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Newspapers: let’s break kola nut.

Compliments. Friends in the press  I write in the name of peace. I also  invite you to  break kola  nut as we introspect for the new year. As you know,  better than me,   the month  of January  is  known  for its slow news cycle. It  is no different this time round. Increasingly  the  competition  for   stories that  sell  is  becoming tighter. Newspapers  like other  media  outlets  involved in  news production  cannot  simply  decide  not  to publish  because  there  is no news.

If the news is not there,  well  it has to  be found. As  commercial  entities with overheads to meet  and profits  to  be generated  for proprietors the show  must  go on. More and more titles are   jostling for space  on newsstands.

At  the last count  Botswana boasted 14  privately owned papers, an impressive collection for  a population of  only two  million    in an expansive territory  where places of  human habitation  are  stretched  far  between.

Media historians record the  first English language title  to  appear on a regular basis, at  least  in the contemporary era  beginning in the eighties was  The   Examiner  in 1982, followed by The Guardian, 1983, then Mmegi a year later  in its third reincarnation having made previous forays in 1967 and 1971 respectively. The Gazette was also to announce its arrival in 1984. It cannot be coincidence  that the publishing explosion of the eighties corresponded with the country’s nascent economic boom which brought concomitant  literacy  rates and  a cosmopolitan culture. This after all  was the beginning of  the middle class and we know the  majority of  newspaper consumers belong in this  category.

The political economy  of commercial media  is dictated by constitutional liberties  and  a thriving  middle class. Any need for testimony that BDP  policies  have spawned  a burgeoning middle class  in  the thirty odd years since The Examiner flew off the printing press takes just once glance  at the heaving newsstands. Ours  has been a glut  of  newspapers, some falling by the wayside, others  surviving  and more still  being  established. The  many titles  in existence  ensures  readers  enjoy an embarrassment  of riches  every  day in terms of content to choose from. Growth in this   sector has  brought  obvious  benefits to our  body politic.

For many  at personal level it has brought us the unbridled joy of the written word. It has not only created a home grown industry with opportunities for empowerment  but made us better informed about our neck of woods called Botswana. Our celebrities  and icons rejoice with us at the flip  of  a page. And no less  critically, as   in any  vibrant democracy  print media plays a crucial oversight function. 

Owing to the cautious editorial stance of the  only  government  paper which  keeps  a wide  berth  of  opinion,  investigation  and  sensation,  it has been left to  the  private titles  to expose  all  manner of  unsavoury  acts  that from time to time visit  us as a nation. Now the flipside. Though deserving of praise on certain scores,  the  press  has  not  altogether covered itself  in  glory.  For starters, because of  a spirit  which promotes fraternity  over  genuine rivalry,  newspapers have  tended to play the role of  their brother’ s keeper  where  some titles  have  been caught  wanting. 

This  has in turn created  a culture of impunity  in the ranks whereby  deficiencies which  end  up  short changing the reader by  undermining fundamental journalistic principles  are buried under the carpet.  Our  newspapers should recognise that  by virtue of acting as a watchdog over the powers that  be,  the same  obligation must extend  to  their fraternity. Unless the watchdog also watches the watchdog  standards of quality  and  accountability  will  remain  in question. Again, notwithstanding  pockets of  brilliance,  quality  of  reportage  and  content  is  one  area  where our   papers  still have their  work cut out. Although this is somewhat    mitigated  by professional  design and graphics  the heart of any  newspaper  is  content, especially  in  a cluttered  market that ours  is  becoming.

For instance when I was a legislator  I used to  bemoan the  practise  of  putting  junior reporters  on the   parliamentary  beat. In established  democracies  the  legislature is  covered by  seasoned  hands  who   have spent many suns studying the rules  and understanding  the  parlance   used  in the house.  Some  bills  and  draft policies are so  complex  as to  even  confuse  veteran legislators. Now what  more  of  junior reporters  who inadequacy forces to submit copy based  on the  best sound  bites  and other  histrionics  at the expense of  substance. Then there is  the developmental  question. I still don’t believe in a developing  society  the private press should adopt  an adversarial  stance  against  government.

Without suggesting  they transform into lapdogs  of  government,  the  private  press has  demonstrated a terrible aversion  to   playing  a developmental  role   with regards to disseminating  public policies  and  programmes. Here the impulse  seems to  be  to report  government  policies  in negative framing mediated by critical  voices. I remain  convinced  our  private  press can  balance its  watchdog, nay critical  role with  a parallel agenda that mobilises  citizens to take up  government  programmes  for  self- betterment. This  editorial bias actually   finds expression  in  the  number  of  pro  opposition columnists who outnumber   pro  government  voices in papers that are ostensibly non partisan. 

Though  not  yet proven but  featuring  on  the list of things  on which to introspect are  ominous whispers of  brown envelope journalism where  reporters are allegedly imbedded in  newsrooms  to serve certain   interest  groups   in exchange  for  under  the table monetary reward.  One  just hopes that  in  the quest  to  build  an ethical, credible  and  fair  newspapers, rumours of  brown envelope  journalism should dealt  with and  never become  par for the course  like in  certain countries.

As  they say  perceptions  sometimes  matter  more than  reality and here  I  refer to  the  widely held  view  within the BDP  that  the  print  press  is  pro opposition  and can  never say anything  positive  in favour of the  ruling  party. Our  activists complain that  problems afflicting  the opposition  are glossed over  and even  ignored.

Even  if   opposition  issues are reported  on  it is only  to  undermine  one  opposition party  against  another and this  is    because  the fraternity  itself   is divided into  sectarian  lines between the  opposition formations.  More discernible nowadays  is  how  newspaper sectarianism is playing out in  coverage of  trade union politics where one doesn’t  have to be a journalism professor to tell that something that goes beyond normal reporting is underway in the contestation for territory between BOFEPUSO and BOPEU.  It’ s  space  worth watching. As  for  the 2014 general elections the BDP bore the full brunt of  private  press fusillade in favour of UDC with BCP suffering serious collateral  damage. That blatant partisanship is however  not  a subject for today. Friends, as  we introspect  in this new year, these  are  but some of my possibly uneducated observations, limited by space,  over which I thought we  should  break  kola nut. Compliments!    

*Botsalo Ntuane is BDP Secretary General

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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