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Khama clocks 42 BDP activities…Opposition in disarray

It is a Friday afternoon as I write this intervention and we have just emerged from an assembly for BDP elected representatives. From all over the country most of our forty one legislators including cabinet ministers and 430 councillors had converged for the third team building session since 2015. The just  ended  gathering  follows on  the inaugural   gathering first  held in Palapye  and  the second  in Gaborone  last  year.

Pardon the cliché, but it  goes without saying  that  the  whole exercise  was  a  big success  not only in terms of  the  topics  presented for discussion but   also in its goal  of   strengthening    unity  and fostering a spirit  of camaraderie  within the  ranks  of  BDP public officials   mandated   with  the  task  of  delivering  the  national  development  agenda   to Batswana. The interactive  and  quite lively sessions   were designed to ensure  that within the  limited time,   as  many   participants as  possible  could make  a  contribution. All this with  the  overall  objective  of  placing  the  BDP  in  a position to   mount  a full frontal  assault  on  retention  of  government  in 2019.

The  Mahalapye  meeting is  part of  a  series of  activities  organised to  re-energise the BDP and  its structures at  all levels  well  in advance of the  forthcoming polls.  It  is  a matter  of   record  that   2014 yielded the  lowest  electoral returns in  the  history   of the  party  since  its  maiden success   back in 1965.  Despite this  underperformance, the  party  demonstrated  great  resilience  by coming through  as  the  single   most  popular  party  in the  elections at 47%  of the vote, notwithstanding  a  majority combined  opposition share  spread  across  different  parties. 

At  legislative  level, though  our   proportion of  seats was  enough  to  ensure a  healthy two thirds  majority which enables  us to  govern without encumbrance and in consonance with  the  manifesto and pledge card  we presented to the  electorate. No amount of  spin  on the part of our rivals  can negate the  fact  that  BDP  enjoys  legitimacy  in  office   as  the  single  party  that most voters  trusted over  any other. 

With  its undeniable  record  of  achievements  in governance,  societal  transformation   and  fulfilment  of  social  justice  to  the majority  of  our citizens, even in  a  most  difficult  election  which  was  fought  on unusual  dynamics,  voters  determined  they  could  not toss  the  party  out of office.  We  will remain eternally  grateful   for this   show  of  faith   on the  part of Batswana but  clearly  there  was a protest   vote  which explains   the gains  made  by the  opposition. It  is  this  voice of  protest and disaffection, within  our   party  and without  that  we  have started  responding  to. 

The gains of independence are too precious to be squandered on an opposition that lacks a tangible plan of what to do should power changes hands in our lifetime. More disturbing and becoming more pronounced is the rise of grievance politics within our polity which some want to utilise as a vehicle to state power.

A government worth its name cannot be run on the dividends of grievance politics.  What is needed are coherent and sustainable programmes to address the problems, real or imagined, facing this nation. With only the BDP possessing workable solutions the party must go to the country to defeat the triumph of grievance politics. Hence in a bid to  protect the gains of independence  and take the country forward, the BDP, led  its leader has embarked on  the most  astonishing  mobilisation  effort never before seen  in the  party  politics  of  our country.  

The  meeting  we  just  concluded   marks  number 41  in  activities  over  which the  party  president  has  presided since August 2015 soon after  the  new leadership was  elected at  the 36th national congress  in Mmadinare.  In  a space  of ten  months since President Khama  announced  his  programme  of  reinvigoration  of the  party,  he  has personally spearheaded  an average of four  activities  per  month. This   is alongside   the frenetic   schedule of kgotla engagements, walkabouts, community outreach initiatives   as well as matters of state and government.

Such a punishing itinerary is unprecedented  in scale  and  from a party  perspective  the  positive outcomes  are  becoming  more  discernible. We see structures awaking from inertia as they go about their organisational duties with motivation and pride. Instances of disunity are receding with   more emphasis on cohesion and finding   common purpose.  Most  evident  to the  public  are the  growing  numbers of  new   members  either from the  opposition  or previously  inactive. 

There is  a feel good spirit coursing   in the BDP  in the realisation  that  the  party  is close to turning the  corner  and  reclaiming  its undisputed   hegemony  in the  political  space. President Khama  is leading  from the front  and  activists  are responding   so well so much  so that talk of a change  of government  in 2019  should  be  considered  premature  and exaggerated. In contrast  a  survey  of the  opposition  ranks  throws  up scenes of  instability  and disorder. It is all in plain sight. Even sections of  the embedded private press cannot gloss over anymore the glaring fact that the largest  opposition formation,  the BMD  is  wracked  by  existential   infighting  stemming  from  the disputed  membership of a single individual.  Amidst  this  there is a campaign underway  to  call a special  congress at  which  the belligerent factions  will  face their political  high noon. 

Whereas President Khama  is resolutely  criss-crossing  the country  revitalising the  BDP  and urging  all democrats  to embrace  one another and focus  on doing the best  for the country,  leaders of the warring  BMD factions  have embarked  on a  separate and acrimonious tours   to widen  the fissures  with  reports  of  near  violence  reported  at some  meetings. It seems set to get worse before it gets better, if it ever does. 

On the part of  the BCP, the  party  is  grappling  with  the  prospect  of  a poster boy  of  its  brains trust  abandoning  ship  which precipitated a pre-emptive strike  to  suspend  the legislator Bagalatia Arone. As for the BNF  the  youth  league  just survived  an elective  congress that could possibly have  repercussions  for the  party  going  forward.

Then we have the genial grand old party of Botswana politics, the BPP bemused and not knowing what to make of a handful of new arrivals in its emaciated ranks. Indeed these are interesting times to behold in the politics of our country. As you flick through this newspaper, President Khama a day after the Mahalapye assembly addressed BDP meeting number 42 in the Gaborone Region  as  the  rebuilding  and reinvigoration  exercise continues apace towards 2019. A peek across the neighbours’ fence into the opposition yard reveals disarray and no word on the much vaunted opposition cooperation project. So much for talk of attaining state power in 2019.

*Botsalo Ntuane is BDP Secretary General                          

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Opinions

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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Opinions

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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Opinions

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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