The Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) through its Department of Computer Science and Information Systems in the process of launching drones that would assist with community service in Palapye and surrounding areas. This is part of the strategy to demonstrate the effectiveness of technology in delivering services.
Dr Dimane Mpoeleng, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems has told Weekend Post that BIUST is working towards getting appropriate licensing from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAB) to ensure that the project comes to full fruition. The University has already constructed a mini-helipad where the drones will take off and land from their missions in and around Palapye. There are already about ten drones of different make to start off the project. The drones cost between P18 000 and P40 000 each depending on the make.
“We will start small with these drones dropping off mail in and around the University. But we also want them to be of use to the Palapye community and other surrounding areas. We intend to have these drones dropping off essential medicinal items in homesteads in Palapye, especially the simple doses for children and the elderly so that we deal with the issue of them having to travel to clinics to collect their Dr Mpoeleng explained that a drone, in a technological context, is an unmanned aircraft.
He said drones are more formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned aircraft systems (UASes). “Essentially, a drone is a flying robot. The aircrafts may be remotely controlled or can fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in their embedded systems working in conjunction with onboard sensors and GPS,” he said.
“In the recent past, UAVs were most often associated with the military, where they were used initially for anti-aircraft target practice, intelligence gathering and then, more controversially, as weapons platforms. Drones are now also used in a wide range of civilian roles ranging from search and rescue, surveillance, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring and firefighting to personal drones and business drone-based photography, as well as videography, agriculture and even delivery services,” says a BI Intelligence Report.
To emphasise BIUST’s commitment to these projects, the University Vice Chancellor, Professor Otlogetswe Totolo said, “We are a research intensive university. Research projects should be relevant. We want professors who come up with projects that talk to the challenges faced by our people. One thing about Botswana is that we must learn to be proud of our own professors because they trained at the same schools as the foreign professors. We are confident that these interventions we come up with address the challenges faced by our people in the community.”
Professor Totolo said he wants BIUST to significantly contribute to the education system of the country. He said they must add the relevant skills to various industries, skills such as forensic scientists, metallurgists, computer technicians, telecommunications engineers, chemists, astronauts, physicians, bio technicians, electrical engineers and others. “We are confident these skills are necessary to transforming the economy of Botswana from a resource based to a knowledge based economy. BIUST is also contributing to the intellectual body of knowledge in research, science and technology,” he said.
“We started with 265 students and today we are at 1700 students in a period of four years. We are very proud because Botswana Top achievers come to this university, none of the students who come to BIUST has a grade point less than 40. By 2022 we intend to produce 6000 students. Of course we will need classrooms, hostels, lecture theatres among other things. Botswana currently has only 2000 scientists and it must be noted that they are not enough to diversify the economy, explained Professor Totolo.
A 2016 Business Insider BI Intelligence report forecasted the growth of enterprise drone use to outpace the consumer drone sector in both shipments and revenues by 2021, reaching 29 million shipments worldwide. It stated that the integration of drones and internet of things technology has created numerous enterprise use cases; drones working with on-ground IoT sensor networks can help agricultural companies monitor land and crops, energy companies survey power lines and operational equipment, and insurance companies monitor properties for claims and/or policies.
However growth in commercial and personal drones has also created numerous safety concerns, namely midair collisions and loss of control. This publication gathered that specific concerns about drones flying too close to commercial aircraft prompted calls for regulation, hence BIUST is engaging the CAAB for the licensing regime. The CAAB has implemented a set of unmanned aircraft rules, placing limits on autonomous or semi-autonomous drone operation.
In other ventures BIUST also hosts the Square kilometre array project in collaboration with South Africa, Australia and Ghana. This project is a very big project. It will see about 70 telescopes placed at the Kgalagadi. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area. Dr Mpoeleng explained that the scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research & development. He said as one of the largest scientific endeavours in history, the SKA will bring together a wealth of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers to bring the project to fruition. For his part Professor Totolo said Botswana has an opportunity to invest in this area to further diversify the economy.
“The SKA will eventually use thousands of dishes and up to a million antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently in existence. Its unique configuration will give the SKA unrivalled scope in observations, largely exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope.” Dr Mpoeleng further shared that BIUST is also involved in the MESA project. He explained that the Monitoring of the Environment for Security in Africa (MESA) is a follow-up initiative to the African Monitoring of the Environment for Sustainable Development (AMESD) programme.
“It contributes to the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) 6th Partnership on Climate Change and Environment and builds on the AMESD programme achievements. The initiative is focused on using Earth Observation (EO) data and information products for environment and sustainable development, specifically designed for African users at continental, regional and national levels (AUC, 5 African Regions, and 50 countries).” The project’s reliance on proven satellite and land-based monitoring technology is also consistent with the JAES 8th Partnership on Science, Information Society and Space.
Another project which was a conception by one of the BIUST students, he has come up with a protype for a farm yard. According to his supervisors this will allow a farmer to monitor his or her farm and the livestock while away. The project will allow the farm to monitor movements of his livestock, its condition and further know whether there is missing livestock or not. The mechanism or technology is linked to the cattle tags and some LED lights that senses the livestock movement.
Meanwhile BIUST laboratories are now ready to start assisting the Botswana Police Service with Forensic tests including DNA tests, blood spatter analysis, crime scene analysis, ballistic tests and many other crime related tests. The Botswana Police Service is currently heavily reliant on South Africa. Professor Totolo explained that for some of their projects BIUST will be partnering with other Government departments and parastatals to ensure their success. He said they intend to patent some of the students’ projects, incubate them and find a way to release them for mass production.
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.