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President Khama can still save his presidency


It is really cold at the top. It’s even colder when you are the president of a country that has been ruled by one party for more than 48 years. With economic prospects looking gloomy, time is running fast for the BDP, more especially for President Ian Khama.

For the first time in Botswana politics, the ruling party slipped below the 50% popular vote, a sign that the citizens have become frustrated with the ruling party. At the centre it is Mr Khama who is feeling the heat; his leadership has been put under scrutiny. And it doesn’t look good. He is receiving criticism from all fronts and some have even went further to brand him as the worst president this country has ever had: an assumption that neglects some basic truths.

 Often compared to the past presidents, the comparison neglects the fact that president Khama is operating under an altogether different setting. While other past presidents could throw money and mask the true extents of the problems, Mr Khama does not have that luxury.

He faces enormous challenges, a burgeoning class of unemployed graduates, civil servants with depressed disposable incomes, fragile world markets, elusive diversification of the economy and a robust opposition parties that claim can do better than him. To be fair to the man, most problems frustrating Batswana are not his own doing, rather it’s a culmination of lack of foresight from all the past presidents. He just happened to find himself as the president at the wrong time.

But not all it’s lost. With four years left before he concludes his second term, the president can turn things around and salvage his presidency.

The general consensus is President Khama will face four years of lame duckery. To avoid this, the president will have to roll back his sleeves and set in motion policy reforms. Something he hasn’t exactly done since assuming office six years ago. With the opposition parties currently riding high, Mr Khama will have to think outside the box to ride the wave that is currently threatening to drown him. The sooner he starts the better.

President Khama might feel the criticism levelled against him is unfair but he is the man at the driving seat. It hasn’t been an easy presidency for him. When he assumed the presidency, the world economy went into a recession leaving him with few cards to play. He couldn’t meet the workers demand for higher salary wages nor create employment opportunities. He faltered in handling the first major workers strike and his administration had to battle with corruption scandals implicating high ranking officials.

Furthermore, delayed major projects (Morupule B, Sir Seretse Khama airport) and cost overruns blighted his rhetoric about delivering results. To the already frustrated citizens, the president came across as being aloof and authoritarian. His attempts to controlling the situation was dismissed as fickle, his projects were branded populist and money wasting. This in turn left the president to be frustrated and combatative due to the incessant criticism he was receiving from all corners,

To achieve success, the president will have to change his leadership style that is often seen as divisive, vindictive and exclusionary. The president has just emerged from a bruising election that echoed a warning message, Batswana want change. It might not be a change of government but they want a meaningful change in their lives. The president owes this change not only to those who voted him but even to those who did not vote for his party.

First on his agenda should be democratic and economic reforms. When he assumed the presidency, Mr Khama assured the citizens that he holds democracy in high regard. Unfortunately the president hasn’t done much to prove that point. Although Botswana remains a vibrant democracy, that democracy is being surpassed by late comers such as South Africa.

The oversight institutions in Botswana are weak, the presidency has too much power and parliament has become a toothless dog. This has created an impression that Mr Khama is a dictator whenever he excises his executive powers. Its no longer sufficient for the president to deny the allegations, what is sufficient is for the president to introduce reforms.

He should rally his BDP majority led parliament to pass laws that promote democracy. This includes giving parliament more power over other oversight institutions. He should also avail himself to be questioned by legislators as it is done in mature democracy such as Britain.

Mr Khama will have to rise above the occasion and accept that the private media remains a cornerstone of any thriving democracy. He might hate the lies that have been told about him but he is partly to blame for this. His distaste for the private media is legendary, and the private media is giving back as much as it is getting. To get over the impasse, he should make information easily accessible to the media by embracing the Access to Information law.

On the economic front, the impetus is on the president to promote transparency and accountability. Most of the government excesses have been due to corruption. Tendering has become a money spinner for a few business people, including foreigner investors. To remedy the situation, there is a need for a comprehensive review of the tendering process in Botswana.

The Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board should be mandated to release all the names of companies that have won tenders, the value of their tenders and the progress achieved. This will guard against people who have made it their past time to defraud the government.

The president should get his pen ready to sign important laws like the Asset and Liabilities Declaration. This will absolve the president form the assumptions that he condones corruption. Batswana have complained about feeling like second citizens in their own country as foreigners continue to benefit more than them. This calls for a robust citizen empowerment strategy which will also emphasize the dire need for skills transfer.

The biggest challenge for the president will be the transformation of the education sector and creating employment. Botswana is facing an educational crisis, the whole thing is a ticking bomb. On the other hand you have frustrated teachers who are not getting their dues and on the other hand you have students who are becoming increasingly annoyed with an outdated education system.

Contrary to popular belief, the education crisis did not begin during Mr Khama’s administration, rather it has been the results of the past governments that have been lax and unimaginative. The current education model is cruel to the less academically gifted students. Its time for an education system that enhances capability and also relevant to the modern times.

For example, the current education model in Botswana is big on theory and lacking on the practical aspects. Information technology remains a critical skill hence the need to introduce it at primary school level. This should go beyond the typical basic computer functions but rather introduce students to programming. Innovation remains key to economic growth, and this innovation is driven by technology.

A change of personnel lays critical to Mr Khama’s plans. But his choice of personnel has been disappointing. The president should change how his administration is run. He should go public with his team of advisors, official and non official advisors.

The president should get rid of the tag that his administration is run through a coterie of insiders chosen more for their loyalty rather than merit. Instead of picking a team of people who can compensate for what he lacks, Mr Khama seems to prefer people who are loyal and meek The president will have to let go of certain people who have brought him more headaches than solutions.

First on the list should Be Isaac Kgosi, the Director General of DIS. This is the man who shouldn’t have been the head of the DIS in the first place, his close proximity to the president has tied everything his organisation does with the president. The lines have become too blurred.

To make matters worse he has been implicated in corruption allegations and the organisation he leads continues to be a source of fear for the citizens. The president should either disband the organisation or appoint someone neutral. The chop list should also include Carter Morupisi Eric Molale, the recently appointed director of DPSM and minister of presidential affairs, respectively. Mr Morupisi and Molale have been at the centre of the disgruntled civil service. Their approach to the civil service has been a comedy of tragic errors.

President Khama can achieve a lot in the next four years. He just needs to change the way he has been doing things, when handled well he will go down history as one of the best statesman in Africa. President Khama needs to lead with a feeling, that includes being decisive and authoritative. The democratic and economic reforms will boost his already popular public image. Most importantly it will leave his critics will little ammunition, in the process consolidating his power and repositioning his party as the only alternative in 2019.

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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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