot discount altogether the possibility of flawed deduction.
WE CAN BENCHMARK AGAINST HONG KONG
In the 60s and 70s, corruption in Hong Kong, a latter-day Tiger economy, was invariably a way of life. Graftomania, if I may coin a word, was rife. For as long as one was able to oil a palm, they could get whatever they wanted and get away with any conceivable transgression against the law.
Ambulance crews demanded a “scratch on the back” to pick up the critically ailing. Even in the wards, the bed-ridden would not be attended to, let alone vouchsafed a glass of water, before they proffered forth a worthy inducement. Every public service – public housing, schooling, etc – was rendered subject to a kickback. All the while, law enforcement agents, themselves past masters in the art of corruption and the most unscrupulous in its execution, typically looked the other way thanks to “hush” retainers they routinely enjoyed at the hands of gamblers, drug pushers, and other nether elements of the Hong Kong Mafia.
Since government, itself choking with mindless aiders and abetters of graft, seemed powerless to arrest the problem, the citizenry decided to take matters into their own hands. They pressed incessantly for government to act promptly and decisively. Things came to a head when one Peter Godber, a Chief Police Superintendent who controlled assets of over HK$4.3 million, skipped the country whilst under investigation on June 8 1973. The public mounted a picket match on the government enclave and demanded that it accounts for Godber’s flight, who, it went without saying, was actually escorted out of the country on the wings of the high and mighty. That’s how the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) came into being, leading to the eventual extradition and incarceration of Godber.
Today, Hong Kong is one of the least corrupt countries in the world. It placed 16th on the 2015 CPI and the ICAC has been saluted by USAID as “an iconic and historic example, perhaps the most successful example of an anti-corruption agency”, a tribute our DCEC is light years from attaining to. Unlike the DCEC, which falls under the ambit of the presidency, the ICAC is entirely independent, and separated, from any department of government, including the police. The dissimilitude between the two agencies in this regard is ironic considering that Graham Stockwell, the pioneer head of the DCEC, was recruited from ICAC and may in all likelihood have vainly pitched a similar setup.
Hong Kong has been able to wage a most illustrious war against corruption primarily because there, the burden of proof of corruption rests on the suspect and not the policing or prosecuting authorities. If, for instance, you are living a lavish lifestyle or you own property that do not equate with what your average income would ordinarily permit, you have to produce tangible proof that you legally earned the wherewithal that made possible such a lush standard of living, failure to which you are automatically guilty of corruption and a long stint in prison beckons.
The appropriate institutions of the Government of Botswana are enjoined to pluck a leaf or two from the graft-busting ways of the “Pearl of the Orient”.
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