Botswana continues on a downward spiral on press freedom. Although Botswana has seen a decline in the most serious abuses against journalists in recent years, many obstacles still hinder their work. Botswana ranked 39th in 2020, the country saw an improvement in ranking in 2021 to position 38th. This year the country’s rank has nosedived by 57 spots to position 95 for the year 2022, from a total of 180 countries.
The 20th World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) revealed that the media landscape locally especially state media still falls far short of providing a public news service and continues to be under the government’s sway adding that a proposal to transform state broadcasting into a more independent public service was recently rejected. In order to reflect press freedom’s complexity, five new indicators were used to compile the Index: the political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context, and security.
Botswana ranked 86th globally on the Political context. “Government control of the state-owned media is such that public TV and radio broadcasting policy is decided by the president’s office. The privately owned broadcast media are supervised by the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA), which reports directly to the government. The allocation of advertising is also managed by the president’s office and is used to exert political pressure on privately owned media outlets,” says the report.
122nd on Legal framework scale, Botswana’s legal framework is said to be extremely repressive. Stating; “the president has yet to honour his pledge to revise draconian laws such as the 2008 Media Practitioners Act, while the promised freedom of information law has yet to see the light of day. The legislative arsenal was reinforced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and now publishing information about the pandemic from any source other than the director of public health or the WHO is punishable by up to five years in prison.
116th on Economic context; Development of the media is limited by the small size of the advertising market, which is dominated by public procurement notices. Advertising is not allocated equitably but in accordance with the degree to which media outlets toe the government line. The decline in advertising revenue as a result of the pandemic has fuelled self-censorship by media outlets seeking to retain advertisers. Sociocultural context ranking 85th; very few women hold positions of responsibility in the media. Only one of Botswana’s 13 newspapers is run by a woman.
After an alarming decline in press freedom under President Ian Khama, Botswana secured the 75th spot for Security. The report disclosed; “the situation has improved markedly since Mokgweetsi Masisi became president in 2018. While journalists are rarely detained or arrested, they are sometimes the victims of police violence, especially during protests, and the intelligence services use spyware to monitor their communications. Journalists are also often subjected to social media smear campaigns.”
Botswana Media and Allied Workers Union (BOMAWU) President, Phillimon Mmeso when asked about whether the drop is a sign that Botswana is becoming a dangerous place for media, he highlighted that “the main challenge is digital media which is not regulated especially the faceless pages which report mostly fake news.” He concurred with the RSF that although Botswana has dropped in ranking, comparing to the previous regime, Botswana has fared well.
The index also showed a two-fold increase in polarisation amplified by information chaos that is, media polarisation fuelling divisions within countries, as well as polarisation between countries at the international level world wide. The index highlighted that Media polarisation is feeding and reinforcing internal social divisions in democratic societies such as the United States 42nd on the index, despite American President Joe Biden’s election. The increase in social and political tension is fuelled by social media and new opinion media, especially in France.
The suppression of independent media is contributing to a sharp polarisation in “illiberal democracies” such as Poland 66th, where the authorities have consolidated their control over public broadcasting and their strategy of “re-Polonising” the privately-owned media. The RSF barometer recorded journalists whose death or imprisonment was linked to their journalistic activity.
The abuses worldwide in real time show that since January 1st 2022, 25 journalists and 2 media workers have been killed around the world summing it to 27 deaths while 460 journalists and 19 media workers are currently imprisoned. Vietnam currently carries the highest number of imprisoned journalists at 41 with cases ongoing since 2009 to date. The world’s 10 worst countries for press freedom include Myanmar (176th), where the February 2021 coup d’état set press freedom back by 10 years, as well as China, Turkmenistan (177th), Iran (178th), Eritrea (179th) and North Korea (180th).
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.
In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.
â€śBotswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,â€ť says Dr. Kwape. He wouldnâ€™t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.
â€śWe will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,â€ś he said.
However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the â€śGovernment of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.â€ť
Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.
â€śSADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,â€ť the statement says.
Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.
Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.
State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.
The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceasedâ€™s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.
Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrateâ€™s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.
â€śThe third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,â€ť Ookeditse said.
However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.
Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.
â€śYesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,â€ť said the State prosecutor.
While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.
He told the court that on the 12thÂ of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.
According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Astonâ€™s children) are staying.
â€śThato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,â€ť said Zhalamonto.
Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.
â€śI have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,â€ť Zhalamonto told the court.
He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.
â€śPhillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mallâ€ť the Investigation Officer told the court.
He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the â€śunknown callerâ€ť and the route of the cell number.
Furthermore, the fourth accused,Â Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.
Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6thÂ of next month
Cattle farmers from Eretsha and Habu in the Ngamiland district, supported by the Community Based Trade (CBT) project, recently generated over P300 000.00 for sales of 42 cattle to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Maun. This milestone was achieved through support from various stakeholders in conservation, commodity-based trade and the government, in collaboration with farmers. Ordinarily, these farmers would not have made this direct sale since the area is a designated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Red Zone.
Traditional livestock farming contributes toward livelihoods and formal employment in the North-West District (Ngamiland) of Botswana. However, primarily due to the increase in FMD outbreaks over the past two decades and predation by wildlife, the viability of livestock agriculture as a source of income has declined in the region. This has led to a greater risk of poverty and food insecurity. Access across the Okavango River (prior to the construction of a bridge) restricted access for farmers in Eretsha. This lack of access hampered sales of cattle beyond Shakawe, further discouraging farmers from investing in proper livestock management practices. This resulted in negative environmental impacts, poor livestock health and productivity.
To address this challenge, farmers are working with a consortium led by Conservation International (CI), with funding secured from the European Union (EU) to pilot a CBT beef project. The project focuses on supporting and enabling communal farmers to comply with standards and regulations that will improve their chances to access markets. An opportunity to earn higher income from cattle sales could incentivize the adoption of restorative rangelands management practices by farmers.
â€śWe spend a lot of money getting our cattle to Makalamabedi quarantine site, the herder spends on average two months taking care of the cattle before they are taken into quarantine â€“ that needs money. All these costs lead to us getting less money from BMC,â€ť said one of the farmers in the programme, Mr Monnaleso Mosanga.
Farmers that participate in the project agree for their cattle to be herded and kraaled communally by fulltime professional herders (eco-rangers). At the core of this pilot is the use of predator-proof bomas (cattle kraals), planned grazing systems and mobile quarantine bomas (electrified enclosures) for the cattle, facilitated in support with the Department of Veterinary Services. The first successful exit from the mobile quarantine bomas in the Habu and Eretsha villages, in December 2022, saw cattle quarantined on-site and directly transported to BMC in Maun. Farmers received almost double the average sales within this region, as costs including transportation to quarantine sites, herderâ€™s fees and other associated costs incurred before qualifying for BMC sales were no longer included.
“This pilot mobile quarantine is leveraging the techniques and protocols we are using at our current permanent quarantine sites, and we are still observing the results of the project. The outcome of this pilot will be presented to the World Organisation of Animal Health to assess its effectiveness and potentially be approved to be used elsewhere,â€ť said Dr Odireleng Thololwane, the Principal Veterinary Officer (Maun).