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Bogadi: A call for national debate

TRENDS IN MARRIAGE—MARITAL STATUS (%EVER MARRIED) SELECTED AGE GROUPS

One of the main features of social advancement, from hunter gatherer to tribal chiefdoms and eventually to nation states, is that the family has evolved into the foundation of society, its main social unit. As human social organization became sophisticated, the institution of marriage came into operation to ensure family stability and provide a conducive atmosphere in which the young could be nurtured into responsible members of society. A major advance in strengthening the family, pioneered mainly but not entirely by early Christianity, brought about monogamy. Most societies prior to Christianity were polygamous.


Our own society in Botswana has gone through all these stages. By the time most of us who are contemporary in the country were born, monogamy was getting entrenched. I would posit that this was brought about by a combination of the establishment of Christianity in the country as well as the transition of our society from a rural agricultural base to a cash based one.


The tradition of Bogadi is one aspect of marital practice in Botswana that has persisted, although with time it has developed rather negative features. Different forms of this practice exist in many societies in Africa and other parts of the world, especially in traditional societies. In Southern Africa it is commonly known as Lobola and is widely practiced in various forms, and in other parts of Africa and the developing world it has been referred to as Dowry or Bride price. It generally consists of the family of the groom paying something to the family of the bride. In a few societies, and one hears this mainly about India, the dowry is paid by the family of the bride. I haven’t heard of this in Africa, definitely not in Southern Africa.


In the Botswana context, idealists and traditionalists have described bogadi as a form of “thank you” to the family of the bride for bringing her up properly and I presume thus making her into a potentially good wife. Detractors of the system have however described it as exploitation of the family of the groom, and even worse, as a form of selling the daughter for a price. Historically we know that Christian Missionaries (European) in their early contact with Batswana discouraged the practice as they maintained it amounted to selling a daughter. This led to at least one of the Kings/Chiefs, Khama III, banning it in his territory on being converted to Christianity.


The practice has however demonstrated strong elements of survival and staying power. Bogadi is still virtually universal in Botswana, and has even made a come-back in Serowe, Khama III’s capital base, where it had disappeared for a long time, or was practised covertly by charging for other things such as leobo or demanding a lot of clothes.


Botswana belongs to a number of pastoral societies in East and Southern Africa that are strongly pastoral, where cattle ownership has historically been a sign of not only wealth but prestige and power. In such societies, bogadi or lobola, is highly valued, and is traditionally paid in cattle, usually a large number of them.

Unfortunately the system gives the groom and his family very high powers over the wife and the children, virtually taking the wife away from her family and absorbing her into the husband’s family, and making her and the children virtual properties of the husband’s family.

This has been known to encourage abuse, especially of the wife, on the premise that she has been paid for; “re go ntsheditse bogadi, dira se kgotsa dira sele”.  Stories of abuse of wives by their in-laws, especially mothers in law and sisters in law, abound. This is what prompted the early missionaries to regard bogadi as tantamount to buying the wife.


After being involved in a number of marriages of relatives, I have become quite disturbed at the direction the practice of bogadi is taking in our society. Whether it was ever as good as its advocates claim I don’t know- it is a universal tendency of human nature to glorify the past.  But it has now certainly developed very negative features, and it is having quite a negative impact on family formation in our society. It has become so commercialized that it has consequently become a major impediment to couples getting married.


As a background, let us look at changes that have taken place in our society. Firstly, the proportion of families that own cattle has declined severely over the latter half of the 20th century. Few families now own cattle. I will not go into the reasons for that. However, what it means is that a young man who wants to get married has to raise cash to pay bogadi.

Secondly, the percentage of adults married has also declined progressively over over the last couple of decades. On the corollary, this has resulted in the majority of children in our society being born out of wedlock. I would posit that these phenomena are all connected; few people can now afford bogadi as few families own cattle, and many are not earning enough to pay the demanded bogadi in cash. Most are just not earning enough to pay the going price.

Therefore couples tend to just maintain a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship and start having children hoping that at some point the man might just accumulate enough money to pay bogadi. With the low incomes that are earned by most of the working population this day never comes.


The graph below illustrates what has been happening to marriage in the country. The graph analyses males and females in two age groups (25-29 and 45-49) in three censuses (1971, 1981, 1991) and shows a progressive decline in percentages of persons ever married. (This is from a paper I presented in 2006, and unfortunately I have no figures for the 2001 and 2011 censuses, but I would be surprised if the declining trend has been arrested. This is a serious problem, as it aggravates the problem of single parent households. I reiterate my statement that bogadi is a major if not the major contributor to this decline in percentages of adults ever married.

In the last few months I have been involved in the organization of the traditional part of marriages (patlo, go ntsha bogadi etc.), including the demands made by the girl’s side. The following is the typical demand I have encountered: Bogadi 8 head of cattle, Kgomo ya metsi(called different things in different parts of Botswana such as kgomo ya motlhakanelwa, serufo etc.), kgomo ya tlhagela (if you already have a child ), making ten cattle in all. It would then be specified that if you pay in money, each beast translates to P3,500 or P3,000. This translates to more than P30,000 in all.


In addition, most tribes would demand a whole host of clothes, including a suit for the father of the bride and a costume for the mother with shoes etc., as well as a tsale, tukwi, and other things for other relatives. The bride herself has to be outfitted in clothes. In my experience this is another P20,000 or so. So, before the marriage itself takes place, about P50,000 is needed from the groom. The marriage feast itself will be several tens of thousands.


Now, how many men can afford this? Most of our men are in middle or low income categories of income. This kind of money is just beyond them, even most young men who have graduated from University in the last five or more years cannot afford this.

Their families are usually not in a position to help. So, the young couple is likely to postpone marriage indefinitely and cohabit, or just to have one or two children and go their separate ways.


In view of the discussion above, I would suggest that the leadership in this country, the Royal Establishments especially, seriously engage their people and relook at bogadi. While completely abolishing it may not be a practical way to go, at least modify it drastically to enable young people to afford it- make it affordable for the low income men and potential middle income men who have just entered the market. The long-term goal should be to encourage and facilitate young people to marry, and thus reduce the proportion of children born outside the secure atmosphere of married parents.


I believe, and I have stated this before, that as a nation we have not developed the culture of debating social issues deeply. This kind of topic needs to be debated by our society, facilitated by appropriate bodies, including the traditional and political leaderships, and the academic world.

There are other issues relating to family life that need similar discussions, e.g., what is the impact of new policies like the role of biological fathers where at marriage the man said he is taking kgomo le namane? How do families share responsibility where the girl who bears a child out of marriage and her parents dump the child at the father’s parents place and then suddenly demand the child back when it is grown up?


These are issues needing in-depth discussions, and I hope our society will give them due attention.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

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: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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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. www.womeninnews.org

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

MELANIE WALKER

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

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