When the UDC was founded some of us were apparently fooled into thinking that we were pursuing the idea of a United Front which has always been a BNF strategy of bringing about genuine independence to this country by mobilizing all democratic and patriotic forces. I personally dismissed as a conspiracy theory what some BNF members told me that the leadership of the three parties, the BNF, BMD and BPP had a grand plan to eventually make the UDC a political party that would substitute for their disparate political organizations.
Only now is it becoming clear that indeed while the rank and file members of the BNF had in mind a United Front some of their leaders had a grand plan of ultimately disbanding the BNF and or merging it with the BMD and BPP. The proposal of a merger has caused something of a stir within the BNF membership who clearly understand that in the fight against imperialism, neo-colonialism and the remnants of feudalism disbanding the BNF has never been and will never be an option. Clearly, our leadership failed the test of accountability to their members on this score.
The main purpose of this article is not try and rekindle the debate per se but to draw the attention of the BNF members, particularly its leadership, to the time-test position of the party on the United Front. This position dates back to 1965 when the BNF was founded and therefore it is absolutely unacceptable for the BNF leadership to be either ignorant or oblivious of it. My views against a political merger were clearly articulated in an article in penned in response to a statement made by the late Gomolemo Motswaledi to the effect that in 2015 the congresses of the three UDC parties will meet and decide whether to merge into one political party (see Sunday Standard , 0109/2013). Let me add that further details on my objection to a merger will be carried by my forthcoming book titled, In Defense of the BNF: Volume One.
Subsequently, I wrote several newspaper articles designed to help the founders of the UDC to consummate the organization as a United Front. None of that advice was taken on board, and strictly speaking, the UDC is not structured or constituted as a United Front. Though BNF is numerically the biggest party in the UDC its leadership within the UDC is at best, far too weak, and at worst, non-existent, not least because the leadership is not focused on strengthening the BNF. The fact that UDC campaigned for the 2014 general election on the basis of a liberal manifesto which was completely silent on traditional BNF policies, including Social Democratic policies endorsed by all three cooperating parties, was clearly indicative of a grand plan to dismantle the BNF.
Regarding the so-called UDC manifesto I must take this opportunity to set the record straight, regarding my role or the lack of it. I deliberately ignored this matter during the campaign because I wanted us to stay focused on fighting the BDP. With elections gone I must clarify my position. The general impression BNF members were given was that I was part of the team that wrote the UDC manifesto. As a matter of fact, I was part of the team that negotiated and wrote UDC policies, not the so-called UDC election manifesto. The UDC policies were not even used to write the UDC manifesto.
The two documents are poles apart. Some comrades go to the extent of accusing me for the liberal so-called UDC manifesto because it is alleged that after being invited to join the manifesto team I walked out. Nothing could be further from the truth – I was not invited to join the UDC manifesto team, which, to all intents and purposes, was apparently single-handedly authored by the BMD. Those behind these maneuvers reckoned that it would be easier to persuade the BNF members to disband their party had UDC won the elections on a banner that was not even BNF.
How can the BNF leadership be focused on defending the BNF when their ultimate aim is to disband it? Consequently, it is ironical that while the United Front is a BNF concept as a political party we are losing ground to other parties within UDC. The BNF leadership lacks the basic understanding of the United Front and the fact that to strengthen UDC they must concentrate more on strengthening their party (the BNF), and not UDC. And as a matter of principle all BNF members must be BNF first and only UDC second. Some of them have confused loyalties.
When article 8.4 of the UDC constitution states that ‘the structures, authority and powers of group members of the Umbrella shall be subordinate to the power and authority of the Umbrella’ it effectively establishes the UDC not only as a political party, but a super political party whose authority cannot be challenged by the individual Central Committees of the BNF, BMD and BPP. This article runs counter to the principle of a United Front. Furthermore, Article 3.3 defines the Umbrella ‘a registered political party’ and yet none of the central committees of the three cooperating parties was mandated by their congresses to form a new ‘political party’.
On the contrary the BNF Mochudi Congress resolution of 2010 was loud and clear in mandating its Central Committee to go and negotiate some form of cooperation with other parties subject to one fundamental condition – never to compromise the ‘soul’ or political integrity of the BNF. The other anti-United Front clause is Article 7 on the Individual Member. A party is formed by individual members hence this article. To the best of my recollection BNF members at different fora rejected the idea of individual membership of the UDC. In Botswana everybody is free to form a party of their choice. What is unacceptable is for some people to mischievously try to form a new party at the expense of the BNF. Again why is the UDC constitution already operational before it is formally adopted and debated by party structures?
In its headline story titled ‘UDC partners may merge in 2015’ Mmegi, (June 11, 2013) reported that, ‘The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) will hold a congress in 2015 to determine its destiny, president of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), Gomolemo Motswaledi has said. He told Mmegi that at the congress, the UDC partners, BMD, BNF and BPP will decide whether to merge and form one party or maintain the status quo. Motswaledi is UDC secretary general’. This statement by Motswaledi has now been fully restated by the UDC (see Sunday Standard 15/03/2015 ) which envisions the holding of the last congresses of the three parties before the 2019 general elections and their merger into a single party.
At the just ended BNF Leadership Forum the proposal to disband the BNF and merge it with the BMD and BPP was formally presented as an agenda item but without proper consultation of the general membership. The agenda item only vaguely stated ‘UDC- the Way Forward’ as an item to be motivated by the Central Committee. The BNF Constitution is silent on how much time the Central Committee must give members to mull over agenda items and no accompanying notes are provided for members to know exactly what the items are about The tendency to give members short notice is part of the strategy of stifling debate so that the ideas of the leadership should prevail.
Thankfully, although BNF members were ambushed they were vigilant enough – they actively deliberated on the matter in three groups and unanimously rejected it outright, including the proposal to have a shared office of the three cooperating parties. A shared office would have been one step towards merging the parties – exactly what BNF members do not want. There was not one dissenting voice from the floor. So far so good, but I suspect that this non-issue will again rear its ugly head at the July conference and it must again suffer tissue rejection.
What then is the position of the BNF on the United Front as expressed in the basic document of the party, Pamphlet Number 1? We quote lberally from Pamphlet Number 1 in order to illustrate this critically important point. After describing the modern petty bourgeoisie or ‘Elites by education’ Dr Koma provides this advice regarding the United Front; ‘From this characterization, it is clear that the section of the Botswana nation which forms the basic force in the United Front should maintain its autonomy within the Botswana National Front’ (page 26). Here Dr Koma had in mind the ultimate assumption of the working class leadership of the Botswana National Front that the founders of the BNF envisaged – maintaining their organizational and ideological independence both within the BNF and the broad United Front of democratic and patriotic forces. This was considered impossible by the founders of the BNF in 1965 because, as Dr Koma goes on to explain, ‘their class consciousness is as yet non-existent.
They are not politically organized and where there is some nucleus organization, they have fallen under the influence of the pro-colonialist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. It is obvious that unless and until it can join the United Front as a force independent from the political parties, the working class in Botswana cannot and will not play the role of a basic force in the United Front. And it is obvious that without a working class ideology, the working class in Botswana will remain on the level of trade unionism – concerned with wages and conditions of service’ (page 26).
Getting to the crux of the matter Dr Koma states that; ‘They (the basic force in the United Front) should unite with their allies in the national democratic front (currently these are the BMD and BPP, to some extent BOFEPUSO), but they should not merge, except under very exceptional conditions favourable to the independence of their orientation. This means that while we are certainly for unity, we are not for a merger. We are not for a single party. Here we disagree with those protagonists of national unity who disseminate the thesis that it is in interests of the struggle that in all cases there should be only one party. We are for independence and autonomy within the United Front. We reject the one party system as a general panacea’ (page 23).
The quotation above is the central message of this article. The BNF leadership must be fighting for the independence and autonomy of the BNF within the UDC, not a merger. I have no doubt in my mind that had Dr Koma not met his untimely demise and managed to compete his book, The Vietnamese Experience of the United Front he would have driven this massage further home on the concept and application of the strategy of a United Front. It is however reassuring to learn that one comrade is working hard at trying to get this book completed and published. We look forward to reading it.
Since a proper United Front requires working class leadership Dr Koma then sounds this warning, mainly to the revolutionary intellectuals and the class consciousness working class, on the dangers of lack of a working class leadership of both the BNF and the national democratic front, ‘We submit that form the elements which constitute the basic force of the United Front not to have their own party or organization, not to maintain the purity of their orientation, is to condemn the whole movement to the pace of a snail and to obscure the fact that the national democratic front is an organizational weapon for specific tasks at a specific phase of the movement… for the basic force to join the United Front without their organization is like a general who shouts hysterical slogans about going to the battle when he has neither a gun nor an army’ (page 23).
The current BNF leadership is absolutely nothing about this second and admittedly difficult condition for a successful United Front. Surely any BNF leader who has read and internalized these words cannot make the suicidal mistake of trying to persuade his party to disband so that UDC becomes their party. But these are not just mere words because in its practice or attempt to forge a national democratic front with other democratic and patriotic the BNF (with the exception of the current leadership) consistently applied these principles. We do not seem to learn any lessons from our past.
An important historical point that merits our attention at this juncture is that from the Peoples Patriotic Front (PPF) of 1991, to the Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) of 1999, through to the much looser Electoral Pact of 2003 (with the exception of the UDC of 2012 within which the BNF leadership is inclined towards a merger) the BNF has consistently opted for a United Front which guarantees and protects its organizational independence and autonomy as a party within the national united front of other democratic and patriotic forces.
In all attempts at forging a united front with other parties the BNF has steered clear of a merger because ideological differences between these parties cannot be wished away. When other parties started calling for a political merger the PPF and BAM collapsed because as far as the BNF leadership of that time was concerned they had crossed the red line. Today it is the rank file who are to the left of their leadership as demonstrated by their historic resolution at the Leadership Forum.
This is exactly what the BNF congress resolution of 2010 sanctioning talks that led to UDC meant when it mandated negotiations with other political parties subject to one condition – ‘not to sell the soul of the BNF’. Tragically, it is not only the ‘ soul’ of the BNF that is threatened but the party’s very existence is under threat, and most ironically, from the very people entrusted with the role of leading and defending it! Given this state of affairs it is important to emphasize that it is the bounden duty of every BNF member to stand up and be counted and do everything in their power to defend their party so that the sacrifices of so many comrades, dead and living, were not in vain.
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