The first session of the 11th Parliament closed its winter meeting on Friday 7th August 2015 on a rather infamous mode. Never before have we had the house varying its sitting hours twice in a single sitting. One wonders if this might be some paranoia warning us of what to expect in the twilight of President Ian Khama’s administration. Either way, the writing is on the wall. The Executive peremptorily undermines parliament.
Our immediate task is to address this enigma. The concern of most democracies in the contemporary world is to deepen and modernize parliamentary culture to better serve our peoples. Not the other way round. For instance, parliamentary debates worldwide are conducted through laid down rules, neatly codified into Standing Orders (SO). These rules are meant to guide parliamentary business; set out its purpose; and spell-out the responsibilities of members of parliament.
In our case, these rules are extremely manipulated to serve partisan interests. Debates are so strictly controlled and dreary. It has become a sectarian bigotry which the Khama regime mistakes for wisdom and virtue. Worse still, Ministers view questions from ordinary members with a great deal of contempt.
Rising to speak is heavily abused by the speakership under a pretext of observance of Catch the Speakers eye rule. When a member rise to complain about the process, s/he is directed to the Speaker’s Office about a matter that concerns the same office. Clear prejudice. An epitome of a government gone wild. Authoritarianism if you like.
The same speakership prepares the Order Paper or a list of issues to be discussed on a given day.
Back to the ghastly experiences of Friday 7th. I woke up to this day in full spirit, with one thing in mind. To ensure I speak without fail because this was the last day of session of parliament. The Order Paper was so conveniently crafted to fit the purpose.
The instructions were clear: circumvent debate and move for adoption of the Bill before 1230hrs. Coincidently, I fell victim of this evil BDP machinations. In the silence of my conscience, many questions emerged. But at the end, I put all the blame on the failure of the BCP and UDC to see the bigger picture. We can’t afford the denial anymore.
On a normal Friday, private members’ business takes precedence and often includes: (1) Ordinary Questions (2) Minister’s Question Time (3) motions and Bills. In the event, no such business exists, government business then straight away ensues.
On Friday 7th, it was not difficult to realize everything had been stage managed to serve some clandestine interests. It would appear the plan was to have the Deputy Speaker Hon Molatlhegi, who is famous for his tough stance on opposition members, start the proceedings of the day.
And allow the Speaker, Hon Gladys Kokorwe, a moderate who turned radical on the day, to come later when the mission to whip opposition members into line would have been accomplished. Coincidently, the covert plan worked as hatched.
Not even strong resistance from the opposition bench would convince the speakership otherwise. The questions because they often last for a short span of 45 minutes were allowed to pass without any hurdle. The stage was reduced to a crude comedy during Minister’s question time.
Instead of the usual two, the Order Paper had only one slot marked for the Minister in the Presidency Hon Molale, a candidate in an ongoing bye-election who had resigned from his parliamentary seat as a consequence, strangely enough, to contest for another parliamentary seat. I am sure this is a puzzle that can only be expounded by Molale himself. Because even members of his cabal are clueless about what is going on.
The speakership could not even explain how it gotten Molale into the programme when they knew he was buzy addressing kgotla meetings in Borolong. His assistant Hon Makgalemele only resurfaced later after making clear this item on the Order Paper had passed.
As if this was not enough, more drama ensued with respect to private members’ motions. Guess what! All the motions in the Order Paper was for Hon Moswaane who by this time was in Francistown. Protests from opposition bench did not sway the Speakership which was in no mood to betray the superiors.
It was the most perplexing enigma in my short stunt with parliament of Botswana. Who could have thought parliament can fight so hard just to have tax imposed on a chicken sale. By definition, as provided by Statistics Botswana, recognized widely and even by our very own Penal Code, the word livestock refers to, “All animals and birds kept or reared specifically for agricultural purposes including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, poultry, rabbits, and donkeys etc”.
Imagine, this entire conundrum was entertained just to perpetuate further onslaught on the already bruised poor Botswana farmer. We tried to oppose the Bill but our counterparts in the ruling party through the Minister of Finance, owing greatly to the superior numbers, outdid us.
The Minister was in moods to take ‘NO’ as an answer. This is the same Minister who like Hon Tshekedi Khama has no interest on debates whatsoever that touch on any other parliamentary matter except when his ministry is directly involved. And we had to rush to satisfy him and by extension his executive.
The debate is by law established to start at 0900hrs and end at 1230hrs. Realizing time would not allow the Minister to respond and see the Bill pass, the mother of the House Hon Venson-Moitoi, in an unexpected harsh, stood-up to vary the Order Paper to allow parliament to continue its business until 1300hrs.
Interestingly, by 1300hrs, the Minister of Finance had not spoken but the house had to adjourn. It was not long before the Vice President stood up and hurried to make further variations in the sitting hours, to extend with another 30 minutes to 1330hrs. It was so noisy that I didn’t hear the Speaker making a ruling. I would later learn through taking a perusal at the Hansard that Masisi’s request was also granted. Whether the Standing Orders allow or not is another issue!
But we are lucky, most of our past Speakers are still alive; Mr Ray Matlapeng Molomo, Mr Patrick Balopi and Dr Margaret Nnanyana Nasha. I am sure they can confirm that a Speaker cannot make a ruling while there are members of parliament on their feet.
This would be against the decorum of the house. S/he would first have to order them to sit down or order them out of the house before any ruling is made. But acting under pressure, the now electrified Hon Kokorwe would not even respect the decorum she is entrusted to safeguard by virtue of being a Speaker just because she wanted to beat the 1300hrs time and grant the Vice President his wish.
I mean why not respect the rules we set for ourselves, adjourn the house at agreed time and seize the opportunity to consult with the public just like it was done with the Land Policy.
Isn’t it logical that farmers ought to be consulted about their property because we are often told the BMC belongs to them? Who is fooling who? Will I be wrong to conclude that many farmers don’t even know the BMC exists as a cooperative that allegedly belongs to them? Important yet, they have made so many recommendations to the government wholly owned parastatal but to no avail.
At the heart of their argument has always been the low prices, which are discouraging sales to BMC. Yet the government is keen on imposing a tax claim (4%) in every livestock sold by farmers to respective business outlets. The idea is to exempt BMC from taxation and withhold 4 percent tax from farmer’s receipts and give directly to government as Income Tax.
Somebody must remind the Executive that the reason why BMC is continuously registering huge losses is not because of the 15% tax on BMC annual turnover that this Bill has just cancelled but the BMC monopoly position and its associated inefficiencies.
The truth is, the fundamental change that awaits the Beef industry which the BMC management knows, is for off-take and supply to increase, which in turn, requires the appropriate price incentives for farmers. Not piecemeal approaches where tax is transferred from the BMC to ordinary farmers.
Lifting the existing ban on live cattle exports is another option. Because the Beef Sector remains the only industry in Botswana where investors despite producing more than what can be consumed or processed are prohibited by an irrational monopoly to export their excess product. This goes against macro-economic common sense.
Removing BMC’s protection would force BMC to pay competitive regional export parity prices to farmers. In the long term, the BMC must operate at international levels of efficiency. Allowing competition, besides benefiting farmers, would force the necessary restructuring of the BMC.
Noah Salakae is Member of Parliament for Ghanzi North
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