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Adopting a Transformational Agenda: Trade Union Renewal in Botswana


As trade unions in Botswana we are compelled to organize workers in dealing with a totalitarian regime and the expanding services sectors. Added to this is the imperative to take on multinational corporations; to create strong solidarity among workers from diverse backgrounds; to forge coalitions with other organizations. Another imperative is to engage young people in the trade union movement.

The trade union movement has in the past been seized with the crucial role of fighting for decent wages, hours of work, equality in the workplace, fare treatment, workplace health and safety, and social justice. Currently the trade union movement has a much greater enemy to deal with.

Namely, issues of globalization, outsourcing, privatization, capital flight and restructuring that have presented employment and income insecurity to poorly organized work force in the country. Therefore, it is inescapable that the trade union movement in Botswana must self-invent if it is to deal with these challenges capably for we can no longer afford to blame our woes on a hostile government, unfavorable economic structural changes or apathy of the younger generation of workers towards unionizing (Kloosterboer, 2007).

Of recent trade unions in Botswana have suffered stagnation and in some areas decline in membership due to a hostile political environment and members beginning to question representativeness of the trade unions on the interests of workers. The most recent chink on the armor of trade union density in Botswana followed the threat of secession by the Botswana Public Officers Union (BOPEU) from the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Trade Unions (BOFEPUSU). This threat of secession was as a result of divergent political alignment. Such move demonstrates trade union leadership’s inability to agree on what model to take to protect the workers’ agenda.

Due to these structural and fundamental threats to the existence of trade unionism in Botswana I would like to suggest key constructs of trade union renewal in this country. Such constructs will inform how trade unions run their business going forward and what shape they take.

Transformational Agenda and Renewal

Though the traditional role of trade unions in Botswana has significantly been narrowly perceived to be just agitating for better wages and working conditions such perception is not only myopic but completely detached from 21st century trade unionism. Trade unionism has evolved with new challenges such as globalization, economic restructuring, multinational corporations, capital flight, foreign direct investment, the fight against neo-liberalism, etc.

With such new challenges the primary mandate of trade unions is no longer just to increase member density as trade unions no longer only exist for their members. This is in view of the ineffaceable fact that trade union operations shapes society. They also contribute to a properly functioning democracy, boosting voter turnout in elections and giving workers a voice at the workplace (Roberts & Cowell, 2012).

Organizing across Workers Groups

In the past three years we experienced trade unions earnestly organizing across working class groups. A case in point is the teachers’ unions: Botswana Sectors of trade Union (BOSETU), Botswana Teachers’ Union (BTU) and Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) move to organize across the national education structure with TAWU especially concentrating among the marginalized workers in the service industry.

However, such organization by the national trade union movement has proven to be less effective as it lacked fundamental ideological foundation. This lack of founding or underpinning principles has led to such organizing characterized by member poaching; back biting, union relationship disputes and loose sectoral integration of such marginalized workers’ groups into the unions.

There is need for a systematic ideology driven mobilization and organizing strategy especially among the sectors with high shares of minority workers if Botswana’s trade union movement is to stay relevant.

The appeal and depth of any serious minded trade union is based on the ideology that underpins its very existence, for without such foundation the trade union is merely a reaction to forces of national power and nothing else.

Please understand that by so saying I am not espousing partisan politics. The orientation of my argument is that without a firm political ideology trade unionism is in essence baseless and tunnel visionary in its approach to socio, economic and political challenges facing both its constituents and the nation.

Bottom up and Top Down Approach

Trade union member density in Botswana has stagnated generally due to dissonance in member interests in relation to leadership action. Many a times trade union members decry lack of proper representation by leadership with leadership accused of taking decisions that do not represent member interests. Therefore, it is critical that initiatives have to come from the masses in order for them to have grassroots support.

Having said this, it is equally important that there is a strong leadership commitment to a workers agenda if union initiatives are to get members blessing and drive. Most saddening in our context is the lethargy within union members to active participation. There is general apathy especially among tertiary institutions where bona fide union members are content with subscribing and sitting back to cast aspersions on decisions by leadership.

Be that as it may, trade unions cannot afford to treat their members as passive consumers of decisions and initiatives they engage in lest they run the risk of rendering themselves irrelevant.

Staying Relevant  

Though there are new dynamics that require trade unions in Botswana to self-invent, it is equally critical that trade unions should never lose sight of their mandate of providing an agenda based on workers’ rights, employment creation and social protection.

Having said this, trade unions’ mandate is much broader than just ensuring income security, safe working conditions, and skill mobility for workers. They are directly involved in systems of economic production and distribution of wealth. Therefore, they cannot disassociate themselves from protection of human rights and democracy.

With this in mind it is preposterous for certain interest groups to berate BOFEPUSU’s involvement in shaping the national politics as all self-respecting trade unions are gate keepers of social justice. Likewise, ‘fence sitting’ as trumpeted by some is in essence ludicrous and nothing else but a game of smoke and mirrors.

However, the notion of ‘fence sitting’ might be appealing to some due to the fact that in Botswana oftentimes enemies of workers’ rights depict trade unions as rabble-rousers serving narrow self-interests that are devoid of national interests.

In view of this, trade unions must engage on a systematic social justice agenda where unions will be seen as partners in national socio-economic and political development.

It is also important that trade unions engage in coalitions on community mobilization initiatives. This would strengthen grassroots mobilization and organization and also allay the misguided notions that trade unions only serve narrow interests.

Trade unions must actively engage in community mobilization and campaigns for social justice such as launching campaigns against government policies that threaten democracy and the rule of law. Likewise, trade unions must be in the forefront in launching community campaigns against social ills such as corruption and abuse of state resources.

It is equally crucial that trade unions in Botswana forge coalitions with community organizations in influencing district and national policy. For example, land allocation, protection of minority groups, use of mother tongue in foundation classes, and distribution of national resources.

For its survival Botswana’s trade union movement needs to ask itself these hard questions:

Does it act only on behalf of a privileged group of workers who are already its members or does it stand to mobilize new groups of workers?

Does it prioritize job security over socio-economic political imperatives or does it advocate for sustainable development?

Are its decision making structures transparent and democratic or are decisions made in boardrooms?

Does it agitate for equal rights for all or does it talk about it with the hope that government will deliver on it?

This said, trade unions must view themselves as critical contributors to social policy and invaluable players in providing the balance between efficiency of the markets and equity for the people (Roberts & Cowell, 2012). This would require a change in outlook.

They have to view themselves and be viewed not only as representing narrow self-interests to being spokespersons of broader social justice imperatives.

David Keagakwa is a member of BOSETU Research & Publications Committee.
(This is a two part submission and hopefully we will share the second part next week).

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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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