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Drones to drop mail, medicine in Palapye

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.

OTHER INTERVENTIONS
 


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.

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UDC founder warns against merger

19th October 2020
Ex UDC Convener: Mpotokwane

Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).

Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model.  BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.

“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.

Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.

Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board.  However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.

He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.

“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).

“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.

“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.

Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.

“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.

“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.

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BDP attaches Boko’s property

19th October 2020
DUMA BOKO

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.

WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs.  High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.

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COVID-19 exposes decay in the education system

19th October 2020
Education Systm

Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.

The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.

“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.

As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.

“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.

Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.

“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.

The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.

“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.

BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.

“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.

Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.

In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.

“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.

The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.

“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”

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