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Botswana drops in human rights rankings

Botswana has been downgraded from ‘narrowed’ to ‘obstructed’ in a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. Over the years, Botswana has been known as a beacon of democracy, but could the CIVICUS report spell a change in ethos in Botswana?

The report, People Power Under Attack 2021, says restrictions on the right to protest and attacks on free speech have led to Botswana’s downgrade Botswana is now rated ‘obstructed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor. Botswana is among 42 other countries with this rating. The latest update from Africa is that Mali, Mozambique and South Africa have been downgraded alongside Botswana. According to the report the top five violations include: Journalist detainment, Censorship, Protestor(s) detained, Attack on Journalists and Protest Disruption.

An ‘obstructed’ rating, according to the report, is broadly understood as a Civic space that is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights. Although civil society organisations exist, state authorities undermine them, including through the use of illegal surveillance, bureaucratic harassment and demeaning public statements. Citizens can organise and assemble peacefully but they are vulnerable to frequent use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies, including rubber bullets, tear gas and baton charges. There is some space for non-state media and editorial independence, but journalists face the risk of physical attack and criminal defamation charges, which encourage self-censorship.

The previous ranking ‘narrowed’ meant that “the state allows individuals and civil society organisations to exercise their rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression, violations of these rights also take place. People can form associations to pursue a wide range of interests, but full enjoyment of this right is impeded by occasional harassment, arrest or assault of people deemed critical of those in power. Protests are conducted peacefully, although authorities sometimes deny permission, citing security concerns, and excessive force, which may include tear gas and rubber bullets, are sometimes used against peaceful demonstrators. The media is free to disseminate a wide range of information, although the state undermines complete press freedom either through strict regulation or by exerting political pressure on media owners.”

Civic rights violations have increased in Botswana this year, especially rights relating to the freedom of assembly. The month of September 2021 was a handful for Botswana. An increasing number of arrests of citizens who held peaceful demonstrations calling for, accountability from the government, condemning the declining socioeconomic status of citizens or exposing government corruption was rampant among the citizens.

The highlight being 7th September 2021, Reverend Thuso Tiego was arrested for allegedly violating Section 4(3) of the Public Order Act, after he held a demonstration with two other pastors calling for the resignation of President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Following the arrests, several members of the public made their way to the police station to demand his release, only to end up being arrested themselves and some violently dispersed.

Separately, in mid-September 2021, a group of artists was jailed after holding a peaceful demonstration calling for the resignation of the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Honourable Tumiso Rakgare. The reason for their arrests, as with many other peaceful demonstrations, was for protesting without a permit as required by the Public Order Act and breaching COVID-19 protocols.

The CIVICUS Monitor is concerned about the increased use of the flawed and controversial Public Order Act to police peaceful assemblies in Botswana, and the use of COVID-19 protocols as a pretext to restrict freedom of expression. Across Africa, the detention of journalists is a growing concern and in 2021, for the second year in a row, it was the top civic violation documented across the continent.

The detention of journalists is once again the top violation in the African region. Almost 45% of the updates for the African register journalists being detained because their reporting criticised the authorities, or focused on issues considered sensitive such as corruption. One such instance locally is; the arrest of local journalists Oratile Dikologang, Letsogile Barupi and Justice Motlhabani for publishing information on their Facebook news pages, Botswana People’s Daily News and Botswana Trending News, related to COVID-19 and local politics, which they deny publishing.

As reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the three are currently facing charges of publishing “with the intention to deceive” under the emergency COVID-19 regulations, plus a charge of “publication of alarming statements” under the Penal Code, and another charge of “offensive electronic communication” under the Cybercrime Act. If found guilty, the three could face a jail sentence of up to five years or a fine of 100,000 pula.

While in Sudan, journalist Osman Hashim was detained by police in Port Sudan in September 2021 and later released on bail in relation to his Facebook posts alleging corruption in the former governor’s office. In Uganda, the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s Court detained Pidson Kareire and Darious Magara, online journalists for Drone Media and East African Watch, who were both charged with criminal libel under section 179 of the Penal Code over the Countries of concern

In the past year military coups in Chad, Guinea, Mali and Sudan have landed the nations under countries of concern. Raising distress over the respect for fundamental freedoms by non-civilian and undemocratic office bearers.  On the brighter side of things, civil society action has helped to advocate for the passing of positive laws in Africa. On 1 July 2021, the Gambia’s National Assembly adopted the Access to Information Bill, a result of close collaboration between civil society and government departments. On 23 July 2021, Sierra Leone approved the Bill abolishing the death penalty.

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ENVIRONMENT ISSUES: Masisi asks Virginia for help

24th March 2023

President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the issue of sustainable natural resources management has always been an important part of Botswana’s national development agenda.

Masisi was speaking this week on the occasion of a public lecture at Virginia Polytechnic, under theme, “Merging Conservation, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Botswana.”

Botswana, according to Masisi, holds the view that the environment is fragile and as such, must be managed and given the utmost protection to enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“It is necessary that we engage one another in the interchange of ideas, perspectives, visualizations of social futures, and considerations of possible strategies and courses of action for sustainable development,” said Masisi.

On the other hand, dialogue, in the form of rigorous democratic discourse among stakeholders presents another basis for reconfiguring how people act on their environments, with a view to conserving its resources that “we require to meet our socio-economic development needs on a sustainable basis,” Masisi told attendees at the public lecture.

He said government has a keen interest in understanding the epidemiology and ecology of diseases of both domestic and wild animals. “It is our national interest to forestall the dire consequences of animal diseases on our communities livelihoods.”

President Masisi hoped that both Botswana and Virginia could help each other in curbing contagious diseases of wildlife.

“We believe that Virginia Tech can reasonably share their experiences, research insights and advances in veterinary sciences and medicines, to help us build capacity for knowledge creation and improve efforts of managing and containing contagious diseases of wildlife. The ground is fertile for entering into such a mutually beneficial partnership.”

When explaining environmental issues further, Masisi said efforts of conservation and sustainable development might at times be hampered by the emergence and recurrence of diseases when pathogens mutate and take host of more than one species.

“Water pollution also kills aquatic life, such as fish, which is one of humanity’s much deserved sources of food. In this regard, One Health Approach imposes ecological responsibility upon all of us to care for the environment and the bio-diversity therein.”

He said the production and use of animal vaccines is an important space and tool for conservation, particularly to deal with trans-border animal diseases.

“In Botswana, our 43-year-old national premier pharmaceutical institution called Botswana Vaccine Institute has played its role well. Through its successful production of highly efficacious Foot and Mouth vaccines, the country is able to contain this disease as well as supply vaccines to other countries in the sub-region.:

He has however declared that there is need for more help, saying “We need more capacitation to deal with and contain other types of microbial that affect both animals and human health.”

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Masisi saddened by deaths of elephant attacks

24th March 2023

President Mokgweetsi Masisi has expressed a strong worry over elephants killing people in Botswana. When speaking in Virginia this week, Masisi said it is unfortunate that Batswana have paid a price with their own blood through being attacked by elephants.

“Communities also suffer unimaginable economic losses yearly when their crops are eaten by the elephants. In spite of such incidents of human-elephant conflict, our people embrace living together with the animals. They fully understand wildlife conservation and its economic benefits in tourism.”

In 2018, Nthobogang Samokwase’s father was attacked by an elephant when travelling from the fields, where he stayed during the cropping season.

It was reported that the man couldn’t run because of his age. He was found trampled by the elephant and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

In the same year, in Maun, a 57-year-old British woman was attacked by an elephant at Boro and died upon arrival at the hospital. The woman was with her Motswana partner, and were walking dogs in the evening.

Last month, a Durban woman named Carly Marshall survived an elephant attack while on holiday in the bush in Botswana. She was stabbed by one of the elephant’s tucks through the chest and was left with bruises. Marshall also suffered several fractured ribs from the ordeal.

President Masisi Botswana has the largest population of African elephants in the world, totaling more than 130 000. “This has been possible due to progressive conservation policies, partnerships with the communities, and investment in wildlife management programmes.”

In order to benefit further from wildlife, Masisi indicated that government has re-introduced controlled hunting in 2019 after a four-year pause. “The re-introduction of hunting was done in an open, transparent and democratic way, giving the communities an opportunity to air their views. The funds from the sale of hunting quota goes towards community development and elephant conservation.”

He stressed that for conservation to succeed, the local people must be involved and derive benefits from the natural resources within their localities.

“There must be open and transparent consultations which involve all sectors of the society. It is against this backdrop that as a country, we lead the continent on merging conservation, democracy and sustainable development.”

Masisi stated that Botswana is open to collaborative opportunities, “particularly with identifiable partners such as Virginia Tech, in other essential areas such as conservation, and the study of the interplay among the ecology of diseases of wild animals and plants, and their effects on human health and socio-economic development.”

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Gov’t commit to injecting more funds in fighting HIV

24th March 2023

Minister for State President Kabo Morwaeng says government will continue to make resources available in terms of financial allocations and human capital to ensure that Botswana achieves the ideal of eradicating HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Morwaeng was speaking this morning in Gaborone at the High-Level Advocacy event to accelerate HIV Prevention in Botswana. He said the National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency (NAPHA), in partnership with UNAIDS, UN agencies, the Global Fund and PEPFAR, have started a process of developing transition readiness plan for sustainability of HIV prevention and treatment programmes.

“It is important for us, as a country that has had a fair share of donor support in the response to an epidemic such as HIV and AIDS, to look beyond the period when the level of assistance would have reduced, or ceased, thus calling for domestic financing for all areas which were on donor support.”

Morwaeng said this is important as the such a plan will guarantee that all the gains accrued from the response with donor support will be sustained until the end when “we reach the elimination of HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 20230,” he said.

“I commit to continue support efforts towards strengthened HIV prevention, accentuating HIV primary prevention and treatment as prevention towards Zero New Infections, Zero Stigma, Discrimination and Zero AIDS related death, to end AIDS in Botswana.”

He reiterated that government commits to tackle legislative, policy and programming challenges that act as barriers to the achievement of the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat.

In the financial year 2022/2023, a total of 119 Civil Society Organizations, including Faith Based Organizations, were contracted with an amount of P100 million to implement HIV and NCDs prevention activities throughout the country, and the money was drawn from the Consolidated Fund.

Through an upcoming HIV Prevention Symposium, technical stakeholders will use outcomes to develop the Botswana HIV Prevention Acceleration Road Map for 2023-2025.

Morwaeng stated that government will support and ensure that Botswana plays its part achieving the road map. He said there is need to put hands on the deck to ensure that Botswana sustains progress made so far in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

“There are tremendous achievements thus far to, reach and surpass the UNAIDS fast track targets of 95%- 95%- 95% by the year 2025. As reflected by the BAIS preliminary results of 2021, we now stand at 95- 98- 98 against the set targets.”

“These achievements challenge us to now shift our gears and strive to know who are the remaining 5% for those aware of their HIV status, 2% of enrolment on treatment by those aware of their status and 2% of viral suppression by those on treatment.”

Explaining this further, Morwaeng said shift in gears should extend to coming up with robust strategies of determining where these remaining people are as well as how they will be reached with the necessary services.

“These are just some of the many variables that are required to ensure that as a country, we are well positioned to reaching the last mile of our country’s response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.”

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