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Diamonds and the future of Botswana

Bernard Busani

It is almost impossible to talk about the future of Botswana without mentioning diamonds. Recently, there have been a number of press reports and articles about diamond beneficiation and the future of Debswana. The reports were mainly negative, with comments attempting to predict the impeding collapse of our beneficiation efforts-possibly due to unsustainable operating costs. 

Last week one paper had a front page headline reading, ‘From a diamond dream to a diamond nightmare’ suggesting that with the ‘retrenched workers and departing diamond companies’, diamond beneficiation could be summoning us to ‘go back to the drawing board’. The government seems to be burying its head in the sand, like the proverbial ostrich, claiming cyclic market forces are at play and telling us not to worry as there is nothing to worry about.

The truth is that we should worry because we have no sustainability beneficiation framework. Sometime back in this publication, I submitted that when approaching foreign countries and inviting them to come and set up factories in our country without a sustainability plan would be a fatal mistake.

The real picture is thus, they would bring their money, technology, their own specialists, their food etc, and then they would employ a handful of our locals in menial jobs, all the money they make will essentially go back to their countries, and eventually after making enough money, they would pack their bags and repatriate, leaving empty factory shells and our people jobless once again. This is the truth about the future of our diamond beneficiation industry if the status quo remains.

What do I mean by a sustainability plan? To have a sustainability plan, you must first understand the business challenges and the technologies employed and then empower your own people to champion the industry. The people must be ready to run and manage such factories.

They have to be trained at world class factories abroad, where they would learn all the tricks of the game, including, technology, productivity, business etiquette and ethics among others. We have to accept that we are part of the global village and therefore cannot operate in isolation. If we want to compete with India or Dubai we have to match or out-do their production costs as well as their product quality. After all the final products are for the same market.

I therefore urge our government to remove the blinkers and go back to the drawing board as suggested and develop a beneficiation sustainability framework that empowers citizens to be real players in the industry. This should not be rocket science as there are world class factories that we can benchmark and partner with, while creating a compellingly winning environment at home.

The other lingering question in the minds of many Batswana is the future of Debswana.  One commentator, Professor Roman Grynberg, was last week quoted, “Until last year June everyone believed that Botswana was going to fall off its fiscal cliff after 2029”.

The Debswana mines were expected to reach the end of their life-spans, but this was later changed to 2050.   Although this is good news, professor Grynberg and many others have many questions. He estimates that the additional reserves will yield 600 million carats assuming an annual production rate of 24 million.  He wondered, “Will the 600 million carats save Botswana?”

But the questions the professor asked are genuine and require answers.  Debswana is a public private company and the public being majority part owners have the right to know. Debswana for many years has been shrouded in what many would call decadent secrecy that is foreign in the mining industry. It is not correct to take cut 8 capital costs and escalate them up to 2050 as suggested by professor Grynberg. The stripping ratios and other mining factors will vary on an on-going basis.

The costs will be determined by a number of factors that Debswana can estimate given the information used to estimate the resource. Jwaneng and Orapa costs will never be the same because of the different sizes of the ore bodies and different geological formations.

The mines at some stage will operate underground at higher capital costs and such costs can be determined with a certain level of accuracy but cannot be said to be prohibitive given the quality and quantity of our reserves.  Yes, when the mines go deeper the ore becomes more competent, requiring more explosives to break and becoming more difficult to load and becoming more difficult to process in the plants resulting in recovery challenges and possibly increased operating costs, but this is typical for any mine.

The grade and quality of the diamonds may also change for better or for worse. The geologists would have this information from the drill samples they obtained to determine the resource or reserve. These are typical mining challenges that we cannot run away from. We have old copper mines in Chile that are very deep and still running profitably.

The professor assumed an annual production rate of 24million carats. Recently the CEO of Debswana was quoted as having said that they will cap annual production at 26million due to market conditions. For me these figures are very surprising given that before the 2008 recession, Debswana was producing up to 34 million carats annually. Surely that capacity has increased with the commissioning of the dump treatment facility at Jwaneng.

There should be plans to treat Letlhakane and Orapa tailings which should further increase production. De Beers and other mining companies are busy exploring with the hope of finding ‘another Orapa and another Jwaneng’. What could happen if these deposits are found? Will they just remain underground, if so by whom and for how long?

We have been repeatedly told by De Beers and others in the diamond industry that soon demand will outstrip supply hence the need for continued search for new deposits to avoid the synthetics taking the market slot if demand exceeded supply.  Debswana dumps are richer than many diamond mines in the world and hese are additional free resources at our disposal.

Debswana’s position of capping production to 24-26 million carats per year is therefore surprising. How can we invest in massive production capacity that we do not need for production.  Are we not wasting investor’s money?  Should we not be sweating our assets to get full value for our investment? 

How can Debswana control the market when it has no control of diamond production in the world? De Beers used to run as a monopoly when it had control over global diamond production, but have since lost that, not only because other players have come in but also because the world has become decisively anti-monopoly. If Debswana cannot control the market, why then should we cap our production when others are increasing their production?

During the 2008 recession instead of stopping production like Debswana, Russia continued to produce and stockpiled their production which they later slowly to the market after the recession. It seems Debswana is still unable to recover from the stoppages they made during the recession which possibly resulted in the reduced targets stated above. I see conflicting messages that need to be unpacked for the nation to understand.

Batswana should, through the government urge Debswana to produce at their rated capacity as the market is not our responsibility alone. Keeping our diamonds in the ground when others keep producing more cannot be a smart plan as we do not know what the future holds. What if the prices were to collapse as we have seen with crude oil?  I believe we ought to keep on producing, even if it means stockpiling at some stage.

All players in the diamond industry have to be more strategic and think beyond the current operations. I also plead for a comprehensive re-look at the future of mineral beneficiation and diversification within the mining industry.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Oscar Motsumi:

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

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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

9th March 2021


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

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

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

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

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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