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Let’s be Utopian about our nationhood

Vincent Matumo

Somebody once asked what is wrong with this world. The most apt response which was rather philosophical but simple at the same time, was that the world does not have a religious problem or a social problem or an economic problem; rather the world has an evil heart problem.

Love is the ingredient that is missing from history. The self interest of man has led him to kill, maim, imprison and dominate another to fulfil their own selfish interests. But provision has never been in short supply neither has space for everyone to live in peace and liberty. Individualism has now pervaded even the traditional nuclear family system to a point where there are oligarchies within a family set up.

Genocides have erupted in many places around the world, slavery in all its forms, including the Cross Atlantic slave trade and the racial segregation have dealt a painful blows to people but pure resilience has ensured that people emerge scarred but alive. But Botswana has remained unscathed. Do we appreciate who we are?

A country like Botswana has the answer for Africa and the rest of the world with regards to what constitutes living together in harmony and love.

One cannot be faulted for singling out that obscure but expansive country in southern Africa, as a beacon of hope for a continent under siege; Botswana. Botswana with ease becomes an exception whenever the less complimentary aspects of our continent are mentioned. But Batswana seemingly do not as a whole appreciate the uniqueness of their environment and the opportunities that prevail in it.

This country is yet to industrialise, diversify its income streams and economic activity as well as to secure its own food. This situation dictates that we revisit and review our status regularly and not be caught unawares. We are uncertain about the Southern African Customs Unions revenue formula and its future; there are only mumblings from our major partners, South Africa but cards are being held close to peoples’ bosoms.

How about we throw away the ‘we can’t’ and ‘no money’ excuses and excel together as a nation? There are just over two million people in our country who apparently resemble a step family scenario where one has all they ever need while the other has to struggle just to get by.
Yes it is easy for the haves to say the have-nots are lazy and they have failed to utilise their chances at a better life. But this is all stems from the way we were exposed and socialised and the socio-economic circumstances surrounding the way we were raised, whether these were in our control or not.

The national vision, the Vision 2016 is an embodiment of the aspirations of a nation. However, it this Vision, though hugely positive and full of vitality, has been cast aside as a pipe dream that is removed from reality. Where did it all go wrong? Some mistakenly see the Vision as a ruling party gimmick that is not working anymore. Not true.       

Though the target year is next year and the goals are unattainable as it were, the ideals embodied in the vision should remain the guiding principles going forward, even in the drafting of the next Vision.  In case one needs to be reminded, the pillars talk of:

  • An Educated and Informed Nation
  • A Prosperous, Productive and Innovative Nation
  • A Compassionate, Just and Caring Nation
  • A Safe and Secure Nation
  • An Open, Democratic and Accountable Nation
  • A Moral and Tolerant Nation
  • A United and Proud Nation

We should start with the constant impasse with regard to relations between Government and the teaching fraternity. This is a very unwelcome scenario that has brewed beyond cool tempers and looks to affect the quality of education that is availed to learners; a direct attack on the knowledge economy future that we so dream about. This pillar cannot be discounted even for a second. Yet we see egos at play with regard to this particular matter. At this point, distributing blame will not help to ease the situation but tolerance, consultation and compromise are key if we are to reach win-win solution for all.  

When President Ian Khama said he will aim to eradicate poverty, many people snickered. The thought of eradicating poverty in an African country seems to be farfetched. But what would be so wrong about deliberately vying for zero poverty levels in Botswana? It is not be entirely a pipe dream, provided everybody who has a role to play, cooperates. The world is at least speaking about poverty eradication, not alleviation.

However, the poverty card has been overplayed and the time for action has long elapsed. While we wait for the G8 countries to act fulfil pledges made to developing countries, we should be a reflection of a country that wants to pull out of poverty situations. We have since joined the world in tolerating the existence of exclusion of certain pockets of our society, something that is evident in the way we treat our own brethren, the Basarwa.

Here is another are where we can be idealistic and try things that have never been tried anywhere else. We do not need a precedent; we have a unique situation of having wealth that is unfortunately not nearly distributed equitably. What can we do about it?  We can let Batswana dream outrageously. Besides the very welcome phenomenon that is social media, where are the forums where people of all backgrounds can have public discussions and share solutions about the challenges that besiege this country?

While, as a country we have only had the odd riot here and there, without major upheavals and mass violence, ours is still a very volatile situation. Yes we are known the world over as an oasis of peace in a continent that has until very recently been known only for its instability and wars. But of late there have been allusions to the citizenry living in fear. Ours is too small a country to be living in fear. Though the leadership of the country has quashed the allegations of people living in fear of their Government, it is still evident that this perception is not going away, that in itself is a problem.

With regards to living standards and conditions, the Initial Public Offering of Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited, when it does actually happen, is a great scenario of such deliberate thinking in action, whereby ownership of the national asset is transferred into citizen hands. Communities should unite and act collectively to create livelihoods for all to avoid social and economic exclusion. The vicious cycle of ignorance to poverty must be curtailed.

Where are the deliberate efforts to sell our home grown artists and musicians in other parts of the world? Where are the citizen owned business consortiums that are go out into the world to conquer? Where are the business research and development agencies that identify opportunities and ensure that they are monetised to the benefit of this country’s people?   

Lastly, one should ask why we are so polarised as a nation because of partisan politics that we fail to draw the line when it is time to be one nation? We now see scenarios where people’s deaths are cause for celebration because of differences in political opinion. It is always a good time to reflect and appraise ourselves and get back onto the right way of doing things, the way that will ensure development for all.

We came together as a nation and raised funds for Abbie Ntshabele and she is off to get her medical treatment in China. What is it that we can’t do together as a nation?

We should not be afraid to dream and we should be unhindered in pursuit of those dreams. A nation is considered great because of the philosophies that it teaches the world. The whole cross section of society, including the national leadership and the ordinary citizenship, has a huge role to play in that. Let us be idealistic about how things can be and the ‘realistic’ world will soon catch up with us.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Oscar Motsumi:

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

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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

9th March 2021


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

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

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

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

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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