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THE RACE TO 2019 HAS BEGUN: GERRYMANDERING COULD MANIFEST ITSELF IN MANY FORMS?

This is a word I have learnt recently after BDP Gaborone region proposal to increase our constituencies from the current 57 to 120 for the 2019 elections. I then found out what gerrymandering was; it is a practice that attempts to establish political advantage for a particular party by manipulating district boundaries to create partisan advantaged constituencies as typified by the illustration in the borrowed picture above.

The word was created in reaction to redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under the then governor Elbridge Gerry in the early 1800s.  Many political commentators have branded the proposal by BDP functionaries to increase constituencies for the 2019 elections as gerrymandering.  This is considered to be so because such proposal was made before by the opposition in parliament and was decisively rejected on the basis that the economy could not afford it.

How can the economy afford it now when it is said to be in intensive care requiring a stimulus package (ESP) for its resuscitation; when we have been forced to tap into our foreign reserves to support our ailing economy?  If the proposal to increase constituencies were to be approved this would give credence to those suggesting that gerrymandering to keep the ruling party in perpetual power is indeed at play.

However, increasing constituencies in order to improve effectiveness of representation of the people is desirable as was previously proposed by the opposition provided that the economy can support it. It becomes devious if it is done for the purpose of gerrymandering. The nation is therefore fore warned; be alert and awake so that in the event that the proposal is accepted, effective systems to hinder and frustrate any gerrymandering are devised by you through your representatives and civic organisations.
What else could be considered to be ‘gerrymandering’?

This intriguing gerrymandering word got my mind working. I started thinking maybe they could be other areas where gerrymandering could be at play in our country. They could be many things that are being done in this country that are similar in nature to gerrymandering and maybe we should find local names for them to. These are things or programs done for political expediency whose only aim is to shift political boundaries in the land by using public resources to manipulate people’s minds and emotions in a way that unfairly favours one party over the other. We therefore as a nation need more than ever to deeply scrutinise certain programs that seem illogical to many people but are being done and supported by seemingly knowledgeable and sane people.

Please allow me to think aloud. I can see a number of seemingly ‘gerrymandered’ programs in our country.  You will find appropriate names for these if you so wish, but for me they smell like gerrymandering dressed differently.

ESP

The way the ESP I mentioned earlier was announced and is being implemented brings a lot of doubt on whether this is a genuine attempt to stimulate the economy or whether it is a package meant to lineup pockets of some partisan functionaries and consequently their political party  to  create financial advantage over other parties? Elections are very expensive, so creating a scheme that will financial benefit party functionaries and the party will help with campaigns and possibly to buy votes especially from the poor and disadvantaged.  We understand that over a billion pula was spent even before the package was endorsed by parliament. How and when were these tenders prepared and adjudicated? Who won these tenders? Was a transparent and auditable process used?

The nation in a strange way was told to register companies in order to benefit from ESP. One wonders how one registers a company for ESP? What expertise is required for one to register such a company and for one to successfully execute an ESP project?  Should we not have rather encouraged already established and experienced companies to get ready by identifying and training Batswana for execution of these projects? We heard from a very senior party functionary through a leaked tape how tenders are created and won in this country for the ruling party supporters through tenderpreneuring.

Tenderpreneurs do not have to have any skill; they only need the political connection; they add no value to our economy. They are given tenders which tenders are implemented by others and a sizable cut from those tenders lines the pockets of these tenderpreneurs. Is this not gerrymandering dressed in public financial manipulations whose aim is to change people’s psychological boundaries to create partisan advantages?
 

Unprecedented Presidential visits to rural areas and showering the poor with gifts and?

It is a known fact that poor people are easily manipulated by simple gestures from authorities. Visiting poor people and talking to them as the president does so often is a good thing, if it is meant to hear concerns and developmental needs of these people but giving them presents is a sure sign of buying loyalty and keeping the poor poorer. These people can be the most loyal people you can come across and are always looking for something, anything from their leaders and giving them presents will surely win their hearts and loyalty. Leaders can easily manipulate them by cheap politics that does not add any value to their lives.

On the other hand, leaders who want to make a difference to the lives of the poor people do not give them soup and gifts, they build clinics, schools, roads and provide employment that pays at least a living wage; the elderly are given living allowances, food baskets and cared for not only by the family members but by the community and the country. These people have done their part for the country and it the time for the country to give back to these people who are now physically and emotionally unable to support themselves.

I often wonder where the blankets that the president doles out during his many visits come from. Do they belong to the country or do they come from the president personal resources? Or are they gifts from foreign companies or those tenderpreneurs? These are just innocent questions that the nation needs to ask unequivocally and wonder if this is not another form of gerrymandering; shifting political boundaries by buying people with gifts they do not deserve or need?
Ipelegeng

The way ipelegeng is conducted leaves a lot to be desired. It is not the ipelegeng that was originally envisaged by the founding father of this republic. Ipelegeng was a self help scheme meant to allow local communities to help the government with short to long term projects that benefited the community directly. Projects like building local roads, classrooms, dams, staff houses; contribution to building the University of Botswana was a typical ipelegeng project that current generations and generations to come will continue to benefit from.

Ipelegeng of today is about spending long hours under shades of trees chatting. Go around Gaborone and see these people at work and see what they actually achieve in a day. To me this is just a way of saying to these people we do not have jobs for you but we shall pay you P400 for registering in this ipelegeng because we care for you, you do not have to achieve anything. This also creates a lazy mentality that will become difficult to shake off.  Why can’t they create permanent jobs for cleaning town roads, like it is done throughout the world?

If you go around Mogoditshane village almost every yard in some streets is a brick yard owned by foreigners. Therefore brick molding is a growing profitable business that requires low level skills as evidenced by these many busy informal brick yards. This is an area that will continue to grow as Gaborone and surrounding areas continue to build new houses and infrastructure. Why can’t government use this ipelegeng money to set up proper brick yards and a support structure in areas such as Mogoditshane and get these people to mold bricks for sale and pay them decent wages instead of gerrymandering with ipelegeng program?

What else?

I am sure there are many other areas where gerrymandering is done in our country. The people need to understand these things so that the perpetuators could be appropriately punished at the polls. The people must know that the government owns no money; the government does not own any resources in this country. The money the country has and the resources that have been bestowed upon us belong to the people of this country equally.  The government role is to manage the financial and natural resources on our behalf; provide and facilitate the provision of all the services needed by the people.

The government is duty bound to ensure that we have adequate roads, adequate transportation and communication systems; adequate health care systems; adequate food; electricity, gas and water; adequate educational facilities and programs; must ensure that people are meaningfully employed to contribute to the growth of their economy; must ensure that we are well represented internationally in order to benefit fully from the global village.

Conclusion

I want to conclude by  quoting from the bible, ‘’ if I give all I possess to the poor…, but do not have love, I gain nothing, love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth, it protects, always hopes and perseveres’’ Corinthians 13:3-7.

As a nation let us consider these words and apply them to our situations. Do we really love each other? Do our leaders really love the people or is it all about them using the people for their own selfish benefit?

The government role is not to go around giving gifts to the poor; they are organisations and charities that do that where there is need. The government role is to empower people so that they can create livelihoods for themselves.

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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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