The most entertaining mysteries are the ones with compelling protagonists, enigmatic and often surreptitious antagonists, and surprising or shocking conclusions. Indeed, without these essential elements, one is unlikely to read the story at all. However, when it comes to politics and geopolitics, somehow our mass media storytellers – the scores of journalists, military and counter-terrorism ‘experts,’ and establishment mouthpieces – fail to even point us in the right direction. Not only do they not follow the threads of the story, they prefer to pretend they simply aren’t there.
And so it is with the great ‘mystery’ of Boko Haram, a group that in just a few years has become one of the most recognizable terrorist entities in the world. Having carried out heinous massacres of men, women, and children, abducted thousands of innocents, and destroyed whole towns, Boko Haram now symbolizes just that perfect blend of barbarism, religious and ideological fundamentalism, and non-white skin, which come together to cast them, in the eyes of westerners especially, as the manifestation of evil.
In trying to unravel the labyrinthine web of political, economic, and strategic threads connecting a number of significant actors, it becomes clear that no analysis of Boko Haram is worth reading unless it approaches the issue from three distinctly different, yet intimately connected, angles.
First, there is Nigeria’s domestic politics, and the issue of Boko Haram and the perception of the government and opposition’s responsibility for the chaos it has wreaked. With elections scheduled to take place in February, Boko Haram and national security have, quite understandably, become dominant issues in the public mind.
The mutual finger pointing and accusations provide an important backdrop for understanding how Boko Haram fits both into the public discourse, and into the strategies of political networks behind the scenes in Nigeria, and the region more broadly. Second is the all-important regional political and economic chessboard.
In West Africa – an area rich in strategic resources – there are a few interested parties who stand to gain from Boko Haram’s ongoing attacks which amount to a destabilization of the entire Nigerian state. Nigeria’s neighbor Chad has recently come under heavy scrutiny from Nigeria’s military apparatus for its purported role in financing and facilitating Boko Haram’s expansion.
Chad sees in Nigeria potential oil profits as it expands its own oil extraction capabilities throughout the Chad Basin – a geographical region that includes significant territory in Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger. Of course, major oil companies, not to mention powerful western nations such as France, have a vested interest in maintaining their profits from West African oil.
Finally and, perhaps most importantly, is the continental and global perspective. Nigeria, as Africa’s most dynamic economy, presents major opportunities and challenges for key global powers. For China, Nigeria represents one of its principal investment footholds in Africa. A key trading partner for Beijing, Nigeria has increasingly been moving out of the direct orbit of the West, transforming it from a reliable, if subservient, Western ally, into an obstacle to be overcome.
Coinciding with these developments has been the continually expanding US military presence throughout Africa, one that is increasingly concentrated in West Africa, though without much media fanfare aside from the Ebola story. The international media has seized on the heart-rending story and the ubiquitous #BringBackOurGirls meme – and for most people that is all they know about Boko Haram.
However, such a superficial understanding of one of the most complex international stories in recent years does little to further the discourse, or bring about a resolution. Rather, a more nuanced understanding puts Boko Haram into a larger international context, one which can go a long way to dismantling the organization, and the air of mystery that surrounds it. While many of the details remain murky at best, with powerful players operating behind the scenes, the contours of a regional destabilization and a proxy war become discernible.
With national elections less than a month away, the competing factions of Nigeria’s political establishment are busily trying to scapegoat their opponents, with each side implying that the other is either in league with Boko Haram, or is deliberately trying to capitalize on the situation.
The two major parties – the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by President Goodluck Jonathan, and the All Progressives Congress (APC) – have made Boko Haram into a political hot potato, passing it back and forth in hopes that voters will associate it with their opponent. Last September, before Boko Haram once again made international headlines with their most recent offensives, the political mudslinging was already fierce.
It is quite clear the PDP sees the issue of Boko Haram as a major political liability for their party. It is for this reason that other PDP leaders have repeatedly threatened to “reveal the names of APC members sponsoring Boko Haram” in order to sabotage their opponents in the campaign, a desperate attempt to deflect the blame for a crisis that has developed while the Government has been under their control. Conversely, the APC has not only denied all the charges, they have made their own counter-claims, alleging that former high-ranking PDP officials are intimately involved in financing Boko Haram.
Allegations are that Dr. Stephen Davis, a man hired by the President Jonathan-led Federal Government to negotiate with Boko Haram for the release of the Chibok girls decided to speak out, believing the best way to tackle the insurgency is to expose the sponsors. And who are they?…he named former Borno Governor Ali Modu Sheriff and a former Army Chief, Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, as the sponsors of Boko Haram…
The sponsors of Boko Haram are within the PDP and friends of the President. These revelations, vehemently denied by President Jonathan’s administration, certainly raise important questions as to the networks supporting and financing Boko Haram, and when, where, and why they were originally organized.
According to leaked intelligence information obtained by some Nigerian news outlets, the former governor of Borno State, and Goodluck Jonathan ally, Ali Modu Sheriff has been one of the principal financiers and organizers of Boko Haram, basing his operations out of Chad. The dated communications obtained by Premium Times painted a picture of what appears to be a powerful regional support structure involving the Chadian president, Nigerian officials and Niger Republic, and spearheaded by Mr. Sheriff whom the intelligence presents as a powerful figure within this circle.
Furthermore the findings commissioned by President Jonathan traced the origin of private militias in Borno State in particular, of which Boko Haram is an offshoot, to politicians who set them up in the run-up to the 2003 general elections. The militias were allegedly armed and used extensively as political thugs. After the elections and having achieved their primary purpose, the politicians left the militias to their fate since they could not continue funding and keeping them employed. With no visible means of sustenance, some of the militias gravitated towards religious extremism, the type offered by Mohammed Yusuf.
Certainly there are a lot of questions to answer here. Is Sheriff simply a former ally who has since “gone rogue” and decided to establish his own private army to enrich himself and his foreign patron? Conversely, could it be that Sheriff continues to be connected, if perhaps only indirectly, with the government in Abuja? The communications between Sheriff’s network and Nigerian military officials as far back as 2011 does seem to suggest at least an indirect connection between them. As such, there is obviously a complex web of relations connecting various parties in Nigeria, as well as its neighbors, with Boko Haram.
According to 2011 intelligence memo from field officers in Chad, “members of Boko Haram sect are sometimes kept in Abeche region in Chad and trained before being dispersed. This happens usually when Mr. Sheriff visits Abeche.” So, even the most conservative analysis would have to admit there is undeniably a connection between the domestic politics of Nigeria, especially within the ruling party, and international actors who have their own agenda. And it is those actors, and their motivations, that deserve careful analysis.
This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world. By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy. But the people of Ukraine are resilient.
They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world. The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country. By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.
When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.
United in Our Response
This will not end well for Vladimir Putin. Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable. As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.
President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology. After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.
Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.
By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime. In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.
We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military. We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy. And we are prepared to do more.
In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.
We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies. President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.
He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense. There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world: NATO is more united than ever.
The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies. We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.
Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War
This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time. He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border. He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.
He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.
Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do. We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas. We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine. We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.
Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there. We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.
And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law. Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine. Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.
We have been transparent with the world. We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up. Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.
Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever
Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed. In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity. We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.
Putin has failed to divide us. Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies. And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.
The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine. Putin has unleashed great suffering on them. But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.
The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.
Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically. The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.
Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression. In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake: Freedom will prevail.
9th December 2021 Dear Mr President. RE: BOTSWANA CONSTITUTION REFORM – BAKGATLA BA KGAFELA POSITION
I hope this correspondence finds you well.
I would like to express my gratitude for the decisions you have made to open dialogue in Botswana leading towards Constitutional reform. We understand you have advanced a step ahead by appointing a Commissioner to lead the process. However, we must caution here that, ultimately, your government needs to pass legislation to legitimize and guide the Constitutional reform process. Otherwise, right thinking members of society all over see the futility of the exercise as presently constituted, and will not have confidence in your procedures. Nonetheless, you stand out as the first President of Botswana to take any tangible step towards constitutional reform. Whatever the outcome of the exercise may be, and whatever the motive, credit must accordingly be given where it is due. This much said about Botswana, we now turn to the main topic of this letter.
There are certain pertinent matters that we must make clear at the very beginning, and record our Bakgatla special requests to your Excellency. Whilst we Bakgatla Ba kgafela, and I (Kgafela ii) desire to experience a new future for Botswana, under a new constitution, our unique situation as Bakgatla requires recognition and special attention. The history of Bechuanaland – Botswana and Bakgatla from 1885-2021 is well documented. It is available in Prof Fred Morton’s book: When Rustling became an Art, my recent publication -The Last Frontier, Baloyi Judicial Commission of Inquiry Report of 2019, and the Lord Hailey Commission report. Lord Hailey stated in his report that: Bakgatla land belongs to Kgosi & his morafe. Her Majesty the Queen of England accepted that position in statutory title, which has not changed by lawful process to this date. All those statutes since 1899 (and Commissions of Inquiry reports) are as valid today as they were at the time of their promulgation/reporting. Even the Tribal Territories Act is still law in present day Botswana because it has not been repealed.
There is nothing in law and history to gainsay a glaring truth that:(a) Bakgatla Ba Kgafela are the lawful owners of Bakgatla Tribal Territory, as defined in the Tribal Territories Act and Her Majesty’s Proclamations; (b) Sir Seretse Kgama and BDP party expropriated our country in 1966, without consultation or agreement with Bakgatla; against international law, and against common & customary law concerning the taking of another’s property. Simultaneous with Seretse & BDP taking our country, they imposed a foreign system of human affairs called ‘western democracy’ or ‘multi-party democracy’ upon us in our country; yet again without consultation or agreement. That system has gradually deteriorated the quality of life for our people to the present day of total despair.
Bakgatla do not want to live under that system anymore, whatever name it goes by. We don’t want to be detained by its faults in our progress to the future. We want to rule ourselves in (our country) where we may practice and live our heritage without undue restrictions, including the heritage of being led by a Kgosikgolo (King), and not a politician. There is no logic in our people being driven to vote for a leader every five years, when we already have provably competent traditional leadership amongst us. This desire is consistent with international law (self- determination) and the law of property ownership.
In addition, we have ambitions of the future which may not necessarily coincide with ambitions of other Batswana in their respective localities. For instance, the rest of Botswana may wish to continue with western democracy and leadership by politicians, whilst we don’t, because we have seen the system clearly for what it represents. Moreover, our Bakgatla Kingdom extends into South Africa. Different considerations apply. It has been so, even during British colonial rule. That is why the colonial government always excluded Bakgatla land when it passed legislation for Bechuanaland Protectorate. A case on point is the Bechuanaland Protectorate (Lands) Order of 16th May 1904, which states at section 1: For the purposes of this Order the expression “Crown lands” means the lands abandoned as aforesaid by the Chiefs Khama, Sebele, and Bathoen, to wit, the lands bounded on the West by the native reserves of the Bangwaketsi, the Bakwena, and Bamangwato, on the North by the Shashi River, on the East by the Transvaal, and on the South by the territory of Barolongs always excepting the territories of the Chief Moghosi of the Bamaliti, and Linchwe of the Bakhatla, all of which Native Reserves and territories have been or shall be more particularly described in Proclamations of His Majesty’s High Commissioner for South Africa(my underlining for emphasis).
The key words are: “always excepting the territories of the Chief Moghosi of the Bamaliti, and Linchwe of the Bakhatla”. We cannot speak for Bamaliti or other tribes & peoples of Botswana because we do not have a mandate to do so. They have their own Dikgosi and representatives. We wish to focus for now only on us Bakgatla, and our demand for restoration of ownership rights to our country. We do not want our ownership issue lumped in generalization with the rest of Botswana issues. We say this with respect, recognizing always that we have family, friends’ relations and other investment across Botswana. We love Botswana. As such, we do not want to burden anyone with our uniqueness, or they becoming an albatross in our march into the future. Pertinently, we do not want our future held hostage to any delays or failures – if any – within the Constitutional review exercise your Excellency has commenced.
Accordingly, this correspondence serves to kindly ask your Excellency to utilize his current powers as leader of BDP and State President, to take such steps as necessary to redress the injustices of 1966 perpetrated against Bakgatla – by returning Bakgatla Tribal Territory to its rightful owners.
It seems to me that we are asking something relatively simple and reasonable, because all you need do is: (a) present this demand to your BDP parliament caucus; (b) discuss with your cabinet, and (c) proceed to amend the current Botswana Constitution (application clauses) to indicate that the current constitution does not apply, and should never have applied to Bakgatla Tribal Territory (this should have been done in 1966 at the London Conference and stipulated in the Bechuanaland Independence Act passed in London), (d) declare our Bakgatla independence,(e) pass transition legislation, and (f) inform the United Nations and SADC accordingly that you have released us to our independence. This bold step will resolve a historical injustice in a short space of time with the least amount of energy. What we do with our independence moving forward is our business. We have competent leadership, intelligent resourceful people and good ideas to sort ourselves out. Be rest assured that Bakgatla shall experience a better quality of life to that we have endured under the current Botswana constitution since 1966.
Whilst it may be tempting to lose the simplicity of our demand in rhetoric, decorum, political red tape, and fear of the truth & change, it remains glaringly clear to us (victims of injustice) that: In as much as Sir Seretse Kgama and his BDP of 1966 managed to take our land by passing a law (Constitution), it should be within your same powers with current BDP to pass a similar law (amendment of constitution) to restore our country. Your Excellency has sufficient numbers in parliament, and all power of government to achieve this. Your party hasthe power to pass pretty much any law you please, as has been the case over the past 55 years. You also happen to be a Mokgatla man, well positioned to achieve these goals of freedom for Bakgatla. The only relevant question you need ask yourself, colleagues and interested persons now is: Show lawful cause why restoration of Bakgatla country must not happen!
May it be clear that: Bakgatla will not participate in any talks for Constitutional reform in Botswana, until we have full restoration our country (Bakgatla Reserve). Otherwise, we risk falling into error of betraying our forefather’s stand, recorded in Kgosi Linchwe 1’s letters of 1894, Kgosi Linchwe ii’s letters of December 1965, and all their gains since 1870, which are (our inheritance) systematically taken from us by politicians and foreign rule disguised as a democracy. Only then, with our country in hand, shall we be in a position to meaningfully contribute to constitutional reform, and negotiate a Federal State of Botswana (in the very least of compromises), where Bakgatla retain their independence, or semi – autonomy, within the greater Botswana.
Your Excellency must appreciate that we Bakgatla will never give up on our demands for restoration of our country. Our stand is a matter of principle informed by history and law. It is a reality of having no choice, given the history of cruelty we and our Bogosi have suffered at the hands of your BDP government and western democracy since 1966. In the climax of it all, your BDP government has advanced as far as passing laws in 2010-2014 (Court Judgements & Executive Orders) declaring your non-recognition of Bakgatla apex leadership, and prohibiting Bakgatla bogosi from leading our people.
In addition, your BDP government has effectively expelled the Bakgatla monarch out of Botswana (under threat of imprisonment) and left our people leaderless to date. These actions are a clear indicator that Bakgatla (have never been accepted) under BDP rule and current Botswana constitution. We have glaring indicators (red lights) that we must have a formal separation which endorses the status quo prior to 1966 in relation to land ownership and sovereignty. Logic dictates that your BDP government must release us Bakgatla into independence, if your government despises us so much as we have all seen over time. Setswana proverbs say: Monna o nkga le di tsaagwe – Motse fa o bakwa re tla o kgaogana.
Therefore, your failure (if any) to heed our demand, can only delay the inevitable. It will always reflect regret towards missed opportunity, as one president after another grapples with the same demand. Unfortunately, you will place us in the awkward position where we have to trouble your BDP government throughout your reign, the British Government, and British Royal Family in various forums over matters that we could have resolved locally as suggested herein. Unfortunately too, you will miss Bakgatla formal participation in the Constitutional reform talks. That entire exercise will become still-born from a failure of participation by a major tribe within the country. You will end up perpetuating the 1966 errors, exactly as they are recorded in the letters and other representations of 1965/66 made by those who opposed Seretse Kgama’s & BDP coup. We are already seeing sign posts from that same road.
The individual Mokgatla man or woman may speak for themselves, as they please. We do expect that some may stand against our course; especially those whose loyalties reside more with politics than Bakgatla heritage. But none – in their small or large numbers – has a legal mandate to speak for our private ownership of Bakgatla Tribal Territory.
Your Excellency must concede the factual reality before us that currently, I am unable to lead, let alone live amongst my people, because of BDP political interference, well documented in my recent book – The Last Frontier. It has always been open to your government to establish real (as opposed to abstract) conditions for my safe return and living amongst my people in Mochudi. Your law officers in DPP & Attorney General have power to formally withdraw all those fake criminal charges against me in Court (if they so wish), and draft legislation for your majority BDP to pass in parliament conferring Kgosi Kgolo Kgafela ii due and deserving immunity of a Kgosikgolo. It will not be the first time your government passes legislation specific to an individual (Kgafela ii).
Likewise, your government has power to pass legislation that formally recognizes, respects and adequately provides for office of KgosiKgolo in Botswana. That kind of legislation would have relieved Batswana of the current morass created by the 2011 High Court Judgement and related Executive Orders.
Rather than perform these relatively simply to understand tasks in the past ten years, we have observed a shameful trend amongst your party members, including your Excellency’s behavior (we say this with respect), where individuals use my name and integrity for political campaign. The theme is – bringing Kgafela back home – without attending to the real matters of legislative intervention. Your Excellency has been recorded saying that you will not rest until Kgafela is back home. But to date, you have not spoken to me. We see you visit people all over Botswana and the world, but you have not made time to visit and talk to me directly less than 400km away. Your party’s political rhetoric using my name treats me more like a stray Poodle, available to any passerby to grab and pose for a selfie – sometimes laced with disrespect.
There is no doubt that your BDP government displays superficial attitudes towards my return to Botswana. That same disposition makes it delusional for anyone to believe that your BDP government will ever pass the legislation suggested above (establishment of office of KgosiKgolo & immunity) because if the contrary were true, we would have seen signs sprout in the past ten years, especially since 2018. As such, trust is impossible, and we have to live with that reality.
I have come to terms with my fate that: the only way I will ever see my father country, or enjoy Botswana, is when Bakgatla have recovered our independence, or there is a new government that will create a safe environment for me to walk freely in Botswana enjoying respect of a KgosiKgolo. In the meantime, we will endure such fate that we continue to suffer property losses, poverty, and so many other difficulties flowing from my inability to access my property and my people in Botswana. Indeed, we have lost a lot of money so far, from having to defend ourselves and innocent tribesmen against politically motivated criminal trials, whilst thieves took advantage of our vulnerability to crush us deeper into poverty. We have no hope for compensation from government.
My Botswana Identity document (Omang), passport and driver’s license have expired. It is impossible for me to renew. I cannot visit a nearest Botswana embassy for help whilst there is risk of being arrested because of outstanding criminal charges in Botswana. Effectively, my Botswana citizenship under the current legal regime has expired, and I am left with no hope of renewal. I stand banished today, as it were with my grandfather Kgosi Molefi. These are repeating cycles of history we must break, once and for all.
Be that as it may, please understand that we hold no grudges against your Excellency or anyone in Botswana, given the conclusions and the decisions of destiny we have taken about the future. Nothing else matters now, other than that future. To that end, I am hereby formally inviting your Excellency to make time to come here and see me in South Africa, so that we may talk about these matters, and perhaps others of national interest. We need a very clear way forward post March 2022 concerning restoration of our country, because we intend to escalate our plight. Your Excellency may usefully arrange through my brother Hon Mmusi Kgafela and Kgosi Sekai, both of whom will liaise with Kgosi Ramono here in South Africa. Please let me know your response on or before 30th January 2022.
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.