A wind of change or shall I say a hurricane or typhoon is blowing across Zimbabwe whose epicentre are vendors, students, youths, the masses or lumpen proletariat. In the absence of a fractured opposition and a paralysed intelligentsia, they are now acting as the catalysts for change; the oppressed of the oppressed who have nothing to lose but their chains.
Even some of the diehard and unflinching supporters of ZANU PF now admit that change is inevitable, and it is only a matter of time before it comes. The wind of change is blowing across Zimbabwe precisely because the pain of remaining the same now outweighs the pain of change.
The regular collapse of the president in full view of the entire world is no longer a guarded secret; instead it is a portent that indicates the end of an old era is near. The sorcerers, witch doctors, magicians, spiritualists and pathologists alike may make their own predictions, but what is certain is that nature is going to take its own course, which blows out life like a candle at a predetermined time.
Even a meteor in the firmament will one day succumb to the force of gravity if it decomposes or loses its balance among other members of the solar system. This is the inescapable reality of life, and we must therefore work out how Zimbabwe is going to function in the aftermath of change. It is absolutely necessary to plan now because, if we don’t, Zimbabwe is likely to experience the same bad governance as the current one, and may even be plunged into a political cataclysm never before seen in our life time.
Myth of irreplaceability
The first thing-and I don’t want to beat about the bush by talking about constitutionalism or other “isms” that obfuscate the reality-is to start changing from the top. The myth that the current
Zimbabwean president is indispensable needs to be unmasked. For a long time some people have come to believe, and of course through sustained propaganda, that Zimbabwe cannot do without its current president. As a result, Zimbabwe has become synonymous with Mugabe who, in turn, has metaphorically recreated Zimbabwe in his own image. This has had a devastating effect on the image of the country which is seen globally as a rogue country ruled by what Winston Churchill used to call a “baptised tyrant”, when referring to Hitler.
The idea of an all-powerful president may have been intended for nation building; but as we all know, it is one of the major causes of Zimbabwe’s woes which has destroyed the core value of unity in diversity. The result is that an omnipotent president has eroded the trust of the people as he is generally seen as an abusive, oppressive and divisive head of state.
Here, one needs to note that the deification of the president has not only diminished the reverence of the people, but has also provoked their indignation over what they see as a systematic plundering of state resources by the president’s family, his retinue of relatives and by members of his inner circle. And to show their anger, many people frequently insult the president and are prepared to go to jail rather than acquiesce.
In the midst of all this, what is baffling is that in spite of his erudition, the president does not seem to have learned lessons from history that Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah, Guinea under Sekou Toure, Egypt under Abdel Nasser, Malawi under Kamuzu Banda, Zaire under Joseph Mobutu, Libya under Muammar Gaddafi and China under Mao Tse Tung decayed under their megalomaniac leadership.
The same history lessons also tell us that those countries in Africa and elsewhere that have done away with the hero worshipping of leaders have fared better in their social, economic and political development. A good example in Africa is Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, and now China, Ghana, Senegal and Mozambique which have been able to change their leaders smoothly, resulting in the attainment of greater peace and harmony.
In the case of Zimbabwe, it is sickening to hear that Mr Mugabe is the only person capable of running the country, even when he is in a wheel chair. It is well documented that Zimbabwe has a highly educated citizenry with abundant skills in the social, economic, political, legal, educational, medical, scientific, technical and administrative fields. Why should Zimbabwe fail to find a younger and more dynamic leader from its large intellectual reservoir?
The time has come for us to realise that it is better for the country to look forward to an attractive future than to cling on to the fading hope of the past. In fairness, and without running the risk of self-contradiction, the president may have done well in the initial stages but the weight of repression and ill-informed policies has scuppered all efforts towards prosperity. And the tragedy of it all is that for a long time our fickle and gullible world has been dazzled and bamboozled by Mr Mugabe’s bombast, rhetoric and heroics without scrutinising the regressive nature of his theatrics.
And if we take a closer look at Mr Mugabe’s ambition to be the “guardian” of African independence, we will see that it is just a façade: his pan-Africanist posturing is patently hollow, artificial and highly inflated because there is nothing to show for it. In his own country he has destroyed the very essence of sovereignty by running down what used to be a flourishing country. As a result, many Zimbabweans now see him as a turncoat whose noisy behaviour has ruined their jewel.
The ripple effect of his insensitivity to the needs of the people is that the vast majority of Zimbabweans are dangerously disillusioned because they are hungry, have no jobs and are without social security. Can one then proudly stand on a hill top and shout “Zimbabwe is truly independent” when up to five million of our citizens have fled the country to seek economic opportunity, self-fulfilment, freedom and liberty in other countries? Is this not worse than slavery? And does this not call for a change in the leadership to end the greatest betrayal of our people so that we can restore our dignity?
Establishment of democratic institutions
But let us not delude ourselves into thinking that having a new leader is going to bring about the desired change because transformation takes time, requires dedication and sacrifice. Yes we need a new leadership, but most importantly we need to effect structural changes in the body politic of the country so that we can give birth to genuine democracy.
The leadership we need, unlike the current one which is too far removed from our people, is the one with a clear vision for the country, the one with an antennae to feel what ordinary people like, the one which bonds with the people, the one that feels the pulse, hears and plays the tunes of the people and the one that loves its people. It should be characterised by a deep sense of empathy, patriotism, destiny and the willpower to take our country to greater heights.
Unfortunately, the present leadership is merely obsessed with power and self-enrichment. It has little to offer to the people, except to dribble them and make empty promises that are never fulfilled. The failures are there for everyone to see: a crumbling economy, spiralling unemployment, bankruptcy, a critical shortage of electricity, a divided nation drained of hope and above all, an inept leadership that is seized with self-destruction. The question is: for how long shall Zimbabweans continue to carry the cross for their crucifixion?
In seeking change, we need to caution ourselves that it would not be enough simply to make cosmetic changes without overhauling the institutions that make democracy more meaningful. If we change the head only, it would be like removing one masquerade and replacing it with another, which will maintain the status quo. We need to pay heed to what our elders say who warn us that when the stem of a tree decays, it spreads its rot to the roots and branches. And so we need to make radical changes in order to remove the decay that has for so long afflicted our country.
One of the most important institutions that needs to be democratised is the army and police force whose barbarism and savagery has traumatised many of our people (Ask Dumiso Dabengwa, Morgan Tsvangirai and many other Zimbabweans who have lived to tell the horrors of state sponsored brutality). Although this matter has been raised before, one needs to reiterate the fact that the appointment of generals, commissioners of police and other senior positions in the armed forces should not be done by the head of state but by an independent commission that interviews and recommends their appointment.
Similarly, the chief justice and judges of the high court should be appointed by an independent judicial commission that sits openly with an input from the public to interview potential candidates.
This will ensure that we will have an impartial judicial system that protects the rights of ordinary citizens and not simply those of a powerful clique.
From our past experience, we have seen that top civil servants such as permanent secretaries are appointed based on their political affiliation. This has been a monumental disaster. The unbridled corruption in many organs of the state and the dysfunctional quasi government organisations such as Air Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Railways, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, GMB, ZISCO, ZESA, ZUPCO, state universities and many other state controlled institutions is a direct result of appointing political stooges. Can you see why the wife of the president was awarded an “earned” PhD without going through the required rigours of research and publication?
To restore the dignity of our institutions, top government officers and all vice chancellors of state universities must be transparently appointed by adhering to the stipulated qualifications, rules and regulations. The public service commission must be transformed in order to restore its integrity. And universities and their councils must be led by visionary people who are prepared to make our institutions of higher learning the best in the region so that we can give innate hope and pride to our young people.
In hindsight, perhaps the much maligned Ian Douglas Smith, the last colonial prime minister of Rhodesia, was after all right when he emphasised “meritocracy” in appointing public servants. His only cardinal sin was that he was an unrepentant racial bigot who believed in white supremacy. But the same is true with the current regime that believes in the kleptomania of ZANU PF and its tribal bigotry. This must change in a post ZANU PF era if our country is to voyage with full sail into a stable future.
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.
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
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