Following the SONA week with the much talked about ESP that left more questions than answers; the tragic week that saw seven of our young lives lost in an unfortunate truck accident and many injured leaving the parents and the nation critically wounded and heart broken. This incident has shown us the best and worst of our people. May the souls of these young lives rest in peace and may Batswana be comforted in the knowledge that we are largely a caring nation and may the culprits be hunted down to face the full might of the law. This was an aside. Today I want to visit 2008 when the president gave us an inspiring roadmap for his presidency.
During his inauguration in 2008, the president presented a roadmap in which he articulated four Ds (Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline) that would define his presidency. We were excited as Batswana that here comes a president who saw the need for our Democracy to be improved and modernised; who saw the need for our Development to be accelerated to give all our people a more Dignified standard of living and who saw the need to improve Discipline nationally in order to support the pillars that would anchor his roadmap. He later realised that a Delivery vehicle was required and fittingly crowned his Ds with a fifth D which he aptly termed Delivery. This roadmap was going to leave a lasting legacy that posterity would cherish and build on. We believed that the president was on a mission to take Botswana to a new destination where our country would assume a significantly new and vibrant shape. We believed that the ‘savior’ had arrived and he was going to place Botswana in its rightful place globally. I think the time has arrived for us to evaluate where we are on this roadmap and demand feedback. I will start with Democracy and the rest will follow in subsequent submissions.
I believe when a Motswana talks of Democracy, he or she is talking of ‘a government of the people, by the people and for the people’. If I am not mistaken, the president is on record describing democracy in the same manner. This is a definition that was coined many years ago by the then American president Abraham Lincoln which definition has largely been universally embraced including by our own people. So when the president included Democracy as one of his first key deliverable, he must have been concerned about the state of our democracy and was planning to meaningfully enhance it. He was not talking about maintaining the status quo or weakening the already weak Democracy he inherited. So what has the president done to enhance Democracy in our country? I believe there are many opportunities and areas where he could have made significant improvements, but we still await his interventions more than seven years later.
The Democracy we currently practice is a watered and weathered down version of democracy which means a form of government, where a constitution guarantees basic personal and political rights, fair and free elections and independent courts of law. Many people would argue that we barely meet this basic and narrow definition of Democracy, hence the excitement generated by the inclusion of this D in the roadmap as his number one priority.
What then are our expectations as Batswana? Maybe we can answer this by asking another question. What are the ingredients of the democracy that we aspire for, the democracy that was aptly defined by Abraham Lincoln as ‘a government of the people, by the people, for the people’? What are the critical success factors?
There are many areas that the president should have attempted to address on the Democracy lane of his road map. I will highlight these ingredients by posing questions that the president should have answered during his two terms. I will also briefly mention some possible interventions that could have been adopted in an attempt to enhance our democracy.
EQUAL ACCESS TO INFORMATION BY THE ELECTORATE
How can it be ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’, when access to information is limited and biased in favour of one party? The people must not only be allowed to vote, but must be given information that would allow them to choose their representatives wisely. All the political parties and their candidates must be given equal exposure by the national electoral process including public broadcasting. BTV, Radio Botswana and the Daily News which are national assets run and maintained by the tax payer must be availed to all political parties in equal measures for them to reach the electorate equally. These media outlets belong to all the people of Botswana. Therefore all these facilities must be used equally by all Batswana especially during elections. The president has done nothing to ensure equal access to the public media by all the political parties. If anything he has somehow made it even more difficult for the opposition parties to access the public media because he is always given lengthy and unqualified coverage thus denying others access. A recent glaring example was the state of the nation address that was covered live by both BTV & Radio Botswana and then repeated over time on the same stations. When the leader of opposition was responding officially to the same address in parliament, BTV and Radio Botswana were no where to be found. Only a handful of people who found seats at the parliamentary gallery could listen to the leader of opposition live. Some people were rudely kicked out as there were no seats available accept for elders from the ruling party… true, no exaggeration! They were not even allowed to listen from outside because no provision was made for the public. This is our sick democracy, where people are only shown one side of the political coin and the president ought to intervene and have this corrected.
REGISTRATION AND THE VOTING PROCESS
How can it be ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’ when only less than 50% of the people bother to register for elections and only about 80 % of those who bother to register actually vote? Can this be true democracy when only about 35% (700 000 people out of a population over two millions) of the population participates in the elections? This is an area where the president would have looked at closely to find ways to make registration and the voting process easier to encourage more people not only to register but also to vote. The opportunity is available. Technology is glaringly available to make the process easier and friendlier. It is not rocket science anymore; it only requires political will and the word from the president for it to happen. Many countries including developing countries like ours have better systems to encourage registration and voting. In some countries it is even illegal not to vote because they know that it is through voting that true democracy can be entrenched.
How can it be ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’ when 47 % of the popular vote yields a majority of 65 % of seats in parliament? This looks like government by the minority. Therefore, there is a definite need for improvement. The current system denies the electorate fair representation in parliament as it can and has yielded a government that is not reflective of the will of the majority. This therefore cannot be ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’. It is a minority government. Many progressive democracies have adopted a form of proportional representation which enhances representation across not only political party lines but also different interest and minority groups. The president ought to do something to improve the current undemocratic practice that has produced a minority government in our country for the first time in our history.
PUBLIC FUNDING OF DEMOCRACY
How do you achieve ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’, when the ruling party is allowed to use public funds for electioneering and the opposition parties have to use their own personal resources for the same? This obviously makes it extremely difficult for the opposition to reach the electorate, giving the ruling party an unfair and unjustified advantage. Political funding is a common phenomenon in most democracies including our neigbours. The president as part of his desire to enhance democracy should have introduced political party funding. Democracy is a commodity that should be publicly funded and nurtured as it is the only viable vehicle that will allow all citizens to participate in the development of their country through their representatives. The president has an obligation and opportunity to make a significant mark in enhancing our democracy by allowing political party funding. He still has a chance to do this before the end of his term.
THE PRESIDENT MUST BE ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE
How can it be ‘a government of the people by the people for the people’, when the president is not elected by the people directly? Why should we not allow the people to choose their president like they do in other developed and developing democracies? When democracy is a key component of his roadmap, election of the president by the people would have been an obvious and glaring area that should have stood up for improvement.
THE PRESIDENT MUST ATTEND PARLIAMENT
The president does not attend parliament to listen to debates and concerns from the people’s representatives. In a democratic dispensation he is duty bound to attend and listen and answer questions. He needs to hear the concerns of all the people regardless of party affiliation in order to formulate and design appropriate polices and programs for the entire country. Parliament is where development policies and laws are made. How does he influence that if he does not attend the very institution that he should head and guide, the institution not only charged with making laws but development of the country? If the president respects the voice of the people, he should attend parliament, others he will be assumed to be an autocratic leader who rules alone.
It is very clear that our democracy is sick and weak as correctly identified by the president during his inauguration. This is true despite the international accolades that we are a shining example of democracy in Africa. These accolades are seemingly politically motivated and those responsible for these accolades must own up and tell us the real truth. The president still has up to 2018 to make some improvements. Maybe he is waiting for the right time to make some far reaching amendments that will shake and humble his opponents. The president however, owes Batswana an update on this roadmap before Batswana make their own uninformed conclusions.
Bernard Busani E mail; HYPERLINK "mailto:email@example.com" firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel; 71751440
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