Friday, 12 December 2014

Botswana Democracy ignored by the Global Media by Pnina Werbner

Pnina Werbner is Professor Emerita in Anthropology at Keele University and author of The Making of an African Working Class: Politics, Law and Cultural Protest in the Manual Workers' Union of Botswana (Pluto Press 2014).  In this post Pnina considers how Western ‘bad news’ perspectives on Africa disguises the strength of civil society and trade unions in protecting democracy and the public interest.

Botswana is the oldest, fully functioning democracy in Africa. You would never guess it, however, by the way in which the country is ignored by the western – and global – media. Bad news travels far and fast in Africa – the Ebola epidemic, kidnappings, civil wars, massacres, dictatorships, rigged elections, all make headline news. If Botswana is mentioned, it is in relation to the HIV/Aids epidemic or the dispossession of Bushmen. Not so, however, when it comes to holding free and fair elections or the defence of the Constitution by an independent judiciary.

About the same time Botswana held its elections for a new Parliament, on 24 October 2014, there were runoff presidential elections in Brazil, won by Russeff, and national elections in Tunisia, won by its secular party. These were clearly important events of undoubted significance for the West. Botswana’s elections were not even mentioned, let alone analysed, yet they too were something of a watershed. For the first time in the history of Botswana, a united opposition alliance, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), almost won. The ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDC) which had repeatedly won all the elections since independence, in 1965, got only 46% of the vote, though it gained 37 of the 57 parliamentary seats in a first-past-the-post electoral system. The cause of the opposition’s failure was a small party, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), which had shortsightedly refused to join the main opposition alliance, thus splitting the vote in many constituencies. But the writing was clearly on the wall for the Botswana establishment: young people and city dwellers were fed up with the status quo, which had led to allegations of cronyism, corruption, secret surveillance and ‘tendrepreneurship’(corruption in awarding public contracts), emanating in the popular view from presidential autocracy.
Cartoon of President Khama tied to a tree

Despite his alleged autocracy, however, the President, Lieutenant General Ian Khama, was a democratic, publicly committed to giving up his office lawfully after two terms, as spelled out by the Constitution. This would mean, in effect, passing the presidency onto his Vice-President mid-term, as had happened when Khama himself became President. African presidents are known for their repeated attempts to extend their constitutional rights to office, clinging on to power come what may. In the case of Khama, the prevailing rumour was that he intended to appoint his younger brother to the vice-presidency, despite the latter's political inexperience and lack of popularity. In the local press, headlines proclaimed Khama's ambition to create a 'dynasty'. This led to a series of cliffhangers which tested Botswana's democracy as never before.

Unionist leaders in front of the High Court and
Court of Appeal Building
Before Parliament was dissolved it passed a ruling allowing for the election of the Vice-President, the Speaker of the House and the Deputy Speaker in parliament by secret ballot. After the elections, the President, through the office of the Attorney General, challenged this ruling in the High Court and later the Court of Appeal. The accepted view was that an open ballot would allow him to intimidate members of his own party, despite the widespread feeling, reported in the press, that elected parliamentary members of the BDP strongly objected to the nomination of the President's brother.

Cartoon of Masisi, now Vice-President, oppressing workers
As always in Botswana, the whole nation mobilized in anticipation of the court verdicts, crowding into the court, crammed wall to wall, packing the corridors. When the dismissal of the presidential challenge by the High Court bench of five judges was announced, it was greeted with ululations and a general sense of relief. The Attorney General managed, however, to get the appeal of the ruling heard on an urgent basis in the Court of Appeal, the highest in the land. Could the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ian Kirby, a conservative judge and long-term friend of the President, be trusted to defend the common good of the nation? At stake was the independence of the judiciary in Botswana. The whole country held its breath. When the Court of Appeal, presided over by Kirby, supported the verdict of the High Court the nation breathed a sigh of relief. Botswana democracy had been redeemed, with the Constitution safeguarded by the judiciary. In the event, the candidate selected for the Vice-President , Mokgweetsi Masisi, was an unrelated long-term politician, voted in by the ruling party unanimously in Parliament in a secret ballot.

Duma Boko, leader of the Opposition, speaking to
public sector union strikers
As in Tunisia and Brazil, the struggle and mobilisation by trade unions against inequality played a major part in this unfolding saga.  In Botswana, the public sector union federation (BOFEPUSU) in particular worked hard to create a unified opposition alliance. As I document in my recent book, The Making of an African Working Class (Pluto 2014), the unions urged and agitated the opposition parties, while taking the government constantly to court in judicial review, thus charting the way to legal activism and the demand for justice.

The global media's myopia with regard to Botswana is particularly short-sighted at a time when new democratic regimes in Africa are growing in confidence and strength. It would seem to be the duty of the media to support these nascent African democracies, and at the very least report on their struggles, rather than engaging merely in tired Afropessimistic reportage.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Research training award for Nicola Edwards

Congratulations to Nicola Edwards, a student on the MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice programme at Keele, on being awarded a fully funded place on a 3-day research training school in Barcelona in January.  The training school is run by a European intergovernmental organisation called COST (Cooperation in Science and Technology) which encourages research collaboration across Europe and the theme of the school is 'Offender Supervision in Europe'.  Nicola graduated from Keele this summer with a first class honours degree in Criminology and Sociology and she is continuing her research by combining her commitment to working with offenders with her interest in street art and 'visual criminology'. In Barcelona, Nicola will get the chance to present her research to European experts and to receive tuition on her future research plans.  She has agreed to write a blog when she gets back, so watch this space!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Sociology PhD funding opportunities, 2015-16

As part of the range of funding opportunities for new Social Science PhD students for 2015-16, we are keen to recruit high quality research students in Sociology and welcome applications in areas relating to research specialisms in the Sociology team.

Particular areas of interest in Sociology are:

  • Contemporary Social Theory
  • Anti-Capitalism and Social Protest
  • Utopias and Social Imaginaries
  • Social Psychology
  • Globalisation and Global Cultures
  • Sociology of Media and Culture
  • New Media Cultures
  • Families
  • Childhood and Consumer Culture
  • Environment and Climate Change
  • Gender and Consumption
  • Parenting and Motherhood
  • Ethnicity, Race, Migration
  • Urban Cultures
  • Urban Regeneration
  • Youth and Social Exclusion
  • Sociology of Health and Illness

The first step in the application process is to identify a suitable supervisor through our Research pages, then approach them with some ideas about what your research might involve. If your interests mesh, you will then work on developing a PhD proposal in time for the application deadline.

If you have any queries or would like support in how to identify a supervisor or prepare an application, please contact Dr Mark Featherstone (, Postgraduate Research Lead Sociology, Postgraduate Research Director for the Centre for Social Policy. The deadline for applications is February 23rd 2015, but contact us as soon as possible if you are interested in making an application.  

The Beautiful Game or Football’s Fantasy

By Dr Andy Zieleniec

Football continues to be the nation’s favourite sport and 2014 has given fans plenty of highs and lows to enjoy. The culmination of mostly competitive leagues across Europe, a Brazilian World Cup, the start of new league campaigns and the qualifying rounds of European club and international competitions to mention a few. However, over the last few weeks football has appeared almost as much on the front pages of newspapers as much as the back. It seems that what happens in football (in this country at least) shines a light or holds a mirror up to many wider social issues and provides opportunities for very public debate. Not a bad thing for a sociologist to consider.

The following, in no particular order, is just a very brief litany of recent football stories that has elicited interventions, comments and generated much heated debate and which can be interpreted as reflecting ongoing arguments and analyses in a broader social context concerning amongst other things discrimination and governance.

     1) Ched Evans – The professional footballer convicted of rape has expressed little contrition since his release from prison. The decision by the club that he was contracted to at the time of his offence, Sheffield United, to allow him initially to train at the club following a request from the Professional Footballers Association raised the prospect of him being resigned as a player for the club with a view to him resuming his career.
      The club has since come under intense pressure from patrons (including Olympic athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill and musicians), Rape Crisis England & Wales and the End Violence Against Women Coalition and more than 165,000 members of the public who signed a petition rejecting the clubs move. The club has now revoked the offer of training facilities for the player as a response to such opposition.
      Amongst the many issues this case raises is the impact that high profile footballers have as role models, the seriousness and pervasiveness of violence against women, what is appropriate employment for the rehabilitation of sex offenders, how can public opinion be organised to enact change.

     2) Malkay McKay/ Dave Whelan/Wigan: The appointment of Malky McKay as Wigan manager despite being investigated by the Football Association for offensive texts (of a sexist, racist and homophobic nature) raised many eyebrows not just in football but in wider society. Dave Whelan the owner of Wigan FC in an interview attempted to justify the signing of McKay but expressed views and used language that has led him also now to be accused and investigated for racism and anti-Semitism.
      Is this just another example of ‘Banal’ sexism, racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism to       be  found in everyday workplaces as ‘banter’?
      Is it representative of the unreconstructed nature of some/many areas of society?
      Should we be optimistic by the strong reactions it has invoked?
      3) The appointment of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on 13th November as manager of League 2 Burton Albion highlighted that there are now only 3 black and ethnic minority (BME) people in top management roles in the Football League and that there are only 19 (BME) coaches in the 552 'top' coaching positions at professional English clubs.

Does this suggest, given the number of BME players in clubs in all divisions that there is a form of institutional racism at play in English football that stops players becoming coaches and managers. If not, what other factors can account for this disparity in opportunity? Is there a level playing field when it comes to appointments in top jobs (and not only in football) or is there a need for legislative action to ensure it?

  4) The Report of the Investigation into the Bidding Process and Competition for Fifa’s World Cups in 2018 and 2022 has been published. This resulted in something of a farce when the independent investigator, US attorney Michael Garcia, contradicted the findings of the chairman of the adjudicatory chamber, German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, just 4 hours after the report was released.
Whilst accusations and counter accusations have been levied against the English FA, a failed bidder, and FIFA about the probity of the bidding process and the accuracy of the findings, what remains is a sense of distrust and lack of transparency in the organisation of world football itself and in particular it’s President, Sepp Blatter.
Given that the chief whistle-blower now fears for her and her family’s safety what can we believe or trust can we have in those who have organised and participated in this process?
Does this sorry state of affairs in footballs world governing body tell us something about corruption, governance and transparency in similar global corporations?
Is it indicative, given the levels of proven misdeeds among many global financial institutions and banks, of operating procedures and practices that appear intrinsically unsound, dishonest, sleazy and fraudulent?

5) The first Scotland - England match to be played north of the border since 1989 and certainly since the recent Independence Referendum saw some good football and goals and relatively speaking a fine England performance.
However, the reporting of the match also focussed on a small section of England fans who thought it appropriate to use the England supporters' band as background music for sectarian anti-IRA chants and songs.
Whilst much has been done in Scotland to try to address sectarianism in football and in wider society in recent year it appears that such mindless, tasteless and offensive chanting is sadly still too familiar for a section of England fans.
Does this reflect an inability for some people within Britain to move forward or does historical and religious conflicts live on?
What will be the result if present conflicts continue to fester and inflame centuries after they have taken place?
Are divisions and differences in society appropriate fodder for football terrace rivalry?
        6) Last week saw the publication of the annual ‘state of the game’ report in which amongst   other factors the number of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh players contracted to and given playing time on the pitch was analysed for clubs in leagues across the UK.

Whilst there was much hand-wringing and soul-searching following England’s early exit from the world cup in the summer (mirrored in Scotland by the inability to qualify for such major tournaments) some of the focus and suggestions for improving ‘the national game’ has centred on the number of ‘foreign’ players who populate British clubs team sheets and squads versus other successful leagues in Europe.
This has led to some to call for a ‘quotas’ of home-grown players and the restriction of EU and Overseas players registered and playing for UK clubs

This reflects perhaps the financial success, power and popularity of English Premier League football but it also mirrors current public debates and political party posturing over immigration, multi-culturalism and the future of the UK.

    7) The financial success of the English Premier League and its knock-on consequences for the game throughout the UK is based on the huge revenues that are generated by the televising of the sport. Whilst some may argue this has been a good thing and brought many positive changes to the game there is a sense of unease about the costs to fans of the TV packages that provide the basis for the revenues that Premier League clubs benefit from. The price for the latest rights deal - covering 2013-16 - rose by 70% to £3bn when it was announced in 2012. 
     Last week saw the launch of an investigation by the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom into the process by which the Premier League sells its live TV media rights to matches in the UK. Virgin Media has lodged a complaint that more matches should be available for live broadcast.

     Whilst it could be argued that Virgin want a piece of the lucrative pie that SKY and BT have the role of pay-tv in the organisation, scheduling and financing of football reflects the fundamental importance of media organisations in the promotion and consumption of the not only football as a commodity but in wider debates about the power and influence of media corporations in the global fields of the communication and production of information, knowledge, leisure, culture and politics.

As a fan of football at times I find it difficult to juggle my love of the game with the way in which it is organised, presented and consumed as a commodity. Whilst I may not go as far as Bill Shankly in stating that "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that" I would say that football matters because it reflects and illuminates important issues in society.

Thus the tropism that sport and politics don’t mix has I think been well and truly laid to rest by such recent examples (I haven’t touched on gender and homophobia here I have only focussed on stories/events that have been reported in the last two weeks).
However, my argument here is not that football should be made a scapegoat for the ills of society not that by fixing football we will solve social problems. It’s only a game after all.
What I would argue is that football, as the most popular spectator sport in the country, as a mass participation sport, with a very high media visibility and with the ability to engender intense emotions, loyalty and commitment can provide a mirror or window into social issues and problems (and perhaps also suggest solutions) that reflect wider society.