According to Economist and Managing Consultant – SPECK Dynamics, Sennye Obuseng, Botswana’s national budget for the 2020/21 financial year presented by Minister of Finance and Economic Development Dr Thapelo Matsheka, is only about the economy and has no specific reference to children.
This week, the Civil Society Organizations in Botswana engaged a handful of opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), to discuss the national budget which they feel continues to ignore critical issues which are key to infusing children’s rights perspectives in budget debates. The Civil Society is concerned that children in Botswana continue to face a myriad of challenges due to inadequate resource allocations to the health, education, and social service sectors. Increases in allocations have in most cases remained nominal and hardly beneficial to children in real terms.
In his presentation Obuseng put into context the extent to which children, as a stakeholder group, are prioritised or not, in Budget 2020/ 21. He contended that the Children’s Act of 2009, makes clear the obligations of all duty bearers to children as follows: “…the promotion and protection of the rights of the child; …promotion of the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development and general well-being of children; the protection and care of children; the establishment of structures to provide for the care, support, protection and rehabilitation of children; and matters concerned therewith.”
Consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC or UNCRC), the Act says a child is anyone under the age of 18. The fulfilment of the aforesaid obligations requires the State as a key duty bearer to develop, resource and implement, appropriate interventions. Taking into account the obligations to children as spelt in the Act, the study focused on three fundamental premises, namely; every nation has a duty to ensure safe passage to productive adulthood for all its children; it is a moral, human rights and self-interest imperative.
Apart from having inalienable rights, including to health, education and development, children are a resource, Obuseng noted. He says however, their utility as a resource depends on adequate and appropriate investments being made in their favour at each stage of their development, failing which they could become liabilities as teenagers and as adults. Strategic government spending on children, and indeed all appropriate spending on children, is the most critical investment in a nation’s future, he contended.
“It is determinative of the quality of a nation’s human capital and its future competitiveness, and by extension, the key social and economic outcomes that drive or define progress and national prosperity, e.g. economic growth, employment, household incomes, poverty and general human welfare,” the study argued. “As Botswana sets its sights on becoming a High-Income Country (HIC), a knowledge economy and a knowledge society in 16 years’ time, one of the critical question to answer is: how is the country investing in its children?
“Finally, it is not only the quantum of per capita resources invested in children that matters, but also the timing. Investment in a child’s development has the most impact when it is made at the right time at every stage in a child’s development. “This includes adequate nutrition and prenatal care for expectant mothers; adequate nutrition, safe water, safe food, immunisation, and access to quality health services including appropriate care by trained health professionals when needed, and appropriate sexual and reproductive health services and information for adolescents and teenagers; and access to quality education for all ages. Question is, are our leaders and planners thinking this way?”
According to Obuseng, there is a dearth of complete and up-to-date information across the priority areas of child welfare in Botswana. Consequently, the analysis on children is often based on information that is several years old. “Even so, it is sufficient to generate a lucid picture of the state of children’s wellbeing in Botswana across the priority areas of poverty, nutrition and health, education and child protection,” he said. The former University of Botswana lecturer said data on child poverty in Botswana is insufficient (not enough coverage) and out of date.
He said available sources present highly inconsistent and incomparable estimates of child poverty, mostly due to conceptual and measurement issues. “The data are consistent in one regard though: Botswana’s children are more vulnerable to poverty than any other population group. That is so because they lack both agency and assets, and therefore depend on others to meet their needs. These needs often go unmet,” he said.
Obuseng says nutrition and health are critical areas of intervention for the promotion of the wellbeing of children and ensuring their safe passage to productive adulthood. Whilst all age groups face nutrition challenges, children are among the most vulnerable. Poor nutrition for children can have dire long-term consequences for “…the survival, growth and development of children, young people, economies and nations” as noted by State of the World’s Children 2019 report.
SOWC 2019 profiles what it calls the triple burden of malnutrition, namely undernutrition, hidden hunger and overweight. It is noted that under nutrition can lead to physical and mental stunting, and heightened risk of poverty as well as leading to wasting and death. “Hidden hunger, or deficiencies in micronutrients such as essential vitamins may lead to poor growth and development, weak immune systems, poor health and heightened risk of premature death,” SOWC 2019 indicated.
“Overweight can result in cardiovascular problems, infections and low self- esteem, obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. According to the State of the World’s Children Report 2019, malnutrition is a global crisis.According to SOWC 2019, the world is experiencing a malnutrition crisis. At least 1 in 3 children under five years of age is under-nourished or overweight, and 1 in 2 children suffer from hidden hunger, undermining the capacity of children to grow and develop to their full potential. 1 in 2 children under five suffer from hidden hunger due to deficiencies in vitamins and other essential micronutrients.
“Almost 200 million children under five suffered from stunting or wasting, whilst at least 340 million suffered from hidden hunger. From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of overweight children (5-19) years rose from 1 in 10 to almost 1 in 5. The number of stunted children has declined on all continents except in Africa,” the report indicated. The global crisis of malnutrition is Botswana’s crisis as well. According to SOWC 2019, Botswana is among 41 nations that suffer the triple burden of all three forms of malnutrition, namely; underweight, hidden hunger and overweight.
According to the report, 39.9% of Botswana’s children were not growing well in 2018. That means that at least a third of Botswana’s future human capital is at risk of severe destruction. The World Health Organisation’s Botswana Country Nutrition Profile of 2019, indicate that Botswana’s national prevalence rate of under 5 stunting (underweight) was 31.4% in 2007, 6.4 percentage points higher than the developing country average.
The prevalence of under 5 wasting was 7.2%. Low birth weight was 15.6% in 2015, a small improvement from 16.3% in 2000. Significantly, the report suggests that Botswana is not making progress in key areas of nutrition. Worrisomely, there was no up-to-date data on child malnutrition. Education is one of the most important and transformative investments a nation can make in its future. â€¨Whilst Botswana spends about 27% of its recurrent budget on education, which is by far the highest share of the recurrent expenditure, its development budget allocation does not even make the top six.
“The biggest problem for education in Botswana is performance. The public education system, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of learners, produces poor results,” argued Obuseng. “For instance, in 2019, 37.50% of Junior Certificate candidates obtained Grades C or better (credit grades). In 2018, the comparable figure was 38.00% in 2018. At the BGSE level, credit grade pass rates for 2018 and 2019 exit examinations were, respectively, 19.29% and 20.95%.
“It is safe to say that Botswana has a crisis of investment in children. Botswana is not investing effectively the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, the promotion of the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of children, and the protection and care of children. “The consequences for children, and the economy are dire. Overall, Botswana’s children have very poor prospects of realising their potential because of physical and cognitive development.
“This is manifest in poor performance at school. Ultimately, the ineffective investment in children translates into poor economic and human development outcomes.” Obuseng said under present circumstances, Botswana’s dreams of a knowledge economy, and high-performance 4IR compliant economy are unrealisable given trends in its investment in children.
Obuseng is an experienced development professional. Trained as an economist, with specialisation in Public Finance and Monetary Economics, he taught economics at the University of Botswana for eight years before joining UNDP Botswana as an Economist in 2000 to begin a fifteen year-long career as a development professional, providing policy and strategy advisory services, designing and managing programmes/ projects, undertaking the monitoring and evaluation of development programmes/ projects, doing policy and strategy advocacy work, and providing informed commentary on development.
Members of Parliament also utilised the opportunity to express their concerns. MP for Tonota, Pono Moatlhodi said classrooms in schools across the country are dilapidated thus not conducive for learning. Ngami MP Carter Hikuama said government has the tendency of trying to address the symptoms or outcomes. He said the current recurrent budget cannot impact meaningful change. “This is only to allow them to pay service delivery and keep the system running and functions of the Ministry. The development budget of the same Ministry [Basic Education] is the lowest”, he said.
Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.
Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.
“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.
Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.
The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.
The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River. They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).
His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.
The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.
Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.
37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far
Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.
“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.
It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.
Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.
In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.
“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.
Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.
Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”
Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.
He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”
According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.
Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.
“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.
He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.
Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.
“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.
He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”
Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.
However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.
In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.
“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.
Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.
“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.
Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.
In an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.
The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.
“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.
According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.
“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.
Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.
“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.
“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.
Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).
On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.
Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.
President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.
“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.
On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.
In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.
Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.
Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.
As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.
This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.
The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.
As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.
“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.