President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and the Directorate of Intelligence (DIS) came under the lens of the United Nations Human Rights Committee during the just ended dialogue between committee members and the Botswana delegation.
Scores of issues, among them the country’s reports on topics including whether Masisi abused the State of Emergency Act during the COVID-19 pandemic and alleged surveillance and harassment of members of the public by DIS, were addressed at the session.
A Committee expert asked about legislation in the Penal Code allowing the Government to investigate people who expressed opinions against public figures, particularly the President. How many cases were there of journalists who had been investigated, prosecuted and tried? Concerning the COVID-19 Emergency Powers Act, there was a provision for a fine or a five-year jail term for journalists using “source(s) other than the Director of Health Services or the World Health Organization” when reporting on COVID-19. The Committee Expert asked for the number of cases and other measures taken under this Act.
Another committee expert wanted to know that the scale and scope of electronic surveillance, which had sharply increased in recent years, was concerning. Furthermore, the Committee was troubled at the lack of a sufficient independent oversight mechanism over the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services that reportedly had contributed to a growing climate of fear and chilling effect on journalists, human rights defenders and opposition politicians. In this respect, a Committee Expert asked about the measures taken by Botswana during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that the right to privacy was protected (collection and management of personal data).
The Expert also enquired about a database website, which was not functioning but was supposed to contain documents of Botswana’s international human rights commitments. In terms of the freedom of assembly, while the Constitution of the State party guaranteed it, the Committee had received information that, in practice, the Public Order Act required citizens to apply to the nearest police for a permit to hold an assembly, and police had sometimes denied requests for unclear reasons.
The Committee Expert asked if the Public Order Act of the State party had been applied in conformity with those tests. Would the State party indicate the measures it had taken and/or intended to take to make the application of the law in question strictly compatible with the requirements under article 21? Furthermore, the Committee had also received allegations that police officers sometimes used force to compel gathering people to disperse. In this regard, the Expert asked for information on legal provisions and practical guidelines under which police officers may resort to force and any training programme if any, for police and other law enforcement officers to respect and ensure the right of peaceful assembly.
A Committee Expert asked about cases of holding people for longer periods under pre-trial detention than the maximum period provided for in legislation, 36 months, instead of six. Were there any plans to shorten the duration of pre-trial detention in legislation? The Committee noted that there was no provision for local community broadcasting. What measures were the State party taking to ensure that the local communities could also communicate in their language in the media?
What measures had been undertaken by Botswana to increase sustainable development in the country regarding climate change in particular. What efforts had been undertaken to ensure that customary courts worked up to speed? A Committee Expert asked about children in rural areas who travelled a long way to their schools. The delegation was asked about the independence of the Ombudsman Office, including provisions for appointing the Ombudsman. What budget was envisaged for this Office?
The Expert acknowledged the established procedures and institutions for anti-human trafficking but expressed concerns about the lack of reported cases. The Expert asked about the accountability of the public prosecution, as well as the intelligence services. Replying, the Botswana delegation, led by Presidential Minister Kabo Morwaeng, said there was an ongoing consultation for revising provisions that would ensure better protection for journalists and media freedom in Botswana.
Still, the delegation said, freedom of expression was assured in the State party without any restrictions, including in Parliament. There was an education programme providing the opportunity for children in primary school to be taught in their mother tongue. It also explained that the Ombudsman would be dealing with issues of human rights promotion and protection.
“National policies and procedures were envisaged to control the distribution of natural resources. Botswana was also taking measures to increase the access of minority groups to education. Regarding pre-trial detention, the delegation explained that the criminal procedure assured justice was preserved in the country,” said the delegation.
On the issue of torturer and alleged use of unreasonable force on suspects, the Botswana delegation explained that police officers were trained to use minimal force, ensuring that human rights were preserved, including in the cases of assemblies. On the use of surveillance, no legal provisions were breached, and such measures were used in accordance with national legislation. Legal aid was very costly, and it was not possible to keep the record in detail as asked by the Committee.
Morwaeng told the Committee that the Government maintained a robust consultative approach to policy development and legislative process. He said this was a system of governance that ensured that the voices of ordinary citizens were respected and taken into account in the social, economic and political process that affected them the most, giving full effect to the full enjoyment of human rights across the board. The delegation took due note of the views of the Committee, including the importance of harnessing information technology to give a broader appreciation of the provisions of the Covenant.
For the past two years, the world has been at combat with various COVID-19 variants. A new variant of concern which is considered to have a combination of the greatest hits (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta) has sent alarm bells around the world.
Botswana’s COVID-19 genomic surveillance, which actively monitors COVID-19 variants in Botswana, picked four samples that were concerning and discovered a completely new variant. In accordance with international obligations, as a responsible member state under the International Health Regulations of 2005, Botswana submitted the suspected new variant for the entire global scientific community to respond to this early finding. Shortly after, the Republic of South Africa, also submitted a similar concerning variant.
The new variant, ‘Omicron’ is named after the 15th letter of the Greek Alphabet to avoid public confusion and stigma. The news spread like wild fire which resulted in European Union member states, the United Arab Emirates and United States of America imposing travel bans on Botswana and other sister SADC nations, resulting in drawing a wedge between nations.
In his address on the occasion of an update on Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has shunned the response by some countries to Botswana’s detection of the Omicron variant stating that it is unfortunate as it appears to have caused unnecessary panic amongst the public across the world. He considers it defeating the spirit of multilateral cooperation in dealing with this global pandemic.
“The decision to ban our citizens from travelling to certain countries was hastily made and is not only unfair but is also unjustified while remain confident that reason and logic will prevail, the harshness of the decision has the effect of our shaking our belief in the sincerity of declared friendship and commitment of equality and economic prosperity for us,” he said.
President Masisi has appealed to the nations that have imposed travel restrictions on Botswana to reflect and review their travel restrictions stance against the Southern African region.
African leaders and heads of state are in agreement on a matter. Some stating that the travel bans are ‘uncalled for, afro phobic, unscientific, strict, unfair and unjustified’. They have come out to bash the unilateral travel bans and request immediate upliftment of the restrictions imposed on SADC member states by European Union member states, the United Arab Emirates and United States of America.
While Batswana are banned from international travel, locally as at 26th November 2021, a total of 195 068 COVID19 cases and 2 418 deaths had been reported since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We have been steadily witnessing a decrease in the number of new cases and deaths in the last three months. We are currently reporting an average of less 10 infections per 100 000 people compared to 648 cases per 100 000 people at the peak of the third wave. We have also observed a gradual decline in hospitalizations across the country with an average of less than 10 patients at a time at Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital (SKMTH) and our other health facilities countrywide,” pointed out President Masisi.
Masisi encouraged Batswana not to despair as to date, all the nations’ key indicators remain stable. “This is comforting although it still does not warrant any complacency on our part in terms of behaviour and other attitudinal patterns towards this dreadful disease. We are actively monitoring the evolving situation in view new variant of concern,’’ he sternly advised.
Government through the different Ministries leading the different sectors, has been working tirelessly to prepare for potential outbreaks and a fourth (4th) wave. This will be achieved through; installing oxygen generating plants and increasing skilled human capacity.
With regards to the vaccination programme; as of 29th November 2021, an estimated One Million and Fifty Three Thousand Three Hundred and Sixty One (1 053 361) people translating to 75.7% of the target Batswana citizens and residents over the age of 18 years have received at least 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccines. A total of Nine Hundred and Fifty Thousand Nine Hundred and Seventy Three (950 973) people translating to 68.4% have been fully vaccinated. This number exceeds the 64% target Botswana has set to achieve by end of December 2021.
Masisi enthusiastically revealed that; “We are one of the three countries in Africa that have achieved the World Health Organisation target of vaccinating at least 40% of the entire population by December 2021. We are committed to ensure that all is done to reduce the transmission of the virus in the country.
More vaccines are being procured to ensure availability for those who have not yet received any dose. Government is also considering booster doses for those who may be identified as qualifying for them.”
President Masisi urged Batswana to continue observing the COVID-19 health protocols of social distancing, washing hands or sanitizing and wearing masks and avoid unnecessary travelling.
As COVID-19 pandemic continues to shake the world, China has promised to donate a billion coronavirus vaccines, advance billions of dollars for African trade and infrastructure, and write off interest-free loans to African countries to help the continent recover from the coronavirus pandemic. All these promises emerged at the Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Senegal at the end of November 2021.
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China will provide one billion doses of vaccines to Africa when delivering keynote speech at the Eighth Ministerial FOCAC via video link on 29th November. Of those, 600 million would be via donations and the rest would be produced jointly by African countries and Chinese companies. In addition, China would send medical teams to help the continent deal with the pandemic.
President Xi also announced nine programmes that China will work closely with African countries in the next three years. He mentioned the medical and health program, the poverty reduction and agricultural development program, the trade promotion program, the investment promotion program, the digital innovation program, the green development program, the capacity building program, the cultural and people-to-people exchange program, the peace and security program. President Xi hailed China-Africa relations as a shining example for building a new type of international relations.
Furthermore, Xi said Beijing would pump US$10 billion into African financial institutions for onward lending to small and medium enterprises. He promised to extend another US$10 billion of its International Monetary Fund allocation of special drawing rights, which would help stabilise foreign exchange reserves. In addition, China will write-off interest-free loans due this year, to help the economies that had been ravaged by the pandemic. Last year, China also promised to write off interest-free loans due at the end of 2020.
Beijing pledged US$60 billion to finance Africa’s infrastructure at the forum in Johannesburg in 2015, and a similar amount when the gathering was held in the Chinese capital in 2018. But in the past few years, Chinese lenders, including the policy banks – Exim Bank of China and China Development Bank – have become more cautious and are now demanding bankable feasibility studies amid debt distress in the continent.
Besides seeking more money for projects, Xi said China would encourage more imports of African agricultural products, and increase the range of zero-tariff goods, aiming for US$300 billion of total imports from Africa in the next three years.
China would also advance US$10 billion of trade financing to support African exports into China. He said the country would also advance another US$10 billion to promote agriculture in Africa, send 500 experts and establish China-Africa joint agro-technology centres and demonstration villages. African countries are pushing to grow exports of agricultural products into China. At the moment, Beijing maintains an enormous trade surplus over the continent. African imports from China include machinery, electronics, construction equipment, textiles and footwear.
Meanwhile, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi summarized FOCAC achievements when meeting with journalists ahead the 8th FOCAC Ministerial Conference. Wang said that the FOCAC is a crucial platform for collective dialogue between China and Africa and an effective mechanism for practical cooperation.
He said since the inception of the FOCAC 21 years ago, Chinese enterprises have built over 10,000 kilometers of railways, nearly 100,000 kilometers of roads, nearly 1,000 bridges, nearly 100 ports, and over 80 large-scale power facilities in Africa.
In addition, they have assisted Africa in building over 130 medical facilities, 45 gymnasiums and more than 170 schools, and training over 160,000 professionals in various fields. Chinese medical teams have provided medical service to an accumulated number of 230 million, and China’s network service has covered around 700 million user terminals.
Yi said that the Eighth FOCAC Ministerial Conference was a great success. According to Yi, the success of the conference confirmed the strong will of China and Africa to work together to overcome difficulties and seek common development, and showed the huge potential and bright prospects of China-Africa cooperation.
Wang summarized the most important consensus reached at the conference as following: 1) both sides will promote the spirit of China-Africa friendship and cooperation; 2) China and Africa will work together to defeat the pandemic; 3) both sides will work to enrich China-Africa cooperation in the new era; 4) the two sides will work together to practice true multilateralism; 5) China and Africa will jointly build a China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era.
FOCAC, is one of the developments that came as a major shift in the dynamics of the China-Africa relationships came about in the 1980s when China embarked upon its “Opening up and Reform Policy” –a wide-ranging policy that gave birth to the new China. Economic and geo-strategic interests rather than the desire to export a specific political philosophy drive China’s current relationship with Africa.
For Africa though, the key problem is that our economies are weak in value creation. As argued by one economist, what workers and factories produce is produced more efficiently, with better quality and at lower cost, by other economies. “In such circumstances, making money is easier through rent than through value creation.
African governments should be capable of guiding their private sector towards value creation, a key factor for achieving a sustainable competitive edge in the global market. Furthermore, partnerships that Africa forges should be targeted to enhance such an environment”. The question remains as to whether China’s intervention in Africa will help address this challenge.
A report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) has given its outlook for the rise and fall of living costs around the world.
The report is based on current and past trends impacting the cost of living, including currency swings, local inflation and commodity shocks. In addition, it compares more than 400 individual prices across over 200 products and services in 173 cities.
The Worldwide Cost of Living (WCOL) rankings continue to be sensitive to shifts brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which have pushed up the cost of living across the world’s major cities. Although most economies are now recovering as covid-19 vaccines are rolled out, the world’s major cities still experience frequent surges in cases, prompting renewed social restrictions. In many cities this has disrupted the supply of goods, leading to shortages and higher prices.
The report highlights that “the inflation rate of the prices tracked in the EIU’s WCOL across cities is the fastest recorded over the past five years. It has accelerated beyond the pre-pandemic rate, rising by 3.5% year on year in local-currency terms in 2021, compared with an increase of just 1.9% in 2020 and 2.8% in 2019.”
However; supply-chain problems, as well as exchange-rate shifts and changing consumer demand, have led to rising prices for commodities and other goods. The most rapid increases in the WCOL index were for transport, with the price of a litre of petrol up by 21% on average.
Tel Aviv, a city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast tops the WCOL rankings for the first time ever, making it the most expensive city in the world to live in. The Israeli city climbed from fifth place last year, pushing Paris down to joint second place with Singapore. Tel Aviv’s rise mainly reflects its soaring currency and price increases for around one-tenth of goods in the city, led by groceries and transport, in local-currency terms. Property prices (not included in the index calculation), have also risen, especially in residential areas.
The cheapest cities are mainly in the Middle East and Africa, or in the poorer parts of Asia. Damascus has easily retained its place as the cheapest city in the world to live in. It was ranked the lowest in seven of the ten pricing categories, and was among the lowest in the remaining three. While prices elsewhere have generally firmed up, in Damascus they have fallen as Syria’s war-torn economy has struggled. Tripoli, which also faces political and economic challenges, is ranked second from the bottom in our rankings, and is particularly cheap for food, clothing and transport.
“Over the coming year, we expect to see the cost of living rise further in many cities. Inflationary expectations are also likely to feed into wage rises, further fuelling price rises. However, as central banks cautiously raise interest rates to stem inflation, price increases should moderate from this year’s level. We forecast that global consumer price inflation will average 4.3% in 2022, down from 5.1% in 2021 but still substantially higher than in recent years. If supply-chain disruptions die down and lockdowns ease as expected, then the situation should improve towards the end of 2022, stabilising the cost of living in most major cities.”
“The survey has been designed to enable human resources and finance managers to calculate cost-of-living allowances and build compensation packages for expatriates and business travellers. It can also be used by consumer-goods firms and other companies to map pricing trends and determine optimum prices for their products across cities. In addition, the data can be used to understand the relative expense of a city to formulate policy guidelines,” highlights the report.