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ARE WE ON THE VERGE OF TRUMPERICA?

Although not as enthralling as the 2008 Presidential campaign, the race to the White House always captures the world's imagination. That's not entirely surprising since whoever becomes the US President is widely considered to be the most powerful man in the world, if we set aside the Pope for a minute. It's 2016, and the race to the White House is on its final stretch.

I must say, personally, that I have been less than impressed with the current crop, maybe with the exception of Hillary Clinton. None of the candidates from both parties seems to wield enough clout to command the kind of global pandemonium that Barack Obama elicited when he decided to run two terms ago. But then again, Obama set the bar stratospherically high in terms of oratorical skill and charisma.

Anyway, here we are again. Like all campaigns, it started feverishly with a field of many. But this is a race of attrition, an unforgiving marathon that punishes those who dare run. And, as expected, one by one they've bitten the dust on this forbidding terrain. Even names like "Bush," names synonymous with the American Presidency, almost akin to dynastic political hegemony, have shrivelled as the months went by. Having said that, there's one candidate who has, against all odds and in baffling defiance of rhyme and reason, given this race a breath of fresh air and captivating interest.

The name is Donald Trump. Yup! That multi-billionaire with the funny hairdo famous for filing for bankruptcy! The Donald Trump campaign makes no sense at all. He is, against expectation, the Republican front runner by a stretch going into the primaries slated for February. Donal Trump is the proverbial cat among the pigeons, the spanner in the works. Here is a bigoted, racist, and misogynistic narcissist who just keeps getting more popular with each instance he puts his foot in his mouth! It defies all logic that a man who represents everything a President should not be is the leading candidate in a party that prides itself in its conservatism.

Trump is anything but conservative! He is so liberal he makes liberals look conservative! However, for all his ineptitude in following social convention and consistently violating public speaking protocol, Trump is an astute opportunist who is incredibly smart, recognizes his audiences, and plays to their ignorance – capitalizing on their anger, fears, and sense of victimization to further his political stature. No one does pandering like Trump does. It's classic, dictionary-definition demagoguery.

There's no comparison, of course, but this is exactly the kind of thing leaders like Hitler were so good at. They knew how to play to the crowd's emotion not intellect. His victimhood-peddling allows him to disguise hate and prejudice as hope and justice for poor, anxious Americans. It's still very unlikely Trump can win the general election.

But how many seriously thought he had any real shot at winning the primary, or even holding such a substantial, steadily increasing lead over fifteen of the GOP's supposedly best and brightest candidates for five straight months – in both national and state polling across the United States? I am still very skeptical about Trump going the distance, but I am cautiously skeptical: the more this man is attacked by liberals and the media, and the more he angers the mainstream with his outlandish statements, the more his lead grows. How that happens beats me! The more he plays the fool with his buffoonery, the more popular he seems to get! I must be missing something.

His audience thrives on the you-and-me-against-the-world rhetoric, and Jack and Jill seem to be giving it to them. We (the spectators and his supporters) are all Donald Trump's oxygen, and he knows it. In fact, so ridiculous is the "Trumpmania" that Trump himself recently quipped that if he were to shoot somebody on 5th Avenue he's pretty sure he'd lose no follower! What kind of leading Presidential candidate using a homicide example and doesn't get called out on it? Not only doesn't get called out on it, but nobody seems to be repulsed by it! Incredible! I'll bet my bottom dollar that if a Black man like Obama had said something similar, his campaign would have come to a grinding halt.

Some have pointed to Donald Trump's endurance at the top of the Republican primary polls as an indication that his various absurd and offensive comments have not done him damage. But I think they have done him real harm. This Trump support must be some kind of sick joke. Surely he's getting punked! Trump's racist proposals and rhetoric have solidified the GOP leadership against him and made it easier for other Republicans to argue that the man would be a disaster as the general election nominee against Hillary Clinton, an opponent who Republicans do not want to be President.

The primary process is a long slog that starts in February and ends with the convention in July, and unlike in previous contests where losing candidates have dropped out earlier than they needed to in deference to the clear winner, the other competitors will have little reason to cede the nomination to Mr Trump. If he thought standing on a debate stage for three hours was hard, wait until he has to endure that slog. Numbers don't lie but they can be very misleading.

Trump is actually very unpopular nationally – one recent poll pegged his favourability/unfavourability split at 30% favourable/60% unfavourable – and it's hard to see how he would improve those numbers if nominated. He might be a formidable businessman who made himself a billionaire many times over, but the stubborn fact that won't go away and just might halt the Trump train, is the electorate's knowledge that Mr. Trump has zero experience in public service. Zero. Zilch. Nothing.

Trump has never held an elected position and, tellingly, America has never had a President who was totally inexperienced as far as public service was concerned and was a first time runner. Yes, there have been first time runners who went on to win the race, but those few were military men. Moreover, there is a sizable number of Americans who say they'll be embarrassed to have Trump as President.

There are even rumors that some top military generals and other senior defense officers at the Pentagon have vowed to resign should Trump ascend to the highest office and become Commander-in-Chief. One of the persistent questions of this election is whether Mrs Clinton can motivate lower-turnout, non-White voters to show up to the polls. The presence of Trump at the top of the ticket would be, for Clinton and the Democrats, the best motivator of all. The Republican Party faces a possible nightmare scenario with Trump as its nominee, with two possible outcomes – both of which are unappetizing.

The more likely possibility is that Trump could so offend the general public that the GOP would get a historic electoral drubbing to rival the 1964 defeat of Barry Goldwater, who carried only a handful of states and handed over super-majorities to Democrats in Congress and the Senate. Democrats are highly unlikely to win such super-majorities in 2016, but with the Republican ticket headed by a loudmouth bigot who is incapable of filtering his thoughts, they could certainly pick up seats in the House and re-take the Senate. But the other possible outcome is even worse for the GOP: Trump could win the presidency.

Horror! A recent Washington Post article about panic within the Republican establishment, made clear that there are leading figures in the party who are terrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency. “We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be President in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job,” one GOP strategist told the Post. “It’s not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally, but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes President?” Here is a Republican strategist having nightmares about a Republican candidate winning the White House! But what if he wins? I say America and rest of the world must then brace for Looney Tunes! I see Trump as akin to sending Yosemite Sam to the White House. He'll be the rootin'est, tootin'est, shootin'est gunslinger in the West! I don't see much difference in temperament between Trump and North Korea's Lil' Kim.

Trump has a right to harbor ambitions of the presidency, but he should just stick to tv shows and hotels. I'm not an American and cannot dictate to Americans who they should vote for, but Trump is not their man to "Make America Great Again." Uh-uh. No, sir. Should they err in that direction, a few years down the line, with a few humans and cockroaches left, I'll be writing this article about a "post-apocalyptic Trumperica," to use the words of the late night tv host, Larry Wilmore.

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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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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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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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