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BNYC SAGA: What DIS interference…

My name is Ishmael Metlha Mokwena, former Board Chairperson of the Botswana National Youth Council. I am not in the habit of throwing words around in the public discourse, but in the light of the current false accusations, I am compelled to react and may I please be allowed the space to do as thus. Last week in the Weekend Post there was a published story about a certain Mr. Goitse Mpolokang who was unfortunately indicating the imaginary as facts.

I am responding to such a story which directly and indirectly implicates me. To be implicated is not wrong but what is wrong is that truth has been bended to suit the individual in question. I seek not confrontation but only to lay bare the truth and to point out with due respect none truths in what Mr. Goitse Mpolokang has told the reporter.

I am also assuming in the same fold that it is possible that Mr. Mpolokang was misunderstood. He was indicating that during the time when his contract was terminated at the Botswana National Youth Council it was a result of the Botswana Democratic Party, the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services.  I seek below to point out that this is misinformation of the highest order.

Neither have I or to my knowledge any of my board members and or my staff members during my tenure at the BNYC been in contact with the DIS for any particular reason. The BNYC is purely a youth establishment which deals with District Youth Councils and affiliates.

BNYC is run by District Youth Councils and Affiliates. There is no BNYC without these structures and what people normally perceive as BNYC; being the head office or rather the head office building in Gaborone is merely a symbol of the greater self as it is powerless with all powers at the DYCs and the Affiliates.

Actually I have learnt during my tenure that the Affiliates committee can be stronger that the Board and may have more and direct access to the Minister and the Ministry with or without the Board. If the DIS has any interest maybe it had that interest in the Affiliates structure and I know for a fact that this is not the case.  Actually I have never thought the elder in Mr. Mpolokang will be capable of this misinformation for he knows better. He has had to deal with these misinformation himself.

It is utterly wrong and misleading for Mr. Goitse Mpolokang to loudly sell misinformation that the DIS played any hand at the BNYC. He says he was physically thrown out. Yes, he was helped out, but it was not the DIS who helped him out. I know it for a fact I was present in the office and was part of a team that asked a private security firm to assist him because he was refusing to leave the premises after his contract was terminated.

He wanted to hold meetings with staff, to create some form of a revolution, to be disorderly and create anarchy. It was my responsibility to protect the BNYC property, dignity, reputation and name including staff members who were scared at his abnormal behavior at that point in time.

He was scary, it is understandable as he had just lost a job but his behavior was scaring other staff members and I had to intervene. Importantly I also had to address staff members at Lady Masire Youth center within the next thirty minutes and did not have the luxury to live former employees in BNYC premises. Unfortunately.

Naturally so, we have been both as Board and my staff members during my tenure as BNYC Board chairperson been in contact with the BDP as it is not avoidable to not meet the Ministers and the President when you are BNYC board member or the Executive Director. We all know that in Botswana cabinet ministers are BDP members of parliament and so is the country president. 

The BNYC Executive Director reports to the Board and the Board is chaired by the Board chairperson, a position I held then. The Board through its Chairman reports to the Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture who is a political appointee as per the constitution of Botswana.

This political alignment has its onus with the ruling party and in this instance the BDP and so yes, the BDP as a ruling party has a say in the way the BNYC is run just like any other institution because the BDP is the ruling party and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it is wrong for Mr. Goitse Mpolokang to say the BNYC is a training ground for BDP cadres. Many young people sympathetic to opposition parties have been in leading BNYC structures. 

These young people sympathetic to the opposition have also had to report to BDP political appointees. I imagine he may not have to also look far  for various political affiliations some people held while still at BNYC, in case he still carries his wallet. Obviously he will following the recent court ruling in his favor.  It is only constitutional that the leading structures report to the minister and the minister is apolitical appointee.

This BDP relationship with the BNYC is not direct. It is through the fact that the BDP is the ruling party in government. BNYC does not report to Tsholetsa House, it reports to the Government through the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture as per its constitution and the presidential directive that founded it.

Mr. Goitse Mpolokang also says the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture interferes in the affairs of the BNYC. This is laughable, it is more like a former staff member of the Botswana National Sports Commission complaining that the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture interferes in the affairs of BNSC. 

The government can only not interfere in the affairs of Botswana Football Association, an affiliate of BNSC and related affiliates of BNSC or Youth Health Organisation, an affiliate of BNYC and related affiliates but surely the Ministry will interfere on and in BNSC and BNYC because they are more of Ministry units.

There is nothing wrong with the Ministry interfering to ensure that as the primary funder, its monies are used appropriately and in an accountable fashion for the mandate the money has been released and budgeted for. It is not a crime that the Ministry is a part of the BNYC because the BNYC itself is a part of the ministry as a product of a presidential directive and as beneficiary of government annual funding. The BNYC is funded through taxpayers’ money and the Minister responsible reports on behalf of the BNYC to cabinet whenever required by cabinet or the Minister of Finance.

It is therefore utterly regrettable that in celebrating his win at the courts of law from Justice Kebonang’s ruling, Mr. Mpolokang gets excited and starts castigating wrongly. He must just get his package quietly like everybody else who has won against the BNYC or indeed any other institution either because there was absolute wrong committed by the institution or fortunately for the applicant the representatives for the defendant failed to respond adequately as is the current case. I am not apologetic to have restructured the BNYC.

Some posts were really not necessary and were unnecessarily expensive to maintain yet no work to show for them.  I have had to cut them and I am happy about such a decision.
Save for the misinformation that Mr. Mpolokang gave in his celebratory mood, I wish him a merry Christmas and all necessary wisdom in his future endeavors.

Ishmael Metlha Mokwena is Former BNYC Chairperson

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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