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Opinionistas: Give Khama and BDP Government credit

Towards the close of last year the pan African business writer, Joburg based Victor Kgomoeswana penned a widely published opinion piece titled ‘Botswana is underrated by its own people’. Of late the author’s indictment returns to my mind whenever something positive happens in our country and its chattering class simply ignore the event into oblivion.

The same opinion makers, or opinionistas, in contrast would be clambering out of the trenches  in full frontal attack  to amplify anything negative that can be used  to bash President Khama and his government.

Possibly  it could  be due to the fact that a sizeable  number of  our public  opinionistas, especially those contributing  in  media such as private newspapers and radio  seem  opposition  inclined  and  in their  universe it  is of  no benefit highlighting raising  any achievements  of  a government  they  oppose.

If  the government  wants  praise  then it should  get its own to do the job seems to be the thinking.  Admittedly it cannot be an altogether incorrect premise because the BDP certainly must mobilise its own to fight its own battles. It must inspire its own to write the good stories about its developmental track record and   the exceptional way in which it has led this country.

The world over  those  in power via democratic mandate treasure this rare privilege and  go out of their way  to  defend  their turf to retain voter confidence.  Failure to rise to the occasion  means the good stories will never be told as they should. Back to Kgomoeswana, what he noted in  the  piece, written after he attended  a  business seminar  in Gaborone  was the  negative energy radiated by the  people  he  met. As  a visitor  he was astonished by   the gravity of the despondency as viewed against a clearly functioning  country  which compared to many of its contemporaries  had and continues to do well even in difficult economic times.

Writing as a guest, Kgomoeswana  was  straining at the leash to be polite but  decoding between  his lines  one could not but  hear  him  concluding Batswana clearly don’t know a good  thing when they have it. In fact in his own words he says, ‘This is our undoing as Africans. Even when we have things going for us, we find a way to unravel a good gig’.   Kgomoeswana hit bull’s eye.

We  have  heard similar sentiments  expressed  by  other foreigners especially from up north of this continent who cannot  comprehend what  the chronic whingeing and moaning is all about  when the people of this country have so much to be thankful for.  And by the way  these are educated expatriates  who have  studied and travelled the world  and therefore have  the benefit  of comparing and contrasting the good and the bad of their sojourns against certain of our opinionistas  who have never so much as stepped beyond our borders. 

Disturbingly when these  expatriates weigh  in  with  their informed views on  private  radio talk shows  they  are shouted  down  by local trolls and  told  to  solve  problems  in their own countries  before they opine on  matters domestic. This  intolerance  of  informed opinion by radio  trolls  is due to  confirmation bias   because the opinionistas want  to hear only  those voices  that  can  perpetuate  the  patently  false  narrative  that  things  in Botswana  are  not as good as they are.  

I am  not learned enough  to dissect this  pathology  of self-flagellation and lack of  confidence  in the  achievements of one’s  country. But  surely   clinical  psychologists  have a  name for it and  just   observing this  attitude  in  caustic full  flow is  depressing  enough.

At the forefront of   promoting  this collective  despondency  is  that vocal contingent of opinionistas  who enjoy some influence in shaping  public  opinion either through their  writings  or radio  commentary. Such is  the crushing weight  of  negativist  opinionistas   that  the brave who  try  to  stand up to them  are either  bullied  into silence or  coerced into  towing at least a neutral line. This country has  its challenges  that  are well documented  and which  need to  be  resolved.

But  we cannot  exist in perpetual despondency  by refusing to accept that  from time to time  things will not  work out in the  country. More than its  downsides  Botswana  has  recorded  huge  achievements and continues  to  deliver  essential  public  and social  services plus a myriad other benefits to  its   citizens  at levels unparalleled  by   our contemporaries. I  guess  each country has its own idiosyncrasies and in our case  it could  be  a self-loathing  to  recognise  the positive  in ourselves at  individual level which  then extends to  the nation. A French   minister  recently  mused that the French  people  are never happy  about anything. 

Could it  be  that  by our   whingeing,  with opinionistas  proudly conducting the choir,  we are moving towards the French mentality? I know  the  classical  counter  argument   by the self-same opinionistas  that  they are not   necessarily  negative but  simply  dishing out  a bit of tough love  because  they want their country to do better. Very  unconvincing I say. If that were the  case  I am  certain there  would  a semblance  of fairness in their commentary; credit  given when   due  and  constructive criticism  dispensed  as  necessary.

Seldom  will  a listener  be treated  to a  radio talk  show topic  that  unpacks positive stories  about governance  and delivery. Standard  fare  on the airwaves and print media is  negativity  heaped on negativity  whose outcome  is  to  manufacture  a reality  much  exaggerated  from  what  actually  obtains on the  ground. 

As a people we must go easy  on this  negativity and also  reduce toxicity in national discourse. As  leading  lights  of  our nation  it  cannot  be proper that  opinionistas contrive to foster negativity  as a national characteristic.

The  responsibility of  taking this  country to  even greater  heights is reposed  in every  single citizen but  this objective will remain  a pipe  dream if we turn  negativity  and whingeing into  a national pastime. So, opinionistas perhaps a first step towards positivism is to bring balance  by remaining  critical of us but where it is deserved to give President Khama  and the BDP government some credit for work well done.                 

*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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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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