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Botho must be nurtured

People in Southern Africa have always been proud of being associated with the philosophy of Botho in Tswana/Sotho languages or Ubuntu in the Nguni languages. However we never pause and ask ourselves what shapes or contributes to this way of thinking. We take for granted that everybody understands and accepts this philosophy of botho.

We always hear people saying “bana ba gompieno ga bana botho!” (The youth of today have no botho!). We never ask “if so, why?” It is always easy to point fingers at others especially the weak and young ones.
What is botho and how does it come into being?

Bishop Tutu calls Ubuntu human identity. Gabriel Setiloane says every human being has inside them a spark that guides him or her to know right from wrong, this he says in Seriti/Tswana/Sotho. I like this metaphor for “spark” because if a battery is not charged it cannot have spark! This spark or inner being is what Hegel calls conscience.

This is what Christianity calls the image of God. Only human beings know what is wrong or right and good or bad. To do what is good is to know what is good, but on the other hand we also know what is bad and this means we are also capable of doing bad things.

From the time of birth we have this dynamic in ourselves. In order to make sure that the power within which makes us bad creatures does not surpass or override the power that makes us good creatures depends on how we are brought up. The lives we live define us and we are a reflection of our society.

Botho is a product of our culture. It does not fall from heaven! We say,”motho ke motho ka batho,” (No ma is an Island). You cannot be a human in isolation. It is others who make you human. Your “botho” is reflected on how you relate to other human beings. In other cultures and traditions, when you are not invited and you find people eating they will eat in your presence without sharing with you, but in Setswana culture, you can’t do that, lest you are accused of not having botho. The concept of sharing is part of us. We don’t need to go to Sunday school or to church to learn about giving or sharing. We don’t need to read Marxist literatures to know that sharing and giving are good virtues.

There are those who claim to be good Christians and good socialites or Marxists yet are not necessarily good people. In my view it is impossible to be a good Christian or socialist, without first being a good person. You cannot go to heaven without coming from Bethlehem. That is what Jesus did. First he became human and lived as humans, on earth, although he had nothing he maintained his dignity throughout. He also preferred being called son of man to son of God.

Julius Nyerere said, “Socialism like capitalism is an attitude of mind. A poor person can be a potential capitalist while a rich person can be a potential socialist!” Your attitude or way of thinking defines what kind of person you are. It is not the labels you put on which make you a good or bad person.

Rre Masire was a capitalist but he was a good leader who made his country what it is today. Look at some socialist leaders like Mugabe who imprisoned and killed his own people in Matabeleland! I am not saying socialism is bad, what I am saying is what is important is our inner being, our botho for without it we are nothing.

There are people who claim that they cannot support UDC because UDC it is flooded by capitalists from BDP, but if you look at their attitudes, their way of life betrays them. And if you consider Ndaba Gaolathe’ s humble nature and humility (botho), though some regard him as capitalist, he is more human than the so called socialists, who are socialists by day and capitalists by night.

Because conscience is the spark in our lives as Gabriel Setiloane said, it can be put off when the battery is dead. For the spark to be alive and produce light it must be activated. By the same token, botho needs to be nurtured; a child needs to be groomed to become a good person. It is our culture that has nurtured botho in our society.  In Setswana, ha osena botho, you are not a real person!

That is why in Setswana we hear people saying se gasemotho ke selo sesele! In Herero they will say Kaumundu otjina! (meaning this is not a human being but something else) When you look at some of our leaders in politics, churches and civil society, you too would be forgiven to say, “Gasebatho ke dilo disele.” “Kauvando,” the Herero would say. A real person would never undermine or despise another human being. It is only in the cowboy culture that teaches that people with more material belongings are worth more respect than those with less receive less recognition as human beings.

According to the botho philosophy, you cannot have more things while others have none. That was why Sir Seretse Khama used to fly economy class and ministers used cheap cars. They couldn’t justify their expensive lifestyle while Batswana walked barefoot.

In Setswana you don’t parade your wealth in the street. Showing off does not encapsulate botho. When you give, you do so in private, you don’t even announce it. It is not Botho to parade the less privileged that houses are donated to on television or media. In my view the spark in the hearts of those who do so has died. How do you pay someone slave wages and build a house for her mother and claim that you are a good person?

The tragedy in history is that those who do not have botho according to acceptable norms turn around and accuse the less weak in terms of economic power and youth of not having botho! Tyrants behave like gentlemen and act like messiahs or saviours and they expect us to accept that, then they dehumanize us so we become their zombies or “bo matholwane” as Babirwa would say or “ditotwane” in Setawana. We must never allow ourselves to be zombies, bomatolwane or ditotwane slaving for other people.

When some people become very rich at the expense of others people and don’t see this as abnormal, then their conscience is dead. They are no longer human. Steve Biko said, whenever a group of people have tasted the  fruits of wealth, security and prestige it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and to accept it as normal that it alone is entitled to privileges and normally what comes first are the moral questions.

Today because some people enjoy the wealth of this country alone and fail to create employment for the youth, they turn around and accuse the youth of immorality. Botho was nurtured by the cattlepost and masimo cultures, cultures in which everyone was a worker. Unemployment was none-existent.

All this was destroyed over night by the Coca-Cola and hamburger culture. The Coca-Cola and hamburger culture is a culture whereby you eat without producing.
I know there are those who argue that culture is not static but dynamic, I totally agree. However people should know that our culture is not changing but it has been killed and replaced by another culture e senang botho, Hamburger culture, where you eat alone in front of others.

 I for one believe in African wisdom as Bishop Z Kameeta said this African wisdom nurtured Jesus of Nazareth when he played in the African soil while growing up in Egypt. If God found it fit to bring his son to be nurtured by this African wisdom surely we need to nurture our children in this African wisdom so that they grow up with botho!  We must learn to say no to American wisdom, or as the Americans call it the American dream,the cowboy culture where you shoot to kill and take another’s property and become rich overnight.

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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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