Can biology save journalism? Ask researchers at the Institute for the Future, a non-profit research centre concerned with what the future might hold for humanity.
This finding in a recent “Biology of Disinformation” report was striking to me. The Institute makes a remarkable insight into what journalism can learn from epidemiology if it is to inoculate itself from “viruses,” fake news, misinformation and propaganda.
Well, the Institute is a hippie American outfit in the heart of Silicon Valley with ambitious research strategies. But we might learn something from their approach. I hope this will be as relevant as I find it enlightening. Journalists worldwide grapple with a crisis of confidence. A 2017 Stanford Law School report revealed that false news is distorting politics, sowing confusion and undermining trust in democratic institutions.
For one example of this phenomenon in action, we can look at the spread of conspiracy theories by our political leaders. Politicians play an outsized role in influencing and spreading disinformation. When the media started exposing the Mosu corruption scandal in 2012 government spokesperson, Jeff Ramsay and minister in the office of president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, now President contradicted each other in an effort to manipulate the narrative. Now we all know how the Mosu story ended. The spin on the BCL Mine closure is another case in point. The opposition has had its fair share of misleading the public. In 2014, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) almost suffered a humiliating defeat after social and traditional media made unverified claims that the death of opposition politician, Gomolemo Motswaledi was in fact an assassination.
How about claims in 2014 by Duma Boko, leader of opposition that a hit list has been drawn up against him and other leaders in the Umbrella for Democratic Change? Well, there was no evidence to back up the claims? Social media might have democratised the media landscape, it has also opened floodgates for “viral news” from YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook and allowed transmission and contagion.Biology is a science that has grappled with contagion over the years. Maybe journalists can learn something from them. Like our metaphorical virus, fake news spreads because the public is susceptible to sensationalism and rumour mongering.
So what can biology teach journalists to predict how fake news spreads?
We need to understand that misinformation behaves like a virus. As humans, we are “culturally vulnerable” to emotional news. A specific part of our brain determines how valuable it would be to share information, says Dr. Emily Falk, director of Communication Neuroscience Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. That value translates to its likelihood of going viral. Biologists say a virus doesn’t make you sick, unless you lack an immune system capable of recognising the shell and then neutralising the code. Until we do that, the virus enters our body, replicate making our immune system weak and giving us fever, chills, congestion, headache and vomiting – which manifest in culture as media confusion, Twitter wars, hash tags and protests.
Secondly, once it has been launched, the virus replicates only if its code can successfully challenge our own. Once doubt settles, it is hard to dislodge it. Have you noticed how a sensationally inaccurate WhatsApp meme spreads to dominate our conversations to a point that it becomes “the” issue? This explains why WhatsApp is imposing restrictions on the number of messages that can be forwarded to only five recipients at once after “several shocking incidents of lynching caused by spread of rumours over WhatsApp” in India. That’s how big the problem could be in some parts of the world.
Biologists say once the virus enters our system, it immediately interpolates into our own confused cultural code, exploiting the issues we haven’t adequately addressed as society such as gender, rape, tribalism, unemployment and poverty.
Likewise, a contagious media virus attracts mass attention but then penetrates the cultural psyche by challenging collectively unresolved or suppressed anxieties. Did the Tholwana Borethe report exist in 2017 or it was a figment of imagination of some impersonator trying to exploit our collective fear of the Isaac Kgosi-led intelligence services? But I must be careful not to stretch this metaphor too far. While I like the seemingly abstract analysis of what epidemiology holds for journalism, I am actually interested in something less benign. I am interested in drawing your attention to how viral news spread and what can be done to resist it.
It might help in our quest to predict and fight disinformation contagions. In Botswana, we have reached a stage in which we simply disregard facts that don’t seem to confirm our biases. Take the example of claims that once upon a time, the intelligence services constructed a Pablo Escobarsque tunnel stretching all the way from the city centre to Phakalane? The story doesn’t seem to have a good ending. At one point a newspaper Facebook Page announced the death of an ailing former Vice President. This can get you wondering as to who really protects the public from over-sensationalised news and vitriol social media posts?
Is there any form of self-policing of platform content?
Further building on biological metaphors, inoculation for the contagion of disinformation can only be best addressed with the establishment of a fact-checking platform that champions independent, transparent, fair and clearly written work to give citizens the information they need to make informed decisions.
Evaluating the accuracy of claims made on social and traditional media is an act of responsibility and accountability in a democracy. This is what excites me the most because it is aligned with the values of self-regulation that are close to my heart. Not every misleading news article or social media post deserves fact checking. However, millions of funny videos and memes shared on social platforms have often been misleading, to varying degrees. Google and Facebook algorithms have not been helpful either. They have locked us into filter bubbles allowing us to follow people and sources that don’t contradict too much with our views.
Private media is doing its best to inform and educate the public. While more needs to be done, I have found that government and politicians play a major role in promoting media manipulation.If you think disinformation has been weaponised on social media, brace yourself for the full scale of the power of “computational propaganda” as we approach a watershed general election in 2019. Without a form of self-policing through an independent fact-checking outfit, WhatsApp and Facebook hold huge potential for misinforming rural communities and young audiences in a way that could not be imagined before. Political campaigns by nature seem to enjoy distorting the truth. We have seen Bell Pottinger, a disgraced British public relations firm that automated Twitter accounts to spread pro-Zuma and pro-Gupta messaging at the height of the Gupta scandal. The firm used Twitter trolls to run a secret social media campaign to stir up racial tension on behalf of the Guptas.
Luckily there are no known Twitter trolls in Botswana yet, but don’t rule them out after the Botswana Democratic Party’s elective congress in July. In a country with increasing health challenges, providing inaccurate news/information on HIV and other chronic diseases can mean the difference between life and death. Yet without the science to predict the spread of viral news and an organisation dedicated to evaluating claims made on traditional and social media, the public’s ability to hold power accountable is clearly diminished.
In most cases, our journalism, especially investigative journalism is two dimensional – the same way it was maybe in 1984. As journalists, we choose sources to interview who validate our viewpoint and portray the outcome as “objective news.” Then we publish without subjecting our reporting to multiple steps of verification.
Fact checking is essential in empowering communities and heightens the way they engage among themselves and with authorities. This will increase the much-needed public trust. A fact-checking organisation will adopt a transparent “trust index” to score/debunk news of public interest value that is already in the public domain. It will also publish its findings with existing media partners. The absence of a fact-checking outfit has allowed an environment in which highly controversial and problematic claims made in public flourish. Like in most parts of Africa, our state media’s architect sit on what Chomskites call a “propaganda model,” in which official disinformation heavily favours a viewpoint of power and ultimately relies on “official” sources. Do the Daily News and Radio Botswana ring a bell?
But every opportunity comes with a challenge. Fact checking can attract controversy among politicians and some editors when stories are debunked. A new fact-checking organisation will likely come under attack from critics who disagree with their verdicts.
However this is the price you pay when you root for transparency. As a society we should always raise questions about what counts as reliable data; who has authority to access public truth and how to balance accuracy with other democratic ideals such as openness and pluralism. But the most urgent question we face is not how to disengage from the modern social media landscape, but rather how do we immunise ourselves against media viruses, fake news and propaganda? To do this, we need to understand the biology of disinformation.
Konopo is at Stanford University exploring how journalists might use technology to promote transparency in political funding.
The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) has noted the recent arrest of former Head of DIS, Mr Isaac Kgosi. In the past there have been several allegations of corruption leveled against Mr Kgosi. His investigation, arrest and possible prosecution has been delayed under the watch of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) government. As an organisation that is opposed to corruption, we welcome an investigation and an arrest of anyone suspected of involvement in such activities.
Justice and fair trial should be dispensed to all regardless of their position. We are however opposed to the Hollywood style arrest of suspects. Their right to dignity must be respected. This has always been our principled position and it will remain unchanged regardless of who the victim is. We also remain concerned about selective arrests. This latest arrest definitely arises out of the Khama/Masisi feud. This is a feud that is slowly tearing not only the BDP apart, but the nation as well. State institutions have not been spared.
The latest incident goes to show how state institutions are used to settle political scores and are not independent. Though this culture of using state institutions to fight opponents is as old as the BDP, it deserves strong criticism as it is getting worse. It is doubtful if Kgosi would have been arrested if there hasnot been a fall out between Masisi and Khama. There should be consistency and swiftness in the dispensation and application of justice. It should not be used at the convenience of the dominant ruling elite. Party political battles should not influence when to strike.
After silencing New Jerusalem faction, the Masisi regime will turn to the Unionists, independent media and opposition politicians. Other regimes that came before this one started off like this. As an organisation that believes in equality before the law, we do not understand how the Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi who also has had serious corruption allegations leveled against him remains untouched. Equally worrying is the constant cropping up of the President, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi’s name in the National Petroleum Fund (NPF) looting. Up to now there has not been any reports of questioning of the President nor his Permanent Secretary by security agents. We call upon the relevant state security agencies to carry out more arrests within the government enclave. They should not look far beyond the entire cabinet. Let us see the trial of all corrupt elements in this government and their cronies. This will prove the state institutions independence and commitment to fighting corruption. Otherwise their actions will remain a ploy to whip their opponents into line or punish them.
At the inception of the DIS, we stated very clearly that this body under the current act couldn’t be controlled. What is important about state bodies is not necessarily who heads them but what measures have been put in place to make them accountable. Oversight over all state organs is important. Nearly twelve months after taking over from his bitter rival, Dr Ian Khama, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has not put forward plans to reform the DISS. He has not done a thing to amend the Media Practitioners Bill. The private media is still starved of Government advertising. Public Sector Unions are still having problems as the employer continues to undermine them. The list is endless. Yet the Masisi Regime wants to portray itself as bringing reforms!
The earlier the nation realises that the whole Masisi reform trajectory is a facade the better. What is happening currently is a fight over control of resources and rearrangement of human furniture. The regime is engaged in an effort to hoodwink the nation into believing that there is meaningful change. This is the reality; it is the same script but different actors. More funds will disappear under the current leaders at DISS. So there really hasn’t been any change! The only change will only come after the elections when the UDC takes over.
[Moeti Mohwasa is the UDC Head of Communications]
Attorney General Dr Abraham Keetshabe has said that he is not aware of any task team that has been set up to look at possible constitutional review.The purported review was alluded to by Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Eric Molale in response to a motion by Member of Parliament for Selebi Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse calling for a review of the constitution.
Parliament rejected the motion. When appearing before Parliamentary Public Accounts, Dr Keetshabe who is the Principal Legal Advisor to Cabinet, said he was hearing news of a constitutional task team for the first time from the committee.When probing the Attorney General, Keorapetse wanted to know if the minister lied to Parliament. “There was a motion in Parliament calling for review of the constitution.
The minister then stated that something is being done. He said there is a task team working on something. So I want to know as legal advisor to the executive, what is the progress so far,” asked Keorapetse. In response, Dr Keetshabe said he knew nothing about what the legislator has mentioned. “So the minister lied,” interjected Keorapetse to which Dr Keetshabe stated that as far as he knows he has not rendered any advice to government to review the constitution.
The AG revealed that it is not his role to determine any policy but once the policy is put before him, he advises accordingly by giving effect and meaning to the policy direction that government wants to take. He expressed ignorance of a recent statement by President Mokgweetsi Masisi that the time has come for the constitution to be reviewed so that the president will have powers to choose members of his cabinet outside Parliament.
When presenting the motion in Parliament, Keorapetse had acknowledged the drafters of the current constitution and its role in moulding the country’s democracy, but emphasised that the motion was more focused on cumulating the country’s democracy. He said democracy was a continuum, which like a tree, needed to be nourished and watered to ensure its democratic consolidation.
He said the 1963 to 1964 constitutional talks in Lobatse were dominated by colonial masters and chiefs and few representation of political parties as there were only two political parties then. The 1965 constitution, he said was a template constitution, which was given to Batswana by the then colonial masters, adding that it cannot be referred to as a public policy as it does not reflect divergent views of various members of the society.
The motion to review the country’s constitution, he said, presents an opportunity to legitimise the constitution and empowers Batswana to have ownership to their own constitution as they were not fully involved in the constitution draft in the colonial days.
Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS) has had its system hacked by unknown trespassers.Botswana Guardian is in possession of a leaked confidential document detailing names of security agents, their identity cards, last and first names, bank names, bank accounts, pay period, their gross income and total deductions from their salaries.
It is not yet known if the perpetrator(s) is/are within the system or is an intruder who hacked the system to jeopardise the country’s national security. There are fears that this sensitive information could fall to the wrong hands locally or internationally and further compromise the security of the country.
The DIS Act protects the identity of agents and other operations of the agency. In the long list which is provided in a spreadsheet format, some names of media practitioners (former and current) and a known politician from within the opposition ranks are among those who are on the DIS payroll.
The list is arranged in hierarchy with payment of high ranking beginning first and followed by the lower ranks and support staff. The payments reflected on the document were for the month of July this year. The opposition activist and the radio presenter each garner a Gross Income of close to P24 thousand while a former journalist’s salary stands at P27 thousand, this is according to the released information.
The list was sent to Botswana Guardian Facebook page inbox by a Facebook user. Botswana Guardian could not authenticate whether the names contained on the list belong to DIS spooks or not. Recently there has been media reports of possible infiltration of the DIS causing more tension and mistrust among the agents.
Allegations have been rife that some of the agents who for years have been close to former DIS boss Isaac Kgosi have not been happy with the way he was fired by President Mokgweetsi Masisi early this year. The decision has been perceived as an attack on the previous administration of Ian Khama.
Kgosi is a known close ally of Khama and the latter was recently left with an egg on the face when government declined to hire Kgosi as his Private Secretary. Khama has since filed a notice for government to show cause why he cannot employ Kgosi as his private secretary.
Brigadier Peter Magosi, DIS Director General who was in Maun attending Botswana Tourism Organisation’s Researchers’ Consultative meeting with President Mokgweetsi Masisi told this publication late Wednesday night that he is not aware if their system has been hacked. He said he would have to look into the matter first to see what could have happened before discussing it in details.
“I have been busy with back to back meetings for the entire day. In the past people have been messing with our system but I can assure you and the nation that we will get to the bottom of things. Whoever is involved in this will face the music I can assure you,” said Brigadier Magosi in a telephone interview. He said such acts that compromise national security would not be tolerated under his watch.
When he assumed office Brigadier Magosi promised to turn the notorious spy agency into a better, trustworthy and friendly security organ. He said the agency wants to play its role in a manner that will change this organisation and make it what it is intended to be.
Since its inception DIS has been marred by controversy with opposition parties and other pressure groups calling for the overhaul of the DIS Act.
Oversight committees of the DIS have also failed to execute their mandate and blamed the DIS leadership for not being cooperative. Opposition Members of Parliament have resigned from Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security leaving only Botswana Democratic Party MPs in the committee. The Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security is tasked with examining the expenditure, administration and policies of the DIS.
Deputy Permanent Secretary to the President in Office of the President, Elias Magosi is the highest paid public servant, Botswana Guardian can reveal.Magosi, a former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Transport and Communications joined OP in April this year after he was recruited from Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat where he served as Director, Human Resources and Administration.
He was appointed a few days after President Mokgweetsi Masisi ascended to the presidency on April 1st 2018.According to a letter of appointment penned by Permanent Secretary to the President Cater Morupisi and seen by Botswana Guardian, Masisi used his powers in terms of Section 112 of the Constitution to appoint Magosi.
“You will earn a salary at the rate of P1, 392, 564.00 per annum (P116, 047 per month). This salary, which is above the government salary structure, is meant to protect your benefits from your previous employer, Southern Africa Development Community (SADC),” says the letter. With that hefty salary Magosi earns more than his boss Carter Morupisi and also earns more than President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Not only that; Magosi will also be “entitled to benefit from any government salary revisions. You will also earn housing allowance at 2 percent of basic salary and entertainment allowance in the sum of P14, 950.10 per annum and any other applicable allowances,” said Morupisi in the letter, which was copied to Director of Public Service Management, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Accountant General and Auditor General.
According to Morupisi the appointment is offered on contract terms for a period of 5 years with effect from date of assumption of duty. “You will be required to enter into a Performance Contract in accordance with Section 19 (4) of the Public Service Act within three (3) months or 90 days of commencement of employment.
“The government may terminate this contract in accordance with Section 26 (2) of the Public Service Act by giving you three calendar months’ notice or paying you three (3) months’ salary in lieu of such notice. On the other hand, you may also terminate this contract by giving and serving three (3) calendar months or paying government one (1) months’ salary in lieu of notice,” said PSP.
According to the letter, upon satisfactory completion of this contract, Magosi will be paid gratuity at the rate of thirty (30) percent of the total amount of the salary earned for the duration of the contract. He is expected to be governed by the Public Service Act, General Orders, and Rules and Regulations in force from time to time during the period of his employment.
PSP Morupisi confirmed the appointment and salary of Magosi in an interview with this publication. Morupisi has defended this decision indicating that this is the “general principle” because Magosi was being recruited from SADC Secretariat. “When you recruit you have certain benefits that you will have to consider. We had to go overboard because generally salaries at SADC Secretariat are high.
“We had to consider retaining of personal rights. So in the negotiations you lose some and gain some,” said Morupisi who revealed that Magosi was recruited for a purpose but would not get into details. He said the arrangement is not in any way in breach of the Public Service Act which governs public servants. “This is nothing new because I have done the same with other public officers that we have recruited back into the public service,” he added.
Before joining Communications Ministry as PS, Magosi served under the same portfolio at the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism headed by Tshekedi Khama. At the ministry Magosi had a fallout with Khama over the running of the ministry and its parastatal Botswana Tourism Organisation. In December 2016, Magosi made it to the list of appointments and transfers of senior public officers which was announced by Morupisi.
Magosi accepted the offer and then resigned within a month. The SADC Directorate of Human Resources and Administration which Magosi was heading was established following the restructuring of SADC in February 2008, with emphasis placed on the need to improve service delivery within the SADC Secretariat.
An uproar over the alleged poaching which resulted in the slaughter of close to 90 elephants has been linked to a political standoff between former President Ian Khama and his successor Mokgweetsi Masisi.The main idea, it’s being said, is to discredit Masisi’s administration. The once close buddies- Khama and President Mokgweetsi Masisi - are said to have had a fall out after Masisi assumed the high office in April this year and started reversing some of Khama’s policies and decisions.
Masisi has also denied Khama access to do as he pleases. Recently attempts by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Council of Elders to reconcile the duo hit a snag. Reports by conservationists that almost 90 elephants were found dead near a wildlife sanctuary in Northern Botswana, have been dismissed by government as false, but have also raised eyebrows regarding the leaking of the information to international media.
Workers from Elephants Without Borders (EWB) have carried out an aerial survey, which found that 87 elephants have been killed for their tusks in the area, with most of the deaths happening just weeks ago. Dr. Mike Chase of EWB told the BBC: “I’m shocked, I’m completely astounded. The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I’ve seen or read about anywhere in Africa to date.
“When I compare this to figures and data from the Great Elephant Census, which I conducted in 2015, we are recording double the number of fresh poached elephants than anywhere else in Africa”. When the news broke out on Tuesday this week Masisi’s administration bore the worst attack from international groups and organisations who stated that Khama was doing a better job than Masisi with others referring to him as “your new man”.
Dr. Chase said there have been warnings of an impending poaching problem and the country was prepared for it. “The poachers are now turning their guns to Botswana. We have the world’s largest elephant population and it is open season for poachers. Clearly we need to be doing more to stop the scale of what we are recording on our survey.”
The debate around the issue heated up when Thea Khama, wife to Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama, who is also former President Ian Khama’s younger brother, added her voice to the debate on social media.
“This is a tragedy of epic proportions. While we promote trade and cultural tourism with China and the world at large, all is lost without the flora and fauna of our eco-systems.
We have built a strong industry and reputation in photographic safaris that generate capital for the Botswana economy. “This can still be further exploited for the benefit of Batswana in the wake of the diamond industry scaling down and moving to sell out to synthetics. The last great haven for keystone species is now under our watch and in our lifetime under serious attack.
How to help? “Put pressure to the Botswana government to re-arm its Wildlife Department, cultivate cultural tourism projects that help communities live safely with the predators, and large keystone species in their areas and educate and make money for the communities so they can learn to protect and value the world’s wildlife populations, create awareness campaigns, educate yourself what happens when we lose our keystone species, lions, elephants, rhinos, whales, wolves, etc from the food chain”.
This was perceived by many as a direct attack on President Masisi by a Khama relative after Masisi ordered the withdrawal of weapons from the department of wildlife sometimes in May this year. Thea’s comment attracted a lot of attention from people most of whom condemned the government for disarming the wildlife department. The debate was later joined by UK Prime Minister Theresa May who said she was saddened to see elephants targeted by poachers. “The UK will continue to work with Botswana who have a long and successful conservation programme.
We are leading the fight on wildlife crime and I look forward to hosting the End Wildlife Crime Summit in London next month,” said the Prime Minister. Government has however refuted the claims indicating that the statistics were “false and misleading”. A statement from Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Permanent Secretary Thato Raphaka indicated that that EWB had counted 53 carcasses in their survey and that most of the animals had died of “natural causes”.
He stressed that the increase in poaching was not due to the decision to withdraw weapons from Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and such a withdrawal has not created any vacuum in anti-poaching operations.
“The fact of the matter is that the withdrawal of such weapons from DWNP did not in any way affect the effectiveness and operations of the anti-poaching unit.
The government of Botswana wishes to condemn in the strongest terms possible attempts by individuals or groups who give a false impression that they love Botswana wildlife more than citizens of Botswana,” he said.Thea indicated on her social media page that no one is trying to discredit any person. “But I see a lot of attack on my husband and myself for no reason.
Nobody said anything about President Masisi. Yes, China is associated to poaching. Yes, the APU in Bots is disarmed by the OP, the news ran previously locally but most people pay more attention when it hits international papers……the reason you never saw it was because the international media did not pick it up back then. “How many times have the media outfits tried to discredit heads of states around the world and in Botswana? What is freedom of speech when only one point of view thinks it is allowed to speak,” she posted.
President Masisi has travelled to China on an official trip where China announced that it would assist African countries, Botswana included, with funds for infrastructure development. Efforts to speak to Dr Chase were futile as his mobile phone rang unanswered and did not respond to WhatsApp messages sent to him. But in an interview with National Geographic Dr Chase stood by his numbers: “I am an objective scientist, with no political agenda.
I am sad that our government has responded in this way”. Dr Chase stated that there is a GPS location for each of the 87 carcasses and that there are multiple witnesses who saw each one. He explained that every flight has four people, including one government employee, and novice recordings from the flights will bear out these findings.
Minister Khama also could not be reached for comment even at 2100hrs on Wednesday when he had promised to be available. The minister also did not respond to WhatsApp messages that were sent to him regarding this matter. Vice President whom at press time was Acting President Slumber Tsogwane, said he is not aware that the BBC story has sparked a heated debate on social media.
Tsogwane who is also BDP Chairman, told this publication that he is only aware of the rebuttal of the BBC story by the Tourism Ministry which also aired on government media.“I would not be in a position to say anything because I haven’t been to social media. I do not know what is being said there.
I have also not been briefed by officials of the matter trending on social media and our government under the leadership of President Masisi being discredited. I would have to first find out from our officials who handle our media and social media platforms so that I could make a determination,” said Tsogwane on Wednesday.
While President Mokgweetsi Masisi who is also leader of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has vowed to fight corruption, more rot is emerging in his backyard (BDP), Botswana Guardian has established.
In a leaked audio conversation between one of Masisi’s camp associates and long serving cabinet member Shaw Kgathi and a council candidate in his constituency it was revealed that many of the Bulela-Ditswe candidates have criminal records. This means there could be more criminals within the BDP and government (Councillors, Members of Parliament and Ministers).
BDP is holding its last batch of Bulela-Ditswe tomorrow (Saturday) where over 100 participants are expected to participate in the primaries. In the audio telephonic conversation that this publication has, Kgathi who is Minister of Defence, Justice and Security also BDP Deputy Secretary General revealed to Daniel Magwana - a council candidate for Molalatau Ward in Bobonong Constituency, that most of the candidates for tomorrow’s primaries have criminal records.
In that conversation in which the two conversing call each other by names and, uncle and nephew, Kgathi was requesting Magwana to pull out of the race to allow his (Kgathi) long time ally and current Molalatau Councillor Nathaniel Moribame to run unchallenged.Kgathi in the conversation also took a swipe at his challenger, mining consultant and former Debswana engineer, Francisco Kgoboko.
He accused Kgoboko of having no credentials and also having a criminal record. He wants Magwana who is allegedly supporting Kgoboko to ditch him and team up with Kgathi’s camp. Kgathi and Kgoboko have had skirmishes in the past after Kgathi had accused Kgoboko of campaigning illegally.
The audio conversation is said to have ruffled feathers following the utterances by Kgathi who is a senior cabinet member and member of the BDP Central Committee.News within the BDP corridors suggests that the thorough vetting process that the central committee ought to have conducted was not done.
BDP had during declaration of interest to contest in Bulela-Ditswe made a requirement for their parliamentary and council candidates to have an affidavit signed by the police clearing them of not having criminal records.
BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi told the media that they want credible candidates for the 2019 election.
Balopi was reported to have indicated that they also want affidavits from their candidates to also check whether the information they provided while registering as candidates at regions is correct. He indicated that they want those who will occupy national leadership positions within the party to be very credible.
It has been argued that Kgathi as senior party member could have not just have made false utterances that have no basis. Reached for comment, Magwana indicated that time and again he has conversations with Kgathi as a relative and his area MP. He confirmed that he once had such a conversation with Kgathi about him compromising which is not anything new within the party and it has been encouraged that members should for the sake of the party always consider compromise.
He however expressed shock that their conversation was recorded. “I do not know anything about a recording. I wonder who could have recorded that. It comes as a surprise for me to hear someone from Gaborone telling me that they have a conversation of mine with my MP on audio. Maybe you could ask the minister if he so did record me,” said Magwana who stated that he could not discuss the matter further because he has flu and losing his voice.
For his part Kgoboko dismissed the allegations by this publication regarding the audio as a mere smear campaign. He expressed doubt that Kgathi as his elder, area MP, minister and his party’s Deputy Secretary General would make such utterances. “I guess you guys might be just making it up. There is no how I could have a criminal record while I filled an affidavit declaring that I do not have a criminal record but if the minster made such utterances it would be unfortunate.
“My credentials also speak for themselves. I do not think Kgathi would talk like that because membership registration, registration for candidature among other things falls under the office of the secretary general where he is a deputy. So these things could have been picked plus he has advantage of police to have investigated or better still approached me as my elder,” said Kgoboko.
When contacted, Kgathi who at the time was addressing his campaign team denied ever having a conversation with Magwana. He said because of obvious reasons that he is not in the same team with Magwana he could not have had such a conversation with him. He requested that the audio be shared with him to ascertain it is his voice on the conversation which was done via WhatsApp. During a follow-up call Kgathi said he was driving and should be contacted after an hour.
For his part, BDP secretary general Mpho Balopi indicated that it would be unfortunate if some people would have managed to be vetted in while having criminal records. The SG said they do not run the party through rumour-mongering and allegations. “We are a law abiding organisation and if someone has wronged the state and laws do not allow for that person to stand for elections such as IEC laws we would not allow that person to contest for our primaries.
This is why we made people to sign affidavit to declare that they do not have criminal records. I do not have the benefit of your alleged conversation but it would be unfortunate for that to have happened”.
Botswana Federation of Public Parastatal and Private Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) has accused President Mokgweetsi Masisi of taking them for granted after he snubbed the Federation’s elective congress this past weekend in Gaborone.
Members of the executive committee are of the view that the congress was an opportunity for the president to mend relations with one of the most influential Federations in the country.The congress came immediately after the departure of former President Khama who left office on the 1st April 2018. Khama had intense and fierce running battles with BOFEPUSU to the extent that he refused to meet the Federation leadership.Their sour relationship culminated in the 2011 industrial strike and subsequent amendments of labour laws which unions viewed as anti-workers, and reported Government to International Labour Organisation(ILO), something that tarnished Botswana’s international reputation.
“The bitter relations between Government and BOFEPUSU saw the Federation de-campaigning BDP MPs in 2014 elections which led to most of them losing and the opposition gaining more,” said an insider after news came in indicating that Masisi and his second in command Slumber Tsogwane would not attend the congress. Newly appointed Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Bogolo Kenewendo graced the event. From the atmosphere at the congress delegates were not happy with this development.
According to the Federation leadership, BOFEPUSU’s congress presented an opportunity for Masisi and his Government, it was expected that the new President would come up with a new approach of engaging with the labour centre.
“His luck came when the Federation invited him to come and address the Congress, and he confirmed attendance. Things took a twist when at the last minute Masisi snubbed BOFEPUSU and instead sent his Deputy Tsogwane. “To make matters worse, the Vice President did not show up at the Congress and instead Government sent the novice Minister Bogolo Kwenwendo,” said a BOFEPUSU executive member. It is believed this has angered the Federation as they felt insulted that the President and Vice President snubbed them and in turn sent a Minister who is wet behind the ears politically when there are seniors and relevant ministers such as Nonofo Molefhi (Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration) and Tshenolo Mabeo (Employment, Productivity and Skills Development). The development is interpreted as contempt against BOFEPUSU and non-consideration of workers’ importance in Masisi’’s work schedule. It is believed Masisi blew his chance and opportunity to appeal to unions, and they now view him from the same prism as Khama, as inaccessible which borders on arrogance. The lack of access to the country’s top office for unions has been a growing concern to BDP parliamentary hopefuls, as they fear the wrath of unions.
It remains to be seen as to what impact will the latest turn of events have on the build-up to 2019 elections. During May Day celebration this year BOFEPUSU accused Masisi of taking workers for granted when he assigned Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi to read live on television, the May Day message on his behalf. The Federation fumed saying this undermines workers given that Morupisi is regarded as one of the enemies of the workers. The federation then gave Masisi 100 days to ‘come to his senses’.BOFEPUSU Publicity Secretary Mogomotsi Motshegwe confirmed that they felt belittled by the high office. He said the congress was a good platform for the president to address workers and for the federation to make him appreciate labour issues and matters of national importance.
He said when the new administration indicated that it is willing to work with unions; they thought Masisi would live to his promise. “We thought this was the opportunity for him to share with us his deliverables on labour issues. “We were disappointed when he changed at last minute and decided to send his Vice. We thought because they share the high office together we should be understanding but when he sent a new minister who do not understand some of our issues as workers we felt belittled. “There are other senior ministers who understand our issues better that the president could have sent. But because we are democratic we welcomed her. We are very disappointed because it now shows that the president’s level of priorities is questionable,” Motshegwe said.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Gaborone South Constituency is marred by controversy as campaign teams jostling for the area clash on a collision course, Botswana Guardian has learnt.
The constituency will pit Gaborone- based lawyer Meshack Mthimkhulu with businessman Monametsi Kalayamotho in the contest for party representation. The party top brass have also been implicated in the matter as they are accused of having dumped Mthimkhulu for Kalayamotho.
Botswana Guardian understands that Mthimkhulu, who joined BDP from Botswana National Front (BNF) after the 2014 general election was promised that like most of the new recruits he would not be subjected to the process of Bulela Ditswe. Mthimkhulu contested the 2014 general election as an independent candidate after he lost BNF primary elections.
It is alleged that Mthimkhulu was at the time recruited to the BDP by Mokgweetsi Masisi who chaired the Communications and International Relations Committee and promised a clear ride as area Member of Parliament Kagiso Molatlhegi would not be seeking re-election. Mthimkhulu and Kalayamotho are said to be close to President Masisi but the wind now seems to be blowing in the direction of Kalayamotho.
While having enjoyed the blessing from the party leadership both from branch level to Central Committee, tables turned against Mthimkhulu this year when Kalayamotho made his way into the constituency. It is alleged that Kalayamotho was tipped to challenge Annah Mokgethi who was recruited from the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) but he was convinced to relocate to Gaborone South a constituency he grew up in. This was because Mokgethi was also allegedly promised not to be subjected to primary elections.
Now the opposing teams of Mthimkhulu and Kalayamotho are firing from all cylinders in a bid to have one of the candidates fall during vetting.
The duo has successfully managed to forward names for expression of interest to contest in the constituency before closing date a fortnight ago. Vetting is ongoing in the constituencies that would go for primaries in August this year including Gaborone South.
At the centre of controversy are accusations from both camps of campaigning before time.
Letters are flying from one office to the other as a smear campaign by both teams. Mthimkhulu’s team has written letters to BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi complaining that Kalayamotho, who transferred his membership from Gaborone Bonnington North to Gaborone South, engaged in early campaign by hosting activities at Old Naledi and branding and distributing t-shirts to constituents with the aim of luring them to vote for him in August.
Letters seen by this publication also question Kalayamotho’s membership transfer. The complainants argue that they sense the transfer was done under dubious circumstances. A recent Entrepreneurship Summit which Kalayamotho hosted at Old Naledi and Bontleng Halls on 17 May 2018 to reach out to the unemployed has also been cited as one of his campaigns for votes. He is said to have resorted to using such a stunt because he has arrived in the constituency late and is only using financial muscle to gain popularity.
On the other hand, Kalayamotho’s team has hit back and written to Branch Committee accusing Mthimkhuku’s team of applying underhand tactics to canvass for votes. Mthimkulu’s team is said to be campaigning by organising activities such as soccer tournaments and buying alcohol for constituents in exchange for them to register so as to vote for him.
It is also alleged that a WhatsApp Group page - a platform the BDP has indicated should not be used for campaigns - has been opened and is being used for campaigning. Candidates for the August 2018 Bulela-Ditswe will only be allowed to campaign after 13th July 2018 and will be allowed to use only house to house campaigns.
Kalayamotho told this publication that it would be against BDP rules and regulations to address the media on such matters. He stated that only the branch committee and secretary general would be in a position to comment. Regarding his transfer, he said he worked within the party rules and Branch leadership can attest to his claims. He told this publication that people are quick to run to the media to discuss internal affairs, which is wrong.
Mthimkhulu refuted claims that he has been campaigning in the constituency. He labelled this as a smear campaign to have him vetted out. “I have not carried myself in any manner that violates the BDP Constitution and or Rules and Regulations. I am also not aware of any complaint against me because even the Branch Committee. has not notified me,” said Mthimkhulu who referred further inquiries to the branch committee
Gaborone South Branch Chairman Alfred Moatlhaping said Kalayamotho followed proper channels to have his membership transfer. He said the complaints about Kalayamotho’s campaign were conveyed to the central committee and not the branch committee. “We would not address a matter that was not brought before my committee.
Those people flouted our rules and there is no how we could help them as the branch. So we will wait for the Central Committee to undertake its investigations and report to us the findings,” said Moatlhaping.
He pointed out that he has been made aware of a letter of complaint from Kalayamotho by the Branch Secretary. Moatlhaping said he has not seen the letter, adding that he would know the contents of the letter this week during a Branch Committee meeting. Balopi has indicated that all complaints are directed to lower structures to address so that the central committee could deal with such matters at a higher level as appeals.
Balopi has revealed recently that the party’s Political Education and Election Committee is engaged in mass registration across the country and attending to constituencies that are marred by controversies regarding registration and campaigns. He said this is to deal with claims that some of the structures are captured by some of Bulela-Ditswe candidates.
Molatlhegi won the constituency in 2014 with 3,872 votes, followed by Murray Dipate of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) with 3,629, Akanyang Magama of Botswana Congress Party (BCP) with 2,318 and Mthimkhulu, then an independent candidate coming last with 1,475 votes.
Uniformed police officers accompanied by an Immigration officer stormed and arrested 12 Caprivian refugees in Gaborone’s Central Business District (CBD) this week Tuesday after they presented a petition to SADC Secretariat.
Twelve (12) Namibian refugees were arrested on Tuesday at Gaborone’s Central Business District (CBD) and detained for a night at Molepolole Centre for Illegal Immigrants before being whisked to Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) the next day.
The refugees had gathered at the offices of the 15-member regional body, SADC Secretariat to hand a petition demanding that the regional body find a lasting solution to what they term the “Caprivi political situation”. The group, led by Felix Kakula, petitioned SADC over the Botswana deadline of July 11 2018 to have voluntarily repatriated risk being deported forcibly.
Botswana has taken a decision to finally enforce a cessation clause with respect to the status of Namibian refugees living at Dukwi, which was invoked in 2015. The decision came after President Mokgweetsi Masisi visited Windhoek in April this year where he was reported by the Namibian media to have said that Namibian refugees at Dukwi, Botswana are no longer regarded as refugees by his government but as illegal immigrants.
Speaking to Botswana Guardian on Wednesday while in Molepolole, Kakula said: “We are currently on the queue to board the trucks that will ferry us to Francistown. They arrested us on Tuesday around 3PM at Central Business District (CBD) in Gaborone after we were chased from SADC Headquarters premises. We spent the night here at least we are all adults who were arrested,” said Kakula. Information reaching this publication is that the 12 were arrested on grounds that they left Dukwi Refugee Camp without permission. Kakula does not dispute this. “Yes we left without permission.
If authorities at the camp cannot give you permission to gather around and pray or hold meeting what of telling them that you are petitioning a regional body?” asked Kakula. He revealed that they were arrested on Tuesday afternoon by uniformed police officers in the company of one official from Department of Immigration by the names of Sedumedi Phillip Solomon who told them that they would be taken to FCII. Following the handing of the petition, the refugees had indicated that they would not leave the SADC premises until their matter is attended.
After the petition Kakula said they are not against the decision of Botswana Government to have them return home. The worry is about the political situation in their country. In a public notice posted on the Botswana government website a week ago, the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security announced that a decision has been taken to enforce the cessation clause with respect to the group’s refugee status, invoked in 2015.
“All refugees are required to register in person for voluntary repatriation to Namibia from 11th May 2018 to 11th July 2018,” the notice read. The defence ministry said those who register will be facilitated for their return to Namibia as per the provisions of the Tripartite Agreement between the governments of Botswana and Namibia, and the UNHCR.
This directive did not go down well with the remaining 880 Namibian refugees who took their issue to SADC to intervene, saying they will only return home if the Namibian government accepts them as members of the outlawed United Democratic Party (UDP) led by exiled politician Mishake Muyongo.Kakula explained that it cannot be said to be safe to return to Namibia while the Namibian Government has not reconciled with them. The refugees want to return only if they and their leader Mishake Muyongo who is in Denmark are welcomed as UDP members.
Kalula indicated that they would not be silenced to speak about the Caprivi political problem adding that the same problem is the one that made them flee Namibia. UDP is a political party in Namibia representing mainly people from eastern Caprivi and advocating for the secession of what was known as the ‘Caprivi Strip’.
UNHCR Chief of Mission, Arvind Gupta told Botswana Guardian that if the 12 Namibians were refugees Botswana would have contravened the Convention and Protocol relating to Refugee Status. Gupta explained that those who were arrested and detained should not have left the Dukwi Camp in the first place.“If you call them refugees then government of Botswana would be wrong. But the fact of the matter is that they are no longer refugees. Their stay in the Dukwi Camp was for us to assist with facilitation for their repatriation back to their country following the declaration of the cessation clause.
“Botswana has enforced a cessation clause with respect to the status of Namibian refugees living in Dukwi, which was invoked in 2015. So if they leave the camp Botswana Government has the right to enforce any law that is applicable before their refugee status does not exist anymore,” Gupta explained in a telephone interview while in Dukwi.Minister of Defence Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi referred all enquiries to his Permanent Secretary Segakweng Tsiane. Tsiane could not be drawn into discussing the matter as she said she had back to back meetings and requested that she be sent a questionnaire in order to source information for this publication.
Efforts to get comment from SADC were futile at press time. Botswana Council of Churches (BCC) called on President Mokgweetsi Masisi to reconsider the 11 July 2018 deadline to ensure that the refugees’ repatriation is within the spirit of safety and peaceful settlement of all returnees, with particular reference to the issue of security clearance of the 16 political leaders.
Reverend Metlhayotlhe Beleme said BCC has received concerns from the representatives of refugees regarding security challenges at the Caprivi and related to that, lack of security clearance of the 16 leaders who are also expected to repatriate. Beleme stated that the council has been working with the refugees for years and continues to do so even after the closure of Botswana Council for Refugees (BCR) in 2004.He said they have been working with refugees from Namibia, the Caprivi Region. Beleme stated that this relationship is the one that compels the Council to plead with government on behalf of the refugees.