How Behaviour on Botswana Roads is a Fair Reflexion of What Happens in Our Society
Many things happen in public roads in Botswana that provide a good reflection of what is happening in society at large. The state of our society, especially as reflected by the negative characteristics that generate topics of discussion in many fora, is a major source of worry for many people in the country.
In recent months many fora have discussed the deteriorating behaviour and social trends in the country, especially as reflected in the behaviour of the youth, but not by all means confined to that important section of our society.
Just to name a few worrying things that generate a lot of discussion: lack of respect by the young for adults such as failure to greet adults and exhibitions of amorous behaviour in public, drinking of alcohol by the under-aged, irresponsible drinking by the older ones, other substance abuse by both groups, sexual activity resulting in teenage pregnancy and dropping out of school which is a sign of early sexual debut and the widespread indulgence in unprotected sex, a tendency to vandalize public property etc.
On another front, there is the poor work ethic that compounds the lack of jobs, and there are general signs of irresponsible behaviour, including small things like urinating in public, deliberately littering in roads and other public places and vandalizing public/government property as happens in schools.
So, I thought I would take a slightly different direction in discussing these oft-discussed topics and tackle them from a different angle, just to get people thinking. My approach is to look at behaviour in our roads and to see to what extent such behaviour can be used as a proxy of what is happening in our society in general. In other words, is behaviour in our roads a good reflection of what is happening in our society in general? I will look at drivers, pedestrians, and indirect users of the roads such as cattle farmers.
Let us look at the drivers. There are many laws and rules that are daily flouted on our roads that the law enforcement agencies seem to have given up on. One needs to drive on any busy Gaborone road for only a few minutes to see i) drivers openly talking on their cell-phones, ii) children playing around in the cars or standing next to drivers without any restraining seat-belt or child seat, or iii) drivers nonchalantly driving through red lights; in fact when the traffic light turns green for you, you have to wait for a few seconds as several cars from the direction that has turned red will pass before you can go on.
Minibus and taxi drivers do fascinating things; they will either cut in front of you and then drive very slowly, or too fast! Weaving between lanes irrespective of how much the other drivers are being inconvenienced by having to slam on their brakes is very common as well, and this is universal, not just done by the taxis.
Many drive under the influence of alcohol- just look at the number of vehicles parked at bars and similar establishments and wonder where the drivers are. Even more interesting, if all those involved in accidents were to be breathalysed, we would get a much truer picture of the actual incidence of accidents caused driving under the influence, than currently when only those who are suspected are breathalysed.
Those in the alcohol industry should stop quoting current figures and then claiming that driving under the influence only accounts for a small percentage of accidents, because we cannot know the actual figure unless all those involved in accidents are breathalysed or tested.
Gaborone has the distinguishing feature of being the only city I have personally been to, (and I have been to virtually all the capital cities of SADC, and many in the rest of Africa and around the world) where a large number of traffic lights have simply been knocked down by motorists.
It is a character of drivers very typical of Botswana! In addition, our motorists will gladly drive through traffic circles and also knock down walls near such circles. One cannot help but sympathize with the University of Botswana authorities; their wall next to the traffic circle nearest to them (the UB circle as it is called), is routinely knocked down by motorists during weekends. It must be costing them a pile to keep repairing the wall; I notice nowadays they leave it unrepaired for long periods, one can’t blame them.
In the highways things are not any better- the Gaborone-Lobatse road is a case in point. Drivers do amazing things. The most common and irritating one is to go very slowly, sometimes as slow as 50KPH, and completely ignore the traffic jam they are causing.
This is despite the fact that the road has a shoulder in most parts where slow-moving drivers can drive and allow faster drivers to move on. At night, and this is in all the roads, drivers do not switch on lights long after sunset. Such cars are dangerous, one can hardly see them even when one has one’s own lights on. Recently a correspondent wrote to the press expressing disgust that the Gaborone-Lobatse segment of the A1 is not a dual carriageway.
I sympathize with him, but I also sympathize with the Government. The Government has to prioritize where to use our taxpayers’ money, and believe me, prioritization is a major problem. Do you want to dual this particular road while many roads are not even tarred at all?
At what point does the balance of priorities favour this one? Motorists are a major problem here, they could make the road much more tolerable, by driving professionally and being courteous to others, and where there is a shoulder, moving there and facilitating smoother traffic flow.
In our dual carriageways, there seems to be no rule regarding left and right lanes. It is not unusual to find a very slow-moving car in the right lane which is supposed to be the fast lane. Drivers seem to select the lanes randomly- the drive left and overtake right seems not to be operative at all.
So much for drivers, now for pedestrians. Pedestrians using zebra crossings can really be irritating. Many of them will make a driver stop and give way to let them cross, and then they will take a leisurely walk across the pedestrian crossing while the driver waits. In many cases, and this is common with Secondary School students, you can see they are doing it deliberately to annoy you the motorist, as they chat and laugh.
Pedestrians do other terrible things; they walk along the roads and deposit all sorts of nasty litter on the road. It is not unusual, especially during weekends, to find empty beer and other beverage bottles nicely put next to traffic lights. All other litter is thrown about the roads, such as empty take-away food cartons.
To be frank, motorists also contribute to the littering. I have followed and seen motorists and their passengers throwing all sorts of litter through windows onto the road, from beer and other beverage tins to all sorts of cartons. It is usually the young well-to-do; of course they are the ones who can afford to drive cars.
Finally, cattle owners. All the roads in Botswana have the problem of stray cattle, but the problem is particularly irritating in the A1, as it is our major road, and is most annoying in the Gaborone-Lobatse segment. The interesting thing with cattle on the roads is that the Government could do something about it but lacks the political will to do so. All that is needed is for cattle in gazetted roads and in towns to be impounded and be auctioned off in a week or so.
In addition, the charges for keeping impounded cattle (and other livestock) should be enough to be deterrent. The current charges are cheaper than engaging a herdman. Cattle owners actually let their animals roam the streets of Gaborone and other towns, and major roads like the A1, with impunity, because the charges are convenient.
So, going back to our original question, can all this behaviour outlined above be used to judge the extent of our social breakdown status, or anti-social behaviour? Let’s look at the various categories of behaviour described above, and see what they suggest in terms of negative behaviour:
Lawlessness and anarchy: The drivers in our roads obviously don’t care for the law- the use of cell phones, driving with unrestrained children in the cab, jumping red lights, driving under the influence etc. typify this. Knocking down traffic lights and driving into walls, especially under the influence of alcohol, would also fall under this category.
Lack of professionalism: Drivers on our roads don’t care to be courteous to other drivers- not allowing for faster flow of traffic by moving to shoulder, weaving in traffic between lanes or going very slowly in a fast (right) lane, all demonstrate this.
Lack of respect for older people and for others generally: Pedestrians contribute to negative behaviour. Strolling across pedestrian crossings is very discourteous, especially as it is done largely by young people. They also tend to do things like holding hands and behaving intimately in public roads.
Public disorderliness and lack of pride in one’s country or society: A good example of this is pedestrians placing beer and other beverage bottles on the roads, not uncommonly at traffic lights. The same applies to throwing other litter all over the roads. Motorists also do this, especially young drivers under the influence of alcohol, trying to demonstrate defiance.
A culture of entitlement: Livestock owners, especially cattle owners, demonstrate an unbelievable sense of entitlement by simply allowing their animals to roam in towns and road reserves. They say that these roads and towns are situated where their cattle posts used to be. In many cases this is not true.
Where it may be true, surely they know that there are always areas where livestock is not allowed. They actually open gates of the road reserve fence to let their animals in! So, all in all, our modernity is fostering many negative behaviours. Parents, adults and society in general seem to be unable to handle the attendant changes.
As I have said a few times before, the challenge is change management. Our society (led by various categories of leaders- traditional, political, public servants etc.) needs to manage these modernizing changes among the people of Botswana and minimize the negative behaviours, because the changes will come whether we want it or not.
While we may be able to resurrect some positive things from the past, we can never move our society back to what it was centuries or even decades ago. Being nostalgic about traditional or cultural practices whose time has passed will not help us in this particular challenge.
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