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Campaign to ban illicit tobacco gains traction

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In this case the evidence is before our eyes. The dominant street vendors and sellers of single tobacco sticks or cigarettes all around Botswana are the most economically vulnerable in the community, women and unfortunately the children particularly young girls down to the age of 16-years.

These women and children are at the tail end of the Tobacco Industry which includes Manufacturers, Distributers and Wholesalers. Despite this, street vendors are reported to sell more volumes of cigarettes compared to Wholesalers.

Their competitive advantage being that they sell single cigarettes (or Mezanga in street lingo). A quick look around the regular street vending places such as the outside of clinics, hospitals and schools, shopping malls, tuck shops (semausu), bus ranks and road side taxi and kombi spots shows the packages of cigarettes (at times illegal cigarettes) lying on the small and sometimes makeshift tables.

The cigarettes are placed in the midst of the rest of the sellable ware including biscuits, sweets, oranges, apples, bananas, peanuts and chewing gums.  You need to take a closer look to spot the cigarette packages, almost as if they are being disguised or enveloped by the confectionary; or possibly that the seller is conscious of the fact that they are in the wrong.

Small talk with the Gaborone street vendors indicates that they are selling the cigarettes under the guise of ‘Poverty Eradication’ as do the Sex-workers. What else should they do to feed their families they throw back? What about the dangerous effect of smoking on the children they sell cigarettes to? Their main concern is today, not the future.

Single cigarettes are readily accessible and the smaller quantity means they are also more affordable compared to the full packet, giving potential customers like school-going children leverage to purchase. Advocates such as the Anti-Tobacco Network Botswana, Cancer Association of Botswana, Stop Smoking Support Group and the Ministry of Health’s Tobacco Control Unit have launched a campaign against this sale of single sticks of cigarettes.

Their main argument is that, single cigarettes make it easier for customers like school-going children to afford the lethal habit. Even the manufactures agree or have been coerced to place the warning on all cigarette packets that ‘Smoking is bad for your health’. The immediate repercussions of the sale of these single cigarettes are already tangible.

“Girls are now smoking more than boys. Young girls are really taking to smoking like it’s some kind of fashion trend. School kids are smoking a lot now. It’s a real crisis,” observes and cautions Onkemetse Ramato, the Health Officer from the Tobacco Control Unit at Ministry of Health.    

Ramato was speaking at the recent talks centered on the ‘Botswana Implementation Strategy for Protocol to Eliminate Trade on Illicit Tobacco Products’. The main attendees on 16th December 2015 were representatives from NGO’s and government sectors all aiming to eliminate trade on tobacco products; with voices raised from Ministry of Health, World Bank, World Health Organisation (WHO), BOSASNet and the Anti-Tobacco Network Botswana.

The second session involved the regulatory bodies such as the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS), Ministry of Trade, Ministry of Agriculture and Office of the President.

Back in 2013/2014 an intense anti-illicit tobacco campaign was publicised with the feedback and reports aired on national television, radio and newspapers. Images of major tobacco related raids by authorities in houses, shops and streets were shown. This current concerted, aggressive and collective approach to eliminate the sale of illicit tobacco and its products is still justified if you talk to Dr. Malebogo Pusoentsi from the Ministry of Health.

She is of the opinion that in the long run, if unmonitored the effect of tobacco on users and the community will cost the nation millions of Pula. “Investment in control of Nicotine will go a long way. As a country we stand to gain in terms of the Pula benefit,” advises Dr. Pusoentsi. The doctor is of the view that if the community is aware of the ‘badness of the smoking habit’ they will also help to control its use. “Sniffing tobacco is not better. There is no safe use of Tobacco,” cautions the good doctor.

Nicotine alone causes a barrage of non-communicable diseases such as Heart disease, Cancer, Diabetes and Chronic Respiratory diseases. Dr. H. Jibril, the Deputy PS at the Ministry of Health reiterated the obvious that, “By 2020, the WHO projects that deaths caused by NCD in Africa, which contribute to poverty, burden health systems and impede the overall development, will outnumber the deaths from communicable, maternal, prenatal, and nutritional diseases.”

In view of this global challenge Botswana is said to have been one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2003 and 2005 respectively. “Botswana automatically became a Party to this important public health treaty,” added Dr. Jibril.

Dr. Pusoentsi explains that strategies should include public awareness of the danger of smoking and a price increase for tobacco products. Currently one cigarette sells for P2.50 to P3.00 and a packet of 10 cigarettes sticks is around P18 – P25. A packet of 20 cigarettes costs in the range of P30.00.

The contraband cigarettes from Zimbabwe are said to cost P10 for a packet of 20 cigarettes. “Crushed contraband cigarettes from Zimbabwe are sold in bulk. On the streets the crushed cigarettes cost P4.00 for a 250ml cup, or P100 for a 20 litre bucket,” shares Thabo Katholo of the Anti-Tobacco Network Botswana.

Katholo explains that this smuggled Tobacco “Is cheaper and more hazardous.” Katholo also explains that women and girls in rural and peri-urban centres are at higher risk of being targeted to sell illicit tobacco.  

In Botswana the Tobacco Industry consists of one cigarette manufacturer and one cigarette distributer and numerous wholesalers. Although it is nowhere near scaling the heights of the international cigarette industry, Katholo explains that the Tobacco Industry is very vigorous in Botswana. “The Ministry of Agriculture is currently in a joint venture with Japan Tobacco Inc,” explains Katholo.  

At the end of the conference one of the conclusions was that the only way to outsmart the Tobacco industry is via information. How much volumes of cigarettes entered legally? How much levy was paid? How many cigarettes were confiscated and destroyed? The use of latest technologies including Apps to, ‘track and trace’ the use of Tobacco.

In Botswana, the levy on Tobacco and Tobacco Products was effective as of February 2014. The new Tobacco Control Bill is pending parliament approval; the expectation is that it will be effective as of July 2016.

A consultant from the World Bank, Alberto Gonima further cemented how tricky it will be to curb this illicit trade of tobacco. Once you introduce the tax or levies there will be more temptation to bring in illicit tobacco products.

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VACANCY: President of the UDC

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Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) President, Advocate Sidney Pilane says Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) does not have a President.

He revealed this week that UDC leader, Advocate Duma Boko was given the leadership of the coalition on a temporary arrangement. Advocate Pilane who was addressing the media this week, following the expulsion of his party from the UDC stated that in the buildup to 2014 general elections it was agreed that Advocate Boko should be presidential candidate for UDC, an arrangement that ended at the time when the UDC lost the 2014 general elections.

“It was decided that Botswana National Front (BNF) should be given the presidency so that Advocate Boko could be our presidential candidate. The late Gomolemo Motswaledi of BMD was to be his running mate. We made this arrangement in preparation to taking over state power.

So, all that has passed, we contested and lost so it is all in the past,” said the BMD leader. He stated that constitutionally, the UDC has no president because the president has to be elected during the UDC elective congress. Advocate Pilane pointed out that UDC according to the Constitution should hold its congress every three (3) years.

He stated that even all the members of UDC National Executive Committee have to be elected at the congress and as it stands, “there is no president or Vice Presidents because they were not voted into those positions.”

Advocate Pilane said instead of building the UDC brand their colleagues at Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Botswana National Front have resorted to petty issues. He told the media that the leadership of the two parties have taught their members to insult BMD leadership and its members on social media and any other forum.

He had no kind words for the BCP, calling the party a divisive party that thrives on insults and divisive tendencies. He said the BCP leadership had encouraged its foot soldiers to use social media to insult him and members of the BMD.

According to Advocate Pilane, these are some of the things that have made the two parties remain in opposition for far too long without even coming close to toppling the ruling party. He described them as dishonest people who will plunge the country into chaos and that is why Batswana do not want to give them power.

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VIDEO: A Gaborone hotel Prophet caught in the act

Yvonne Mooka

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In a matter that closely resembles that of a South African Cabinet Minister, Melusi Gigaba’s masturbating video clip, a visiting Zimbabwean Prophet, Ronald El Melchizedek of Altar of Grace this week denied that he has been sending nudes to church sisters and demanding same from them.

In fact, the ‘man of God’ has earned himself the name, ‘Botswana’s Omotoso’ by girls that allege he has sexually exploited them. Pastor Timothy Omotoso is a Nigerian clergyman accused of sexually exploiting over 30 young girls from his church in South Africa.

“He is an Omotoso and even though they hide it at his church, some of us have received messages from him asking for our nudes. Actually, he has asked for my nudes several times,” says one church sister.

The Midweek Sun has gotten hold of a 34 seconds video clip of the youthful prophet playing with his manhood. Looking like he is in a hotel room, the man stands fully naked in a muted video that, depicts him speaking and teasing the recipient. In a standing position, he starts off by caressing his manhood, giving it a close up and ends up lying on the bed, facing up.

At least three young women say they received the video from the prophet and that he usually asks for nudes from them. One of them actually says he has been pestering her, demanding to have sex with her. “He likes to send me messages of how horny he is for me. But again, he likes asking for nudes from women.

Even married women at his church have fallen victims of his sexual harassment. I left the church because he disgusted me by doing such things yet calling himself a man of God,” she says.

The woman however says that Melchizedek, a Zimbabwean who holds services at Gaborone Hotel when he is in the country, is a man of accurate prophecies. “He moves mightily in the prophetic but he likes harassing church sisters. It is known in his church. He is married but controlled by the spirit of lust,” she says.

The Prophet responds
Melchidezek told The Midweek Sun that he was aware of the video of him doing the rounds through WhatsApp, but was quick to label the whole thing a scam.“Yes we are aware. Those are scammers from Benin who hacked into my wife’s Facebook account and phone and stole our videos and pictures. So they wanted to blackmail us and we refused, that is why they are doing that.

It is just an effort to harm the work of God but God is in control,” he told The Midweek Sun. He would not be drawn into responding to, or even discussing the allegations levelled against him by church sisters, but instead gave this reporter a mobile number of a person he said was his wife.

The said woman confirmed that the video was posted by scammers. “That was done by scammers. We have reported them to Benin police,” she said. She however would not give the name of the police station nor go into further details.

This incident follows on last week’s revelations reported by this publication, where several girls spoke anonymously about pastors, prophets and ‘men of God’who were using them sexually in church. Many were uncomfortable to reveal their names, forcing this paper to also conceal the identies of the accused churches and pastors involved in the dirty acts in the name of God.

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