Health and Wellness Minister Dr. Lemogang Kwape has allayed fears that some workers at the country’s border posts are not considered frontline services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight departments – Port Health; Crops; Veterinary; Immigration; Customs; Police; Botswana Defence Force (BDF); and Support Staff – constitute the border post.
Each department has a specific role to play in facilitating the movement of goods, services and people into and out of the country. For example, port health deals with health screening while Crops and Veterinary issue permits for imports of plants and animal products. But since the onset of the extreme social distancing (lockdown) announced on March 20th complete with its attendant measures -all intended to fight the raging COVID-19 pandemic - some workers at border posts have expressed anxiety over their welfare, health protection and security of tenure.
They feel that only the Port Health, Immigration; BDF and Police are considered frontline services and therefore qualify for such benefits as protective clothing (PPEs) and crisis insurance under the COVID-19 Regulations. However Minister Kwape allayed these fears when he told Botswana Guardian Online Monday afternoon that every department at the Border Post is considered essential service. He said the only difference is that they perform “different layers” of service.
For example, Immigration and Customs predominantly handle paperwork, while interaction in other departments may require physical contact. But this notwithstanding, the minister said everyone is considered a frontline service provider and must be provided with all the requisite personal protective equipment. However, there is still an issue with procurement of these resources including test kits from China, as they are scarce on account of the huge demand expressed by the whole world. Botswana hopes to navigate this difficulty through emergency procurement as stipulated by the state of emergency regulations.
When asked to comment on these issues, Defense, Justice and Security Minister Kagiso Mmusi referred this publication to Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) whose director, Goitseone Mosalakatane was not readily available at time of going to press. The border posts workers that spoke to this publication also complained that they are not provided with protective clothing, nor are they tested for corona virus even though they are the first port of call between the country and truck drivers that deliver goods and services from South Africa, where the disease burden is high.
“We also have families, if we get infected at the border post and go to our respective homes at the end of the day there’s a real fear that we could endanger the health of our loved ones,” said one official that did not want to be named. The official suggested that even the envisaged mass testing initially targeting 20, 000 people, should start with the border post staffers. In its bid to protect the country from the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic the government closed some ports of entry on 20th March 2020. Only major commercial ports – Kazungula, Mamuno, Martins Drift, Mohembo, Ngoma, Pioneer, Tlokweng and Ramatlabama - remained open.
Entrepreneurs have started punching holes on government’s COVID-19 pandemic relief package, which is expected to cushion workers, stabilise businesses and promote opportunities for economic diversification.
“One would have expected that the relief fund would come as a mitigation factor for a reasonable period of time, to give oxygen to 'non operational' firms. It seems there won’t be such, at least from the current guidelines,” Nnyaladzi Malaki Monyamane, founder of a local travel agency, The Gabs Experience, told Botswana Guardian Online.
Monyamane said the fund has missed the most critical component for most start-ups and entrepreneurs, which is their rental. “Subsidising employees’ salaries is a commendable move, however it is not enough in the long run, as the offices they work from provides them the basis and justification of a 22 day monthly pay,” said Monyamane.
He said most youth-owned companies struggle with rentals and usually employ one person on a permanent basis, being the business owner. “We can only hope that going forward, the relief fund will capture this important element of business’ running costs, to avoid our malls becoming white elephants after Covid-19,” Monyamane emphasised.
He raised fears of businesses not being allowed to operate from home, saying that poses a looming risk for businesses to collapse.“Whereas operating from home has been permitted for some sectors, we still have clients who still find it difficult to go into a residential area to make a payment, and they are right, they have been robbed before,” said Monyamane. He said most entrepreneurs are considering closing offices due to the pandemic, owing to rental which is a fixed cost.
When, as sometimes happens in law, precedence loses legal legs to stand on, is inappropriate or even insufficient to deal with a matter at hand, does necessity become the mother of invention and justify a judge making the law? These and other pertinent questions are adroitly dealt with in one of three recent books by Justice Professor Oagile Key Dinganke, PhD, entitled: In Pursuit of Justice – Examining the intersection of Philosophy, Politics and Law.
Notion Press of India published the books which are available through Amazon, Flipkart, Amazon kindle, Kobo and Google play. Every country can perhaps cite a judge who was pre-eminent in the development of the law to fit changed societal circumstances. In the United States of America, the Warren Court was considered activist and critics charged that the Chief Justice was engaged in lawmaking.
In the United Kingdom, Lord Denning was accused of utilising the courts as instruments of lawmaking, especially during his tenure as Master of the Rolls in the Court of Appeal. In Botswana, lawyers still talk of spirited intellectual battles between one Justice Kirby - a reputed conservative legal mind - of the Court of Appeal in that country and Justice Dingake, a reputed liberal mind, who was often regarded by the former as too liberal.
As one senior Botswana lawyer and former cabinet minister once wrote: if you need to confirm the law as it stands, the ideal judge to appear before is Justice Kirby, but if you wanted to test the boundaries of the law, then you are better off appearing before Justice Dingake. It is not possible in a newspaper review to do justice to this entire book. As a result I discuss my impressions of the book in broad terms, choosing themes that define it. This book is essentially about the workings of a judicial mind.
It teases out controversial questions around whether judges make law or simply interpret it. It goes further to interrogate the question whether judges’ backgrounds, experiences and values matter in the adjudication process. To ask the question whether judges make law in a constitutional democracy in the context of separation of powers is to court controversy. This is so because this question often divides the legal fraternity, not least the judges.
Quoting the renowned philosopher Jeremy Bentham, Justice Dingake dismisses the argument that judges do not make law as ‘childish fiction’. Interestingly, he contests the philosophical view of some judges that ‘the law is what judges say it is, and says it is somehow misleading insofar as it may be construed to mean that judges are permitted to be the law unto themselves.
Often regarded as a judicial activist around Africa, Justice Dingake unapologetically comes to the defense of judicial activists.
He says that judicial activists acknowledge that novel situations may require innovative judicial thinking and the courage to depart from precedent that no longer serves contemporary challenges. He contends that judicial activists acknowledge that reliance on precedent is not always possible, or even desirable. Changes in social or political conditions sometimes require new law, and old principles may simply be entirely inappropriate for circumstances not previously contemplated.
It is Justice Dingake’s considered view as expressed in this book that in a world where the courts are increasingly mandated to police the exercise of public power and keep it within the limits of rationality, reasonableness, fairness and proportionality, a case can and must be made for judicial activism.
In pedestrian debates and sometimes in legal tussles within the hallowed halls of the judiciary – judicial activism generally has a negative connotation. It is usually understood to mean judges who may have a political agenda, are too liberal and too quick to impose their political views on society.
On the contrary Justice Dingake argues that the judges who are regarded as judicial activists today are generally progressive judges who have the courage and intellectual gravitas to appreciate constitutional values and the imperative that judges must breathe life into the constitution. He goes to great lengths to point out that judicial activism does not mean judicial adventurism, which is a consequence of plodding through the law without putting forth intellectually persuasive reasoning as a basis for a decision in a particular manner.
He quotes the eminent US jurist and Judge, Cardozo, and maintains that a judge is not a knight errant, ‘roaming at will in pursuit of his own ideal of beauty or of goodness’. He is to draw his inspiration from consecrated principles. While acknowledging that judges often make determinations with serious political consequences such as in election disputes, Justice Dingake refutes the idea in some legal literature that judges ‘are politicians in robes’.
He gives as an example of such decisions, electoral disputes in which the courts can make determinations that alter or contradict the choice of the people. In this context he discusses the famous Al Gore v Bush decision of the Supreme Court of the USA and the avalanche of criticism to the effect that President Bush was an imposition of the Supreme Court.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this book relates to a discussion on the intersection of law, politics and philosophy. Justice Dingake argues that the transformation of political questions into legal ones is an inevitable feature of contemporary times.
This refers to a phenomenon in which the courts are increasingly asked to determine political questions which traditionally had been thought to be the preserve of either the executive or parliament. He calls this phenomenon the ‘judicialization of politics’. He gives an interesting example of a case decided in 2004 in South Korea when the Constitutional Court in that country dismissed the impeachment of the President by the National Assembly.
He says the case is perhaps the first in the history of modern constitutionalism whereby a president who was impeached by the Legislature was reinstated by the courts. He also cites the case of Fiji v Prasad in which the Court of Appeal in Fiji restored the 1997 constitution of Fiji when people believed it had fallen into disuse.
Justice Dingake rigorously discusses a number of similar cases in which the courts appeared to ignore traditional boundaries, including being called upon to approve or disapprove the extension of presidential terms of office as it happened with the term of office of Colombia’s now former President Alvaro Uribe, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Russia’s now former President Boris Yeltsin.
He ends his book by observing that the phenomenon of judicialization of politics and the politicization of law are contemporary realities that are bound to cause tension between the courts and the executive, but cautions that the executive must know that the duty to pronounce on the meaning of the law and or the constitution is the business of the courts.
I highly recommend this book to parliamentarians, members of the executive and the judiciary. This is because the book shows how philosophy, law and politics may collide and collude to yield a particular judicial determination, especially in value-laden disputes such as those dealing with electoral disputes, same sex marriage and the rights of the vulnerable and marginalized groups including key populations. Students of philosophy and politics would likely also find the book very interesting. The book, like Judges by the same author which I have had the pleasure and honour to read and review, is written in simple language.
-*Winner of the SADC Media Award (2008) and 10 other journalistic awards, Moses Magadza is a PhD student with research interests in framing, agenda-setting, priming and critical discourse analysis.
While the nation is under lockdown and grappling with COVID-19, the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN) graduates are at work ensuring the food supply is not interrupted. BUAN has enrolled five of their former students who graduated from an Incubation Project in May 2019 to showcase and demonstrate that food self-sufficiency is possible given the right technology, farmer attitude and commitment.
Speaking to Botswana Guardian Transformation and Coordinator Officer at BUAN, and also the BUAN-ISRAEL Project Coordinator, Dr. Mataba Tapela said the graduates are part of the pioneering cohort of 35 students who were sent to Israel for 11-months practical attachment in 2017. While in Israel, the students lived and worked among Israeli farming communities called Kibbutz and Moshav. “They learnt the farming techniques and skills under challenging conditions that have transformed their attitude towards agricultural production”.
Tapela said the students worked in vegetable and fruit production farms, packaging houses, and dairy facilities. To date, the university has sent three cohorts of 35 each. The third cohort is still in Israel and will complete in July 2020. Upon their return to Botswana, the University allocated the students a 3ha piece of land along the A1 highway and next to the main entrance into the University at Sebele Campus.
“The purpose was to set up an incubation project that will demonstrate that high performance farming is possible in Botswana when one uses water efficient technologies, high yielding varieties, and the right farmer attitude.” The project attracted several partners, including the Israeli Government which funded the irrigation equipment supplied by Flowtech; SeedCo, which supplied seeds, while BUAN staff provided technical advice and water reservoirs.
Planting started in July 2019 with the first crop of green mealies, cabbage, tomatoes, watermelons and butternuts. By November-December the crop was being harvested and sold to local supermarkets, government institutions and the general public. Normally, Botswana cropping season under rain-fed conditions starts in November and runs until May the following year. “The incubation project demonstrated that it is possible to plant and harvest by the time the cropping season starts.”
He said second planting session for the season started in February 2020. The field was planted with cabbage, tomatoes, bell peppers, and green mealies. The crops are due for harvest at the end of April and beginning of May. This certainly demonstrates that two harvests are possible within one cropping season. The good news is that buyers are already lined up to take up the produce. He said the university is now in discussion with government, financial institutions, input suppliers and retailers to develop a value chain that will support sustainable food production in Botswana.
The students will have a place to graduate to when they complete their incubation period in July 2020. Furthermore, the university is working on a programme to take on local farmers to join the incubation for a whole crop cycle in order to educate the wider farming community.
Some Members of Parliament have blamed Director of Health Services Dr. Malaki Tshipayagae for having misled them regarding quarantine and transmission of COVID-19. According to the MPs when Dr. Tshipayagae told the Special Parliament Meeting on Thursday this past week that when exposed to the virus it takes the infected between five (5) and 14 days to transmit the virus, it gave them the impression that within the period they got exposed to the COVID-19 health officer deployed to the meeting, it would be less risky to have been in public places.
Three MPs were on Wednesday placed under government supervised mandatory quarantine after they were seen in public places doing some shopping. This publication has learnt that three MPs were not the only ones who flouted the quarantine rules as other MPs were allegedly also doing shopping at other malls.
The three MPs who were spotted at West Gate Mall and placed under supervised quarantine at Avani Hotel are Nata-Gweta MP Polson Majaga, Christian Greeff of Gaborone Bonnington South and Pono Moatlhodi of Tonota. About 17 other MPs are said to have been quarantined at Avani Hotel. Earlier on the day during the meeting MP Greeff asked if the virus can be transmitted the same day the person got infected. Dr. Tshipayagae replied that in most cases to transmit the virus when you get exposed it takes a period of five to 14 days.
“This is the time when you will be shedding the virus. Day one (1) is unusual to transmit the virus. This is why we test you after ten days because the first day many of you will test negative because the virus is so low." After being exposed on social media the three MPs apologised to the public. They also pointed out that they decided to do shopping because they knew they were going for quarantine and their understanding of the director was that they are less of a risk to the public.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi, his cabinet, MPs and all those who attended the special meeting including members of the media have been quarantined for 14 days. They have been given the mandatory quarantine with two options; self-isolation and quarantine place availed by government through the ministry. They also were given a Daily Monitoring Tool Form to record their temperature and any observation such as headache, shortness of breath, vomiting, pains in the throat and lungs.
Botswana Federation of Public, Parastatals and Private Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) has rejected the suspension of engaging in an industrial action by employees during the state of emergency period. According to the federation the elimination of the Right to Strike as per the regulations of Emergency Powers Act is an attack on Convention 87 of Freedom of Association and Convention 98 of Protection of the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining.
BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said the withdrawal of the right to strike tilts power in favour of the employer, thereby rendering workers powerless at the platform of workplace social dialogue for they have been disarmed. According to Motshegwa the employer can do as s/he pleases, and even trample upon the rights of employees and offer them poor conditions of service and welfare.
"Freedom of Association is critical for peace and social justice in Industrial Democracy. The Committee on Freedom of Association has jurisprudence on the right to strike to guide members or nations”. Motshegwa said this Committee and the Committee of Experts has put forth principles of the right to strike. This right has been affirmed in the 1957 'Resolution concerning the abolition of anti-Trade Union legislation in the Member States of the International Labour Organisation and the 1970 'resolution concerning Trade Union Rights and Their Relation to Civil Liberties ', as well as numerous resolutions of the ILO's regional Conferences and Industrial Committees, and by other International bodies, Motshegwa explained.
He posited that the elimination of the Right to Strike regrettably renders unionisation meaningless and was designed to offer employees deplorable conditions knowing that there is nothing they can do. It must also be emphasised that it is not like workers will recklessly resort to labour withdrawal unreasonably, he argued. The federation leader said a strike comes as a last resort as power demonstration by workers when an employer becomes unreasonable and heartless in addressing workers’ welfare, conditions of service, and it comes after exhaustion of all dispute resolution processes.
The suspension of the right to strike comes after a Special Parliament Meeting on Thursday this week endorsed President Mokgweetsi Masisi's request for State of Public Emergency to last for six (6) months. Recently unions representing health workers who are frontliners in the fight against COVID-19, threatened to withdraw services if government continues to fail to give them protective equipment.
FNBB has announced a three months cash-flow relief intervention for both retail and commercial customers impacted by COVID-19. The bank’s Chief Executive Officer, Steven Bogatsu said customers with a good track record will be eligible for the relief intervention.
“SME businesses with an annual turnover up to P10 million and an initial loan amount not exceeding P5 million will benefit from our installment relief programme,” said Bogatsu. Bogatsu said installment relief for retail customers have been put in place for those on home loan, personal loan and WesBank loans products while SME customers’ relief will be on commercial property finance, vehicle and asset finance and term loans.
In addition, FNBB has highlighted that between the months of May and June, FNB App payments, mobile payments and Cash@Till fees will be offered at a 25 percent discount on the current fee. “The bank hopes that these measures will help ease customers’ financial constraints until things stabilise,” said Bogatsu. The bank has also removed rate payments on some of its digital banking channels.
Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) – an umbrella federation of public sector unions has accused government of poor coordination and indecisiveness in its fight against COVID-19.
In a press statement released today by the federation’s Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, BOFEPUSU argues that the fight against COVID-19 requires joint efforts and unity of all stakeholders and Batswana in general.
“We as Trade Unions and workers are highly dedicated to this cause as Republican duty to ensuring a healthy and safe nation,” says Motshegwa.
The Federation has however expressed worries that these efforts are seriously hampered by too much red tape, poor coordination and indecisiveness on the part of Government.
As of Friday some employees have not been given permits to enable them to access their workstations.
Most employees are stuck without transport to work because there is no arrangement made for them after stoppage of public transport, reads part of the statement. Botswana went on a lockdown Thursday midnight after four people tested positive for COVID-19. Of the four, one has already died in Ramotswa.
BOFEPUSU said Friday that there is a crisis in that some employees are still without personal protective equipment (PPE's), something which endangers their lives. It is unfortunate and problematic that Government has failed to give employees PPEs but then threaten them that if they don't work they will be disciplined, Motshegwa said. “This is irresponsibility at its best.”
The Deputy Secretary General said the federation they have put some proposals before government as efforts of protection and safety of employees.
-That the Minister responsible declares COVID-19 as an occupational disease for legal protection of employees in terms of compensation.
- 100 percent medical aid coverage for frontline officers to mitigate medical expenses
-That Government establishes an Insurance Fund for life coverage of frontline employees
-Arrangement for frontline officers to be adequately assisted with protective clothing, accommodation, feeding and all necessary logistical arrangements to enable them to effectively deliver services to the public
-Enhancement of testing capability in various centres established
Motshegwa said most of these issues have not been implemented; yet employees are required to effectively deal with this pandemic facing the country.
“It is a question of how do you send an army to war without weapons and expect victory in those circumstances,” he said. As a Labour movement we must state that employees remain patriotic and highly prepared to serve the nation, reads the statement in part.
“What they are humbly asking from Government is their safety and protection to be guaranteed in order to deliver their tasks as expected. Other countries already have statistics of deaths of frontline officers who died on the line of duty because their safety and protection was compromised, and we don't want that to happen in this country.”
He said in all these matters they have been engaging with the Permanent Secretary (Ministry of Health), Directorate of Public Service Management, Minister of Presidential Affairs & Public Administration and the Minister of Employment, Productivity & Skills Development.
“This country is at a high risk of COVID-19, and therefore we must all be prompt, decisive and serious with implementation of strategy in the fight against this pandemic,” he said.
The despicable US-imposed financial and economic blockade against Cuba has caused losses for the Caribbean island of $4, 343, 6 million from April 2018 to March 2019.
Speaking to Botswana Guardian this week Monday ahead of next week Tuesday’s press conference, Cuban Ambassador to Botswana, H.E Patricia Pego Guerra lamented that since the departure of former US president Barrack Obama who had relaxed the restrictions of the blockade, current US president Donald Trump has begun a deliberate campaign to reverse all the gains.
Measured at current proces, the six decades long blocakde has caused damage of $1, 38, 843, 4 million thereby hindering the development of the Cuban economy to implement its National Economic and Social Development Plan as well as the country’s prospects to attain Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals.
Ambassador Pego Guerra was fortunate to have been posted to Washington DC on a four-year stint during the Obama administration and was part of the last group of Cuban diplomatic corps that negotiated and lobbied for the relaxation of the blockade with various US-authorities - Congress, Senate and House of Representatives as well as businesses and the Black Caucus. She remembers that period with “plenty satisfaction” as the most fascinating with its attendant achievements including Obama’s visit to Cuba in March 2015 as well as the re-establishment of diplomatic ties in July 2015 and the immediate opening up of business and commeical ties between the two nations, albeit for a fleeting moment.
In the post-Obama period the Republican administration led by Donald Trump has endeavoured to escalate the aggression against Cuba. For instance US has made various attempts to amend the draft resolution against the blockade that was presented to the United Nations General Assembly by Cuba on Novvember 1, 2018. According to Resolution 73/8 of the UN General Assembly titled, ‘Necessity of ending the economic, commerical and financial blocakde imposed by the United States of America against Cuba’- the aim of this meddling was to change the tone of the text and “fabricate excuses”for the continuity and reinforcement of the “genocidal policy”, resorting to false allegations in the matter of human rights.
Fortunately, despite America’s aggression, the international community – Botswana included – has rejected the proposals and expressed its overwhelming support for the lifting of the blockade. The Cuban envoy told Botswana Guardian that even during former president Ian Khama’s tenure she never ceased to express her gratitude to then Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi for Botswana’s fortitude in standing in solidarity with Cuba. Indeed Botswana, as part of the African bloc, has never wavered in its resolve to suppott Cuba. The country is a direct beneficiary of development support in the areas of health, medicine and sports from Cuba flowing from the policy begun by Cuba’s founding leader, Ffidel Castro known as the ‘Internationalist Programme’.
It was thanks to the Cuban soldiers that Angola, and by extension, Nambia and finally South Africa, were eventually freed from the clutches of Portuguiese, Germans and Boers settler colonialism. Africa to this day feels indebted to Cuba for the enrmous sacrifice she made towards her liberation. In anohter instance, Fidel Castro’s right-hand compatriot, Ernesto Che Guevera led a detachment of fredom fighters to help Patrice Lumumba in the fight for liberation against US-backed Mobutu sese Seko back in the late 1960’s.
Once again Botswana and the rest of the world, with the excepetion of Zionist and Aprtheid Israel will stand up in the defence of human rights and human dignity when they vote on November 6 and 7th 2019 at the UN General Assembly in favour of the lifting of the blockade against Cuba.
Report of Resolution 73/8 shows that in the period under review, strengthening the extraterritorial application of the system of samctions against Cuba was demonstrated in the “constant repercussions” on Cuban enterprises, banks and embassies which deal with “colossal obstacles”in their commercial andn financial activities in many countries around the world. The report shows that on three occasions the US Department of State broadened the “Resgtricted List of Cuban Entities and Sub-Entities”, that are the object of additional tax sancions due to blockade regulations. “This measure has caused considerable harm to the country’s economy because of the effect of intimidating the international busines community”.
Aded to this are the provisions of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Treasury Department and of the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) of the Department of Commerce of the United States to eliminate, as of 5June 2019, the general permits for people to people group educational travel and to refuse permits for non-commerical aircraft and passenger ships for temporary stays including cruise ships, thereby having severe repercussions on the number of visitors to Cuba. The most atrocious effect of the blockade is that it has been codified into law through the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act otherwise knownn as the Helms-Burton Act which came into force in 1996 as well as strengthened its extraterritorial reach.
Ambassador Pego Guerra explains that besides pursuing the imposition of a government in Cuba that would be directly surbodinated to the interests of Washington, the Act wanted to internationalise the blockade via “coercive measures against thrid countries un order to interrupt their trade and investment relations with Cuba. To demonstrate the extent of the US agression against Cuba, any ship or aiecraft that has 10% of American components will not be allowed to travel to Cuba. This financial persecution has also affected by the way Botswana relates with Cuba. The Ambassador explains that Botswana agencies often find it hard to transfer money to Cuba as payment for services rendered, for example for the work done in sports cooperation.
“They encounter a myriad of problems when try to pay for services rendered. When Botswana National Sports Commission for example goes to pay at any of the banks they are told to send the money to Cuba through an intermediary bank in Europe. But then the intermediary bank in Europe seldom facilitates any such transactions for feat of being penalised and fined millions of US dollars by the United States. Ambassador Pego Guerra cites this as an example of “financial persecution” that Cuba endures at the hands of the US. But she worries that it is a double-edged sword, since it not only hurts Cuba, but the US as well.
When it argies its case in the UN Genral Assembly November 6 and 7th Cuba will insist that the blockade continues to be an “absurd, obsolete, illegal and morally unsustainable policy”, which has not fulfilled no will it fulfill he purposes of bringing to its knees the “patriotic decision “ of the Cuban people to “preserve their sovereignty and independence”. Meanwhile, America has ignored with “arrogance and disdain all the 27 resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly which condemn the blockade.
Real democracy should inculcate a culture of public participation that is vigilant to help leaders keep the eye on the ball, and is also representative of all communities. Kenyan intellectual activist and political lecturer Nanjala Nyabola who was in the country recently, said civil society should accept the fact that democracy is a way of life and does not only become relevant during elections.
She said civil societies should adopt a culture of holding their leaders accountable at any time and be informed on decisions, policies and financial management of the country. “Public accountability is a key issue…We have seen instances where certain issues are swept under the carpet and there is a smokescreen to derail civil society – that’s what gives some leaders the power to perpetuate corruption and create dictatorships” she said. Nyabola noted that corruption and a vacuum in leadership were some of the biggest challenges faced by many African countries.
Speaking ahead of the general election in Botswana, Nyabola pointed out that many Africans still think elections is democracy, a false notion perpetuated by politicians who only want community members for increasing voter numbers and are not interested in giving them real political education. Nyabola also said that it was unfortunate that in this day and age African politics were still marred by censorship, oppression and misinterpretation, which heightened around election time. She pointed out that parties with most funds could manipulate information sources to mislead and coerce the public. Nyabola, whose book, Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics explores the drastic efforts being made by elites to contain online activism, fake news and a failed digital vote-counting system, also said the Internet was playing a very critical role in formulating the modern narrative of African politics.
She said through her research in reframing digital democracy from the African perspective, she had established that digital spaces have allowed Africans to build new communities which transcend old ethnic and gender divisions among traditionally marginalised groups, particularly women and people living with disabilities.
She however pointed out that while this was a positive development, some dodgy politicians and activists manipulated these communication sources for their own benefit and that’s where traditional media still had an upper hand over civil journalists, as they have the power of authority and verification.
The political activist further said it was unfortunate that we still relied on the West to mirror what real politics is like instead of considering that our background and experiences differ. “Africa is faced with broad philosophical challenge – development challenge, violence and only social change can dismantle the archaic notions about Africa that stall development and prosperity across the continent”. Nyabola also touched on gender representation in politics and pointed out that governments in Africa should create opportunities for women. She said gender representation in governance and politics was regressive. She cited that here in Botswana, the number of female participants was now at its lowest.
She said youth and women should be at the forefront of development. During her visit, Nyabola facilitated a workshop on Gender Democracy, Governance and Politics for the Department of Sociology at the University of Botswana and also had a talk at the Gaborone Book Festival titled ‘How has the digital era affected democracy and activism in Africa?’ Nyabola who holds a Masters in African Studies has taught in both Africa and Europe, and served Amnesty International Kenya.