October 17 was the 98th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in the former Soviet Union. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the Eastern bloc because of Stalinist degeneration this world-historic event continues to reverberate around the globe. For the first time in the history of humanity workers captured state power and created their own government which survived for 74 years. They demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that capitalism can be overthrown and replaced by a workers government. The October Revolution inspired millions of people across the globe.
For Lenin, as for Marx and Engels, a socialist revolution was essentially a world revolution because it was challenging capitalism which had established itself as a world system. The Russian revolution was a prelude to a socialist revolution in Europe until Joseph Stalin invented the reactionary formula of ‘socialism in one country’ which ultimately led to the collapse of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.
With socialism established as a world system, according to Karl Marx, only then ‘will human progress cease to resemble that hideous pagan idol, who would not drink nectar but from the skulls of the slain’. Whoever is mesmerized by superficial bourgeois progress forgets that such progress is not possible without dragging the vast majority of the people though blood and dirt, misery and degradation. Indeed it is like drinking nectar from the skulls of human beings.
The question is which progress do we recognize? The progress we recognize is best captured by the statement attributed to a certain British reporter for the Guardian; ‘If manure be suffered to be in idle heaps, it breeds stink and vermin. If properly defused it vivifies and fertilizes the soil’ . The wealth of the country is like manure. If it is concentrated in the hands of a few people ‘it breeds stink and vermin’ – passion killings, burglaries, street urchins, theft, corruption, etc but if it is ‘properly defused it vivifies and fertilizes’ the country by ensuring the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
Progress for us must mean adequate water, food, clothing and shelter for everyone. It must be a civilization which ensures that the benefits of modern science, arts and technology are enjoyed by the majority of the people without endangering the ability of future generations to meet their needs from the same environment. For that reason, the October Revolution continues to be celebrated by socialists and communists across the globe.
The inspiration from the October Revolution at the launch of the BNF is captured by none other than its founding philosopher-politician Dr Kennth Koma himself. In his seminal booklet, the Second Phase of the African Revolution has now Begun Dr Koma begins his analysis of the anti-colonial struggle in Africa, its disastrous failure and what needs to be done by casting his argument within a broader dialectical materialist perspective.
‘The original antithesis, the prime cause, of what is happening in the whole world today, is the challenge that the October Revolution in 1917 offered to the status quo of oppression in the world. The ideal to struggle for is no longer some imaginary golden age in the womb of the forgotten past. The ideal is not only realizable but also the Land of the Soviets became the torch-bearer of what social dreamers in past ages had fabricated in the fertility of their imaginations. The reverberations of the October Revolution never left the world ever since’.
The BNF National Democratic Revolution and its tactical position of the United Front made our struggle an integral part of the world revolutionary struggle against landlordism and imperialism. Both concepts of the National Democratic Revolution and the United Front have their genesis in Lenin’s thesis on the National and Colonial Question for the Second Congress of the Communist International in the 1920s. These strategic and tactical positions were geared towards forging the unity of the movements of the workers of all countries and the national movements of the colonies and semi-colonies around Soviet Russia and an alliance of all national liberation movements.
Given the revolutionary zeal and enthusiasm of the socialist founders of the BNF a socialist party should have emerged from the ranks of the BNF by now. It is little short of extraordinary that countries like the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, the kingdom of Swaziland, Mauritius, Ethiopia, Somalia, Benin, Angola, to name but a few, have communist parties while Botswana does not have one.
This year the 98th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia coincides with the golden jubilee of the BNF in Botswana. This is the opportune moment to pause and ask the question; why has a socialist or communist party eluded the BNF for so such a long time despite the big dreams of our founding fathers and mothers? And what are the implications for our struggle?
The advent of a socialist or communist party with its own national political newspaper would qualitatively transform Botswana’s political landscape beyond recognition. Botswana has many political parties but these are all petty-bourgeois political parties. The country has also witnessed a proliferation of private newspapers and some private radio stations but all them are part and parcel of the bourgeois press. None of them challenges the capitalist establishment.
They take it for granted and operate within its confines. The birth of a communist party would mean that for the first time workers would have a genuine and consistent spokesperson because a communist party is the advanced detachment of the working class that champions their cause. At a party level the formation of the piston engine of a socialist or communist party within the BNF providing ideological direction would put an end to the BNF’s stunted growth and ideological floundering and enable it to function like a proper united front.
In the absence of a revolutionary core the United Front, the BNF or even UDC has little or no capacity to deliver comprehensively and consistently on the democratic demands of the struggle.
The question of the quality of change we must expect if the UDC assumes state power in 2019 is best answered by none other than Dr Koma in his book, The Second Phase of the African Revolution has now Begun when asserts that,
‘’The Second Phase of the African Revolution, correctly understood is the National Democratic Revolution. The National Democratic Revolution cannot be carried out under the leadership of a mass organization, pure and simple. It can only be carried out by an alliance between mass organizations and a socialist party. The socialist party must provide the ideological leadership, otherwise the people sacrifice for nothing’.
The BNF or UDC lacks the piston engine of a socialist party that provides ideological direction and guarantees the realization of the demands of the Second Phase of the African Revolution or what is but the same thing, the National Democratic Revolution. Such is the influence of neo-liberal globalization today that the average BNF intellectual has somewhat grown rather weary or hostile to ideological questions required for the qualitative transformation of the Front.
The few revolutionary intellectuals who raise these issues are denigrated and demonized as being ‘anti-UDC’. Far be it from my thoughts to seek to pooh-pooh prospects of a UDC government in 2019. But the point must be emphatically made that in the absence of the piston engine of a socialist party within the BNF/UDC the much anticipated change will not go far enough in terms of liberating our people from the shackles of imperialism and remnants of the feudal mode of production. Strictly speaking, the current BNF is not a united front in the true sense of the word. It is more of a Stalinist class collaborationist popular front where workers are placed under the compromising leadership of the so-called ‘revolutionary’ petty-bourgeoisie in an anti-Leninist fashion. Not even the multi-organizational United Front Dr Koma dreamt about at the BNF congress of 1988 has materialized.
Successful National Democratic Revolutions in China and Vietnam were ‘an alliance between mass organizations and a socialist party’. The Russian revolution demonstrated the ‘continuous’ nature of the democratic and social demands of the revolution. In Vietnam the Viet Nam Communist Party enjoyed the organizational and ideological autonomy to provide leadership of mass organizations such as the Red Workers Association, Red Peasants’ Association, Communist Youth League, Women’s Association for Liberation and the Red Relief Society. This United Front was set up after the establishment of the Viet Nam Communist Party. A similar situation prevailed under Mao Tse Tung in China.
In Cuba although the first steps towards the unity of non-revolutionary forces or mass organizations dated back to 1957 Fidel Castro concentrated on building his socialist July 26 Movement first. This he did to avoid finding himself ‘in bad company’ or trailing after capitalist forces. Only in 1961 after the socialist July 26 Movement had established itself as a considerable force and its strategy for the struggle had been tested in practice as a decisive political force in Cuban society did Castro turn his attention to achieving broader unity or a united front. In his book, History Will Absolve Me, Castro explained his position ;
‘…at that moment (before 1961) it was a thousand times better to stand alone than in bad company. Why is it that back when there were just 120 of us in arms, we weren’t interested in broad unity with all the organizations in exile, while later, when we numbered in the thousands, we were interested in that broad unity? The answer is simple: when there were just 120 of us, unity would have meant a clear-cut majority for conservative and reactionary elements or representatives of interests that were not revolutionary, even though they opposed Batista. We would have been a tiny force in such a union’.
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