Societies are always changing. A society that is static cannot develop. So it is no surprise that Botswana society is changing. What is worrying many people, especially various categories of leaders, is that the changes our society is undergoing seem to be largely negative.
Recently there have been debates on national Radio and TV, where these negative changes have been debated. Attracting most debate has been the behavioural tendencies observed among the youth, especially the ones at school or of school-going age.
This change in behaviour among the youth includes such things as their behaviour to adults (e.g., not greeting adults, smoking and drinking in front of adults, boys and girls showing amorous behaviour etc.), the way they behave in schools (such as vandalism and disrespecting teachers, including being aggressive or threatening to teachers), abuse of alcohol and other drugs, involvement in delinquency and crime, and generally not applying themselves to school work.
Many aspects of this behaviour can be seen also in adults, especially young adults who are no longer in school. There is excessive use of alcohol and other substances in our society, early and extramarital sexual activity, and general criminal activity.
Many explanations are being offered for this apparent unravelling of our society. Some say that these things are a sign of, or a result of the people of Botswana having abandoned their culture and tradition. They quote for example that tribal societies have abandoned institutions that used to instil good behaviour and promote culture such as initiation ceremonies (bogwera and bojale). Some on the other hand feel the problems are with us because we have abandoned God; by that meaning Christianity.
As an example, during a discussion in BTV recently in a programme called Molemo wa Kgang, when progress towards the attainment of Vision 2016 was being debated, a church leader stated that the youth who are active Christians and have given their lives to Christ do not participate in those bad behaviours that are described above.
But is that true? Do we find less crime, less extramarital sex, less teenage pregnancies, less drug abuse and less delinquency in general among youth and adults who are active Christians than among those who are not active Christians, or among the general population?
Studies so far have not shown that active Christians engage in these negative behaviours or suffer from their consequences any less than the general population or their counterparts who are not active in religion. Things like HIV infections and teenage pregnancies are evenly spread in the population and are not any less among the active Christians, showing that negative behaviours are widespread among the youth and the population in general.
Societies have been changing since human beings started organizing themselves in social groups- from small hunter-gatherer groups through tribal chiefdoms to the nation states that are now the common form of social and political organization. Economic organization has of course also been changing continuously in tandem with social and political organization, e.g., from hunter-gathering, to subsistence agriculture, to commercial agriculture, to commerce, industrialization and the sophisticated economy we see now.
Changes in social organization and social relations, including relations at family level, have been mostly determined by modes of economic production in society. In turn these modes of production have influenced urbanization, which has had a profound impact on the family.
In the Radio and TV debates I have referred to above, people have largely blamed the break-up of the extended family system for the social problems we are facing, especially bad youth behaviour. However, it should be remembered that these changes have faced every society that has “modernized” from being a tribal/agriculture based peasant society to an urban society dependent on commerce- the cash-based economy.
Urbanization and the cash-based economy promote individualism and the desire to accumulate wealth based on the money economy; hence the growth of the influence of the Middle Class and the decline of the influence of the nobility and the feudal classes.
We should remember that urbanization is not a new phenomenon. The ancient empires such as the Babylonian, the Greek and the Roman Empires had considerable urbanization. Hence the existence of City States in those Empires. In fact the word “civilization” in a way relates to urbanization [the word civilization comes from the "Early modern France" 16th-century French civilisé (civilized), from Latin civilis (civil), related to civis (citizen) and civitas (city)]. So, when we talk of people abandoning their culture to adopt “foreign” culture, we actually mean that our society is undergoing reorganization to become more urban and its economy to become more cash oriented.
A good example is our major villages; they have had to be reclassified urban (euphemistically called urban villages) since the 1981 census because it was realized that the majority of people in these localities no longer rely on agriculture for day to day survival or as their main occupation.
Globally, this phenomenon of change of dependence on agriculture started in Europe from about the 16th century with the growth of commerce and the Middle Class, and gained momentum with the industrial revolution. All these changes promoted urbanization and its attendant social organization.
These changes have also led to the growth of the “nuclear family” as the main basic unit of society, with the accompanying decline of the extended family system. The family now consists of the parents (or parent) and their children, usually living away from their traditional home (the husband and the wife may be coming from different villages), working in an urban area.
Their contact with their relatives is generally minimal, so the children only know their uncles and aunts peripherally. Unlike in the past, these relatives have little or no influence on this nuclear family, and as the children become adults, the role of the extended family declines progressively.
The developed countries are now living in such a system. We in Botswana, as is the situation in many developing countries, are slowly but inexorably moving to that situation. We are in a state of transition, with the extended family slowly collapsing and the nuclear family slowly becoming the norm.
This situation obviously has a profound effect on the way our children are socialized. Our children don’t spend a lot of time with their cousins and other peers playing in the dust of the patlelo in the village. They spend time alone or watching TV, and they meet their relatives only occasionally.
Another complicating factor on the socialization of the children is that many, probably most of them, are born out of wedlock. So they do not have a balanced family with a father and mother to guide their socialization. These changes are inexorably marching on.
The wheel cannot be turned back to a situation where life will be like it was during the primacy of the tribal system. So, instead of crying for the return to past cultures and traditions that have faded away , our leaders should work towards managing change, because the change will keep happening.
Our leaders- political, tribal, social- should aim at managing this change and not stopping it, as that is not practical. Those who advocate the reintroduction or strengthening the tribal system to reflect the situation of many decades ago are likely to be very disappointed. In the same way, those who think Christianity can be the main factor in arresting the negative effects of modernity and change in our society are not being very practical. Instead, both tribal culture and Christianity should learn to live with this new culture and influence it from within.
One cannot help but feel the sense of despondency, frustration and desperation that seem to grip many young Batswana as they face their future. What hit most Sub-Saharan African countries from the late 1970s or 1980s is to some extent hitting us now. While Botswana is not facing the economic collapse they faced at the time, the other problems are with us- unemployment, especially graduate unemployment being the most visible problem.
When most of these African countries faced economic collapse and were pushed by the International Finance Institutions and donors to undergo Structural Adjustment Programmes as a condition to be rescued with aid and debt forgiveness, Botswana was riding the crest with rapid economic growth, despite the fact that two decades earlier, at the time of its independence, it was regarded as a hopeless case while the other countries had promising economies.
Botswana did not have to undergo the HIPC initiative (Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative), that was used by the International Organizations and donors to implement massive aid and debt forgiveness to restart the collapsed economies of the fellow African countries.
Botswana grew to become a Middle Income country, while a few of its peers actually dropped from Middle Income status to Low Income or under-developed country status. These countries have now been revived, thanks to aid and debt forgiveness (neo liberal economics?) and Botswana is now having some of the problems they had and still have- small economies that cannot absorb all their people into productive jobs. Contrary to what some people are peddling around, there are no ready-made solutions to these problems.
In view of these problems, many, including the youth, seem to believe that Botswana is facing a “defining moment”. One cannot help but feel that this feeling is largely deliberately orchestrated by some organizations and individuals. What is a defining moment? It is a feeling that something drastic is about to happen. It can be defined as an event which typifies or determines all subsequent related occurrences. Such an even can determine the subsequent occurrences to be negative or positive. While many advocates of a defining moment for Botswana seem to be expecting the negative, many of us hope that if such a moment does come, it will determine positive occurrences for the future.
Our future is in our hands, but with challenges that face us, such as a small population, some of it scattered in a large area of desert, being landlocked and having a small economy, we should accept that it will be a hard slog.
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