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There is more to culture than singing and dancing

There are some people who have reduced our Setswana Culture to mere singing and dancing. There is a lot we can learn from our heritage in order to build a better Botswana for the future generations.

Ours is a human centered culture, this means that whatever we do, human beings come first. We do not plan to do things in order to make profit or individual gains.

Our economic plans, political governance were always geared towards the interest of the community as a whole. Nobody was regarded as inferior or less privileged because the society was giving equal opportunities to all.

If for whatever reasons someone is found to be less fortunate either due to ill health or disability the society or community will come to his or her rescue and nobody will announce it at the top of his voice that so and so is poor and I have brought him or her out of poverty.

It is a taboo in Setswana culture to boast about your wealth. The wealth someone is having does not belong to him or her but to the clan. We speak about dikgomo tsa rona, dikgomo tsa gaetsho, Dikgomo tsoo rra Moenga kgotsa dikgomo tsoorra semangmang. This is the culture which makes every child in the family, clan, community, tribe or society to be equal because the wealth of the society belongs to all.

As Steve Biko said, in traditional African culture, there is no such thing as two friends. Conversation groups were more or less naturally determined by age and divisions of labor. Thus one would find all boys whose job was to look after cattle periodically meeting at a popular spot to engage in conversation about their cattle, girl friends, parents, heroes etc. All commonly shared their secrets, joys and woes. No one felt unnecessarily an intruder into someone’s business.

The curiosity manifested was welcome. It came out of desire to share. This pattern one would find in all age groups. House visiting was always a feature of the elderly people’s way of life. No reason was needed as a basis for visits. We did not need hired pastors or borra le bomma boipelego to visit the sick and the needy. It was all part of our deep concern for each other.

These are things never done in the westerners’ culture. A visitor to someone’s house, with the exception of friends, is always met with the question; “what can I do for you?” This attitude of viewing people as agents, for particular functions either to one’s disadvantage or advantage is foreign to us.

We are not a suspicious race. We believe in the inherent goodness of human beings. We regard our living together not as an unfortunate mishap warranting endless competition amongst us but as a deliberate act of God to make us a community of brothers and sisters jointly involved in the quest for a composite answer to the varied problems of life.

Hence in all we do we always place human beings first and hence all our action is usually joint community oriented action rather than the individualization which is the hallmark of the capitalist approach. We always refrain from using people as stepping stones.

Talking to each other is one of the central concepts of our culture. We talk to each other not for the sake of arriving at a particular conclusion but merely to enjoy the communication for its own sake and to learn from one another.

This talking to each other freely will erase suspicion from one another. Today you find people belonging to one organization, either a political party or church but not greeting each other when they meet in the streets, let alone talking to each other. You hear the secretary general of a particular party does not see eye to eye with the president of the party. This is not African and is evil to say the least. People see each other only in meetings or church gathering on Sundays.

African culture, our Setswana culture teaches us to communicate with one another and by so doing build trust and respect on each other. I don’t need to greet you when we meet only if I know you. Greetings, in our culture are the key to conversations.

When Batswana meet they greet each other and ask about relatives’ welfare, even about their cattle, sheep, and goats because in Setswana you cannot be well if your uncle or mother is not well, or if your animals are dying of drought. We believe in a holistic approach to life. Our Setswana culture must be reflected in all spheres of life i.e. in our politics, economic and social life. Batswana believe in consensus methods in dealing with national issues.

We debate issues politely, honestly with respect to each other until we reach an agreement. It is in the best interest of the majority that we agree. We don’t believe that everything discussed needs to be voted for. Voting is a foreign concept. In a world where money can buy anything most voters are being bought as one intelligent journalist put it, “under capitalism – democracy is on sale!”

Sometimes people vote without knowing why they are voting and who they are voting for, simply because they are given money or they are given alcohol. We no longer debate issues, because of lack of African culture in our politics, evil people are in governments in Africa while honest and intelligent people are left out of power.

In African culture a leader is prepared even before birth, groomed and nurtured to be a leader. This reminds me of the story I was told by Kgosi Mareko Mosielele of Bahurutshe on how he trained Kgosi Letsholathebe Moremi. Kgosi Letsholathebe II graduated with a degree but in accordance with our Setswana culture.

Batawana royal house found it fit to send Letsholathebe II for more studies at the Bahurutshe royal house. Anybody who knew Kgosi Letsholathebe II will agree with me that he was the best among the best when it comes to leadership qualities. He was a down to earth person but highly respected kgosi.

On several occasions, I met him in Gaborone when he was attending house of chiefs meetings and I being a student he will always say,” dumela morwa Moenga, you always remind me of your parents”. Somehow Kgosi knew my parents and respected them and I benefitted from that in a way.

The point I am making is that, a leader is trained to lead. It must be the people to decide who leads them, not money as it seems to be the case in our society now. Our culture also was reflected in our economic systems as Africans or Batswana.

We helped each other when it was ploughing season since we did not have tractors and used oxen for ploughing. Those who did not have oxen would just go and borrow from the neighbor, borrowing oxen, easily, as if borrowing a simple knife. That is African culture. What was important was assisting someone.

At the center of our culture is the human being. Whatever we do or plan to do is done in the best interest of the human being. Poverty is a foreign concept. As I said rich or poor we were always using oxen for ploughing. If you didn’t have milk to provide for your children you would just go and ask for dikgomo tsa mafisa. 

Our economy was not profit driven, unlike the western culture that places profit ahead of human beings, although they smartly refer to it as individual rights. The right of individuals to do whatever they want to do, even at the expense of other human beings.

This is why at the time of bo Sir Seretse khama & Sir Ketumile Masire we used to have price control department to ensure that prices were not set to exploit people. Goods and services shouldn’t be produced for the simple purpose of making money at the expense of the consumer.

As Steve Biko said,” we are tolerated because our cheap labor is needed. I will add,”also because our money is needed”. Biko is right to say that in rejecting the western values, therefore, we are rejecting those that are not only foreign to us but that seek to destroy the most cherished of our beliefs or that the corner stone of our society is man himself – not just his welfare, not his material well being but just man himself, with all his ramifications.

We must reject the power based society of the west that seems to be ever concerned with perfecting their technological know- how while losing out on their spiritual dimension. We believe that in the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be on this field of human relationship.

The great gift is not money, industrial or even a military look but the greatest gift to the world which can only come from Africa is to give the world a more human face. It is from this background that when we talk of our culture and how to preserve it we must know what we are talking about because it is the culture which will serve the world.

It seems in Botswana we are busy destroying our culture. Because if we are really serious about preserving our culture we must start with the teaching of our languages in schools, like Sekalaka, Seyei, Sesarwa and many more found in this country.

The good thing is that we are surrounded by countries where these languages are taught. We can easily take teachers & text books from Zimbabwe to teach Sekalaka, take teachers & textbooks from Namibia to teach senaro, Seyei, Sembukushu; take textbooks and teachers from South-Africa to teach seXhosa & Afrikaans. We can take teachers & text books from Zambia to teach Serotsi & Sesubiya.

In my view music, art and dancing are means to communicating in our culture and are not as central to our culture. At the center of our culture is the Human Being.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021


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:

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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.

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


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.

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