Exactly this time in July last year, I wrote an article titled “Zimbabwe: What are our options?” In the article I appealed to you, fellow citizens, to dig into your collective wisdom about the future of our country. I was humbled by your responses which ranged from extreme apathy, pessimism and despondency to militancy, hope and rebirth. From the myriad of responses, I got the feeling that paradise is not yet lost in spite of the sentiments of some of our compatriots who thought Zimbabwe had descended into purgatory.
But what is discomforting is that there seems to be a lack of commitment by some of our country’s leading voices to tackle the serious problems facing our country. In some cases, our inertia as a nation emanates from the fear of changing our failed political system because we are either cowards or we have surrendered to the top predators of the food chain who are hell bent on plundering our country, hoping that we shall eat the crumbs that fall from their dining table.
And worse still, we have betrayed our country since the dawn of our ‘independence’. We have betrayed our country in that we have lied, without shame, to ourselves and to our people that we can improve the quality of their lives by creating jobs and by ushering in hope, social justice and prosperity. We have lied to ourselves that we can transform our country from being a rodent economy to a thriving modern state, from inequality to equality, from injustice to justice and from despotism to democracy. Of late we have deceived our people by crafting a new constitution whose intent and spirit we are not prepared to implement because it prevents those of us who are privileged from plundering the wealth that God has given to all of us. This unabated chicanery is the greatest betrayal of our mother land.
We can quibble about who has betrayed our country the most, but the bottom line is that each one of us is guilty through either our silence in the face of an apparent collapse of our country or through our inability to work together, like a pride of lions, in order to bring down the charging buffalo. Those who do not want to accept self-criticism vicariously argue that the ruin of our country has been caused by ZANU PF and its long-serving chief executive officer. They wash their hands, like Pontius Pilate, and proclaim to the world that they have never been part of the rot. That is sheer hypocrisy because the ruin of our country would not have taken place had we not been complicit in its meltdown. We must accept the painful truth that, we Zimbabweans, through a combination of our cowardice and docility have allowed our country to be ruined. Today we have lost self-respect and are a laughing stock of the region and the continent. What practical steps have we taken to prevent our country from going down the drain? Where is our resistance and fighting spirit for which we are well known?
Yes, ZANU PF and its leadership have played a major role in destroying what used to be the jewel of Africa. Yes they have acted like a leopard which eats its own cubs. Yes they have destroyed our farming industry, our infrastructure and the industrial capacity of our country through their blind policies. Yes they have rigged the results of successive elections, and yes they have haemorrhaged the soul and spirit of our people. But we are equally guilty of allowing the rot to take place through our pusillanimity which makes us fear to take the slightest risk. What did we do to correct the situation? All we did was to cry foul or hide our heads in the sand, like an ostrich, pretending that everything is fine and that life will be better in the near future. In our meekness and timidity, we have said to ourselves that we should mind our own family affairs and not meddle in the political affairs of our country. Now we are paying the price because the centre can no longer hold. Who is to blame?
With all our exalted education, did we not see in advance the chicanery of the pied piper who promised milk and honey? Did we not see the thieving hand that pick-pocketed our inalienable human rights, our freedom and our democracy? It seems to me that our collective ‘innocence’ makes us guilty of betraying ourselves and our country. Admittedly, the degree of betrayal may have differed. Some of us may have been involved in a vertical, perpendicular, acute or horizontal betrayal, but that is neither here nor there. The difference is simply a geometrical calculation which attempts to measure our involvement but not to exonerate ourselves from collateral damage. Quite clearly, in one way or the other, we all share the same blame. But together we can regain our lost paradise if we answer, unequivocally, this simple question: When and how are we going to stop the decay of our country?
Perhaps at the centre of our problems is our haunted past. Since independence, we have never cast out the demons of our past by coming out into the open to admit that we have inflicted grievous harm to some of our fellow citizens and have gruesomely killed some of them. As we may be aware, in many human cultures, an innocent blood that is shed comes back to haunt you. We did not speak out openly, like South Africans did in their truth and reconciliation commission chaired by Bishop Tutu, about our dark past. And neither did we ask for forgiveness from those we humiliated, even if it was clear that we needed to do so. Like an unrepentant sinner, we did not seek reconciliation among ourselves but, instead, decided to move on as if nothing had happened. So, the restless spirit of those we wronged and those we killed in the past is now visiting our land, more especially that we have betrayed the ideals for which they died. Perhaps in their graves they are asking: Is this the Zimbabwe we died for?
And for a moment I want you to pause and imagine what our fallen heroes are thinking about us. What is Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningi Sithole, Leopold Takawira, Herbert Chitepo, Josiah Tongogara, Dr Edson Sithole, J. Z. Moyo, Lookout Masuku, Solomon Mujuru and the thousands of our people who died in Mozambique and Zambia in pursuit of our freedom saying about the current situation in Zimbabwe? Do you think they are happy? In their meetings in the world of the spirits, what are they saying about us? Don’t you think they are angry with us, not because we hurt or killed them, but because we have betrayed what they stood for?
The echo of our haunted past increases with greater resonance when we think about the thousands of our compatriots who were murdered in Matebeleland and the Midlands by the notorious gukurahundi as part of a power struggle and ethnic cleansing. Their lingering spirit, bludgeoned skulls and scattered bones stare at us demanding a simple answer to a simple question: Why did you kill us? Do we not need to appease their restless spirit so that we can reconcile ourselves with our sordid past?
What about the savage dispossession of our fellow white citizens of their farms? Although it is indisputable that we needed to redress the injustices of the past, did we need to brutalise the powerless minority in order to bring about justice? Did we need to punish them because of their whiteness and the sins committed by their fathers? Did we need to repeat history by dispossessing the white minority like the fascist Hitler regime did to the Jewish minority in Nazi Germany? Surely we had all the instruments of power to smoothly redistribute our farm land to the landless without destroying our thriving agriculture. What is our lasting solution?
Similarly, we are also haunted by the images of the houses that were callously demolished by those who were frightened of the burgeoning population in our urban areas. Those in power savagely hacked down the houses of the powerless under the pretext that their dwellings were illegally built. They ruined their lives by destroying the only assets they could bequeath to their children. They destroyed a whole generation of our people by inflicting on them an indelible pain. Can you visualise the image of that woman whose beautiful house was wrestled down by the bull dozers while she stood by watching helplessly and crying for divine intervention? Her permanent sorrow runs deep into our conscience. Has she, like many others who were similarly traumatised, pardoned those who inflicted pain on her?
What about the pain of those who lost overnight all their savings through a self-inflicted hyper- inflation? What do we say to those who died because they couldn’t pay their hospital bills; not because they didn’t have some money but because their money had suddenly become worthless due to the mismanagement of our economy? Is there any just compensation for those whose life insurance policies withered away because the Zimbabwean dollar irretrievably lost its value? The pain is too deep in our flesh. It is over here, it is over there in you and me. It cuts deep like a knife or a spear piercing into our heart, and it is so deep and excruciating that we cannot pretend our nation is not hurt. Therefore, in order for us to march into the future confidently, we need a healing process which deals with our turbulent past. The current battle with the street vendors who are trying to survive by selling small items on our streets is yet another pain being inflicted on an already bleeding nation. But there is an irrepressible inner voice which continues to ask: When and how are we going to put to an end all this suffering?
Yet, in spite of the pain and suffering our people are going through, one cannot fail to marvel at their indomitable spirit. They crack jokes and exude an abundant warmth and love, which you rarely find in other parts of our continent. The rank and file of our people survive, against all odds, on the scraps and crumbs the rich have discarded. They criss-cross the urban centres in order to cut some small deals and sell all sorts of merchandise to make a living. Our taxi drivers wake up very early in the morning to drive their ramshackle vehicles and stay on until there are no more passengers to ferry. They are not even deterred by the corrupt traffic cops who demand a bribe for every flimsy traffic offence.
Much more resilient are our women who stand all day long at their market stalls waiting for someone to fork out a few cents to buy their vegetables and small items. At the busy bus stops, young men work like bees, transporting the goods and luggage of travellers who want to board a bus or a mini bus to go home or find a menial job somewhere else. And in the cities, street children who are hardened by poverty guard, wash and polish the cars of the privileged from sun rise to sun set.
Those in the rural areas show an equally amazing stamina. They work tirelessly on their small pieces of land to feed their families. The searing heat does not weaken them. They tenaciously plough, weed and harvest whatever nature has decided to give them during the season. Their perspiration and salty sweat does not slow them down, but greases their determination to survive. They are driven by the wise words of our elders who say that a chicken that does not scratch the ground dies of hunger. Because of this, they work from sun rise till sun set; and the same cycle repeats itself the following day and the day after, throughout the whole year. This is the amazing spirit of our people which waits to be harnessed for the restoration of our lost paradise.
I know that there are some sceptics who think that a return to paradise in Zimbabwe is a pipe dream because we have lost so much ground over the years. Yes we have been dislocated, but not fractured. We still have our survival instinct. We have gone through this before from 1965-1980 when the whole world imposed sanctions on Rhodesia when Ian Douglas Smith, the last white prime minister, declared unilateral independence in 1965. After independence in 1980, when sanctions were removed, the economy boomed. And the same recovery trend was experienced when we had a government of national unity from 2009-2013. These are the indicators that show that, given the right political environment, our country can rise again to its former glory, especially because we are richly endowed with gold, diamonds, platinum, nickel, chrome, iron ore, coal, gas, rich farm land and above all, a skilled and hard-working people. But the question is: how and when are we going to bring back our lost paradise?
In order to regain our lost paradise, we urgently need to have a new political vision whose agenda is to restore the dignity of our country. For thirty five years since 1980 many of our people acquiesced under the rule of ZANU PF because it had liberation credentials. The party was successively given a blank cheque to rule our country hoping that it would translate our political gains into economic prosperity. But it has failed our people. It has failed us in that it has neither brought about political freedom nor has it fulfilled part of its social contract by creating an enabling environment which makes our people achieve their dream of happiness and prosperity. What it has succeeded to do over the years is to run down the country through its drunken policies and to drive out three to five million of our people into exile. It has no good story to tell, except a tale of betrayal and tragedy. Yes, it has run a long distance race for thirty five years, but now it has run out of steam. We need a political rebirth to save our country from becoming the wretched of the earth.
Today, ZANU PF can be likened to an old bus with so many dents, broken parts, torn seats, shattered windows, a cracked front screen with no head lamps or rear lights. The engine is smoking and the tyres are worn out. The driver, though highly respected, is old and ailing but is crafty and wily enough to silence rebellion. He has run out of ideas and does not know where to drive the bus. While there are still some passengers in the bus, they are quarrelsome and dangerously thuggish. There are too many factions in the bus which are ready to back-stab each other. They thrive on boot licking and singing praise songs of the driver. The more intelligent conductors and passengers are aware that the engine is going to knock. So, they are busy plundering whatever they can lay their hands on before it is too late. Can this bus be trusted to take us to our destination?
On the other hand, there is an MDC bus. It, too, has factions. The main MDC remains the omnibus, with many passengers wearing red t-shirts. The bus is road worthy and is carrying jubilant passengers from many parts of the country. The engine is in good condition as well as the body parts. The driver is tried and tested. He has been previously beaten up by ZANU PF thugs who fear his bewitching charm and charisma, and he has been involved in a suspicious road accident which sadly claimed the life of his wife. He remains as constant as the northern star in his resolve to bring about democracy; but the main problem is that, in spite of the international goodwill he enjoys, he appears to have no clear vision about where to drive the bus. He needs our support in order to gain more courage. He has demonstrated his willingness to work with other people and stands out as a crowd pulling driver who can galvanise the masses into action.
But, as we all know, the movement for democratic change is no longer a monolithic organisation. It now has two splinter groups which are like two mini buses competing with the main bus to get some passengers. One of the mini buses is parked in Bulawayo. It is licensed and is road worthy, but it has no designated route. It has tried to pirate some passengers from the main bus, but has been hamstrung by its lack of visibility. The driver is intelligent and well educated, but is a victim of his own ambition and intransigence. He is a national asset who should be persuaded to accept the wisdom of our elders who advise us that one figure cannot crush a louse.
Another faction of the movement which calls itself the Renewal Team is trying to launch its own mini bus. The team has been trying to do a market research in order to find a niche in the saturated political market. The ‘team’ has set a date when they are going to launch their mini bus. It is unclear what name the mini bus will be called and the route it will take. We still do not know whether it will commute in the major cities and townships or it will go to the rural areas. Whatever name or route it will take, the important thing is that it must be viable. From the look of things, the team will struggle to breathe a new life into a congested political space. By calling themselves a ‘team’, they have inadvertently admitted that they are just a group of individuals with a singular purpose.
This aside, we must commend the ‘renewal team’ for having publicly announced that they are prepared to work with others in order to bring about meaningful change to our country. Like their obscure ‘renewal team’, they seem to suffer from self-contradiction in that while they say they are prepared to form a grand coalition with other political formations, one wonders whether it was necessary to break away from the main MDC in order to form a ‘grand coalition’. And is it constructive to suggest that they do not want to unite with the leader of the main MDC who clearly commands the largest support in the country? Be that as it may, the driver of the renewal team is a distinguished son of Zimbabwe who, I believe, will be wise enough to realise that sticks in a bundle are difficult to break. That is the ideal which the team should work towards in order to achieve the Zimbabwean dream of a free and just society.
This leaves us with the oldest mini bus, which is ZAPU. It would seem, to all intents and purposes, it long ceased to be on the road. It is in the scrap yard with no engine, no tyres, has broken windows and is rusty and dilapidated. The only visible thing on the mini bus are the fossil letters written boldly: Zimbabwe African Peoples Union. Its continued existence is probably inspired by nothing else but nostalgia and sentiment. And those who have fond memories of its past achievements often gather in the ramshackle mini bus to reminisce on how the organisation used to unite all our people into one critical mass. Its past slogan of ‘the son of the soil’ or umtwana welizwe/mwana wevhu united all our people, regardless of one’s tribe, race or class. Its present leader is a true son of the soil who has been humiliated by the current regime. He is a liberation hero whose spirit has not been broken by those who dislike what he stands for. He is the remnant of resistance and remains an icon of justice and freedom. He is prepared to work with others who share the same dream and has demonstrated his selflessness by uniting with Dr Simba Makoni, another brilliant son of Zimbabwe whose ideal of widening the democratic space has been frustrated by his ex-colleagues in ZANU PF.
As can be seen from the above analysis, the will is there already to form a broad-based front in order to regain our lost paradise. Each opposition group has declared openly that they are willing to work with others in order to save our country from an inevitable collapse. Also, it is necessary to open up the political space to include those who have been expelled from ZANU PF. We should not forget the dictum that in politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies. Political marriages always mutate depending on the circumstances. As the situation stands, there are no ideological differences which can prevent us from uniting. We all share the same ideal: that of making Zimbabwe a prosperous country which we can all be proud of. The era of an antagonistic Marxist-Leninist ideology versus capitalist imperialism is now gone. What we need to do is to immediately open up dialogue in order to find one another. Anyone who refuses to heed the call for unity runs the risk of being judged harshly by history as a traitor.
In order to unite, may I humbly remind Messrs Biti, Dabengwa, Makoni, Ncube, Tsvangirai and Dr Mujuru that you stand on the cross roads. You either choose to follow the path of unity in order to save our country from ruin or you go it alone knowing that our people will not forgive you for betraying their hopes. This clarion call is also extended to ZANU PF. I know that some of those in the party genuinely want to see change, but they are under the spell of fear. My candid advice is that they should not betray their conscience and go down in history as having been responsible for the destruction of our beautiful country. They can maintain their honour by joining forces with those who want to bring back our lost paradise. The same goes to our churches. They need to stand up courageously and be counted on the side of the suffering and the down-trodden by preaching the gospel of liberation and salvation. The book of Proverbs is awash with messages that warn against oppression. For instance, Proverbs Chapter 14 verse 31 is quite explicit: “If you oppress poor people, you insult the God who made them; but kindness shown to the poor is an act of worship”.
In seeking unity, we need to be very clear about the sort of unity which suits our unique circumstances. It is my considered view that we need to explore all the possible options. For instance, we can form a patriotic front, a grand coalition, a loose alliance, an umbrella party with individual identities or a new political party altogether. The merits and demerits of each of these options require another discussion. But as a person who is deeply concerned about the future of our country, I am prepared to join forces with those who want to bring about a lasting solution to our country.
While we work out the modalities of a broad based unity, we need to (1) prepare a programme for the economic recovery of our country in the short and long term, (2) engage the international community for a marshal plan to rescue our country from its current economic morass, (3) review our investment and land redistribution policies, (4) establish a watch-dog organ with the help of the United Nations to ensure that our mineral resources and other national assets are not further plundered, (5) draw up a concrete plan for a credible, free and fair election under the auspices of the international community, (6) devise a plan with the assistance of the international community to lure back Zimbabweans in the diaspora, and (7) establish a national healing and reconciliation commission which will bring closure to our turbulent past.
To wrap up, let me humbly submit to you, fellow citizens, that my writing this paper is driven by my deep concern for the future of our country, your country, the country of our children and those who will come after them. I know that you are equally concerned and so are the millions of our people. I also know that you are prepared to unite for the salvation of our country. Our first step, therefore, is to call on all our political movements to unite so that we can restore our lost paradise. I hope that they will not fail us. Let me also assure you that we are fortified by the knowledge that no amount of force, no matter how mighty it is, can ever stop us from reclaiming what is rightfully ours: the right to happiness and prosperity. We are also strengthened by the spirit of our ancestors who tell us that “tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it”. As I end my paper, allow me to leave you with these poetic words:
We are the new buds that unfurl from the old leaves
We bubble youthfulness in our quest for a new spring
In the past we harvested the leaves, but never the fruit
We are ready for the future’s cradle like a new seed
Discarding the old shell that slowed down our walk
Professor Ambrose B. Chimbganda can be contacted at: email@example.com
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