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Peo University: What’s in a name?

What is in the name? Peo University, Temo-Thuo University, Segaolane University, Sebele University; these are some of the names running through my minds as I ponder why the name for the university of agriculture and natural resources was settled for Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Source.

Is it that as Batswana we have now caught up in this syndrome of Botswana this, Botswana that. Is it that we are not creative enough? Following the announcement by the ministry of agriculture that BCA is to transform into a university there was a hasty consultation to find a name for the university. The previous attempts to source the name from staff and students and the suggested names were banked.

Botswana College of Agriculture decided to take the route of consulting Batswana because it know how Batswana identify with agriculture and how Batswana value the agricultural training that their children, husbands, wife and relatives received from BCA.

It knows that Batswana remembers how the frontline extension workers who trained at BCA and its former forerunner, BAC, has and are helping them improve their farming. What is in the name? Everyone, especially African knows the importance of a name.

If this university we are eagerly waiting for was a child, its parents would have reserved an appropriate name that will carry their best wishes for the child, a name that would signify the greatness that may emanate from the works of this child and a name that would not be a curse to the child. In Setswana we know that leina lebe seromo.

A name that would uphold the status of the family or community. In the case of BCA, the name that would be carried by the university should be able to brand the new institution without burdening it with name of a person, alive or deceased (Batswana seem to detest naming any institution or monuments after any iconic persons in our society, safe for the first president).

It should not be a name that creates complications in the future, necessitating a change in the name. It also should not be a name based on the subject matter (agriculture) that would not allow the university in the future to diversify its programmes. This transformation is important for Botswana agriculture and not only for agriculture but it is important for the education sector.

Hence, an appropriate name that would sell the university is paramount. See in the local media how Sefalana is re-inventing itself, the new logo and the meaning of the name itself, Sefalana, a basket of opportunities, which is relevant to  its business of food. Can BCA learn a thing or two from Sefalana?

From casual observation, it appeared that Batswana preferred an indigenous name, the one that is not heavily weighed on by cliché like international or national. If at all international refers to reputation, then that would be determined by the works of the university and not the connotation of the word international, hence the word international should not appear in the name of the new university.

However, those consulted were complacent and mistook the mandate that was announced by the Minister of Agriculture as a given name and easily settle for Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Were these people the appropriate people to consult? The potential clients of the university who are form 4 and form 5 students, the current students at BCA should be the one consulted; the people who are going to interact with the name at a daily basis, not their grandparents who will never go to the university.

Why did I entitle this article “Peo University”? It is my dream. I reckon many people including students had their dream name for the new university. The word Peo means seed, it signify life, and it declares agriculture. It says agriculture without shouting AGRICULTURE.

It stands for a new beginning; the future, its represent vegetation, it is green and it symbolises abundance of food. Peo tell a story of your great grandmothers who were selecting, conserving and sharing indigenous seeds before the arrival of hybrids and Monsanto.

It talks about regeneration, recycling and sustainability, all the attributes of agriculture and natural resources which the university will be anchor on. Peo denotes sperms from our Tswana bulls and ova from our fertile heifers.

Peo symbolises the fertility (fertility of ideas) of our young prospective farmers.  As most people are becoming excited about the new development, the name Peo represent new prospects in education; the prospects of innovation and new ideas that would be ushered by the new university. 

Why should the word agriculture not be made to burden the new university? This is because agriculture is currently not considered cool with the new generation. Therefore, let us put the word agriculture aside in the naming of the new university and only include it in the mandate and objectives.

The problem is that agriculture is been look down upon by many young people, even though that trend seem to be changing, albeit slowly.  At the moment BCA is struggling to attract the best students, they prefer to go to UB and other institutions. In addition, the name of the new university should say something about who were are as Batswana, and as Africans in general. An Afrocentric name that tells the story of our journey as cattle people, trekking from Central Africa to the south of Africa, some thousand years ago.

Temo-thuo has been the blood, sweat and tears of all Batswana; the blood when they lose their saving trying to venture into agriculture, when they know very well that it is a risky business. Blood, when they break their backs tilling the land, even when they is no sign of rain.  Tears, when they cry for their recently acquired poverty status after their cattle has been killed due to lung disease and FMD. Crying for their crops, scorched by the sizzling Botswana heat and drought. Tears of joy after it has rained, admiring their harvest, holding a new calf or lamb.

Therefore, the name Peo University is not only steeped in tradition of Batswana but it also represent a promise of better things to come, technological solutions that would take Botswana agriculture to new heights. It says sometime about our ideas on how we want to tackle effects of climate changes.

It pronounces how we want to harness indigenous knowledge to wrestle with poverty, FMD, measles and wildlife-livestock conflicts. In contrast the name Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources is generic, flat and obvious, it does not connect the new institution to its tradition, it does not say anything about the old station, Mahalapye, and actually it does not pronounce any aspiration for the future. It is like any other name. Do we want to be any other university, or a unique university, a centre of excellence?

In other countries, who experimented with University of Agriculture had to change to some other names to make those universities relevant to their clients, the students. I recently met a Nigerian professor at a conference in Nairobi and he told me that some of the old agricultural universities are considering introducing medicine, in a quest to attract students.

Though earlier on I indicated that the works of the university are important, however, the name is vital for marketing and a name that is difficult to pronounce or difficult to sell may become obscure to the clients. The name is important for branding. These days, visibility and branding is what sells. The name is the face of the product and our product here is going to be the university.

In this competitive world, the new university can not afford not to compete. I know that the power-that-be are pursuing a rationalization policy in human resources development. In that light it may be said that the university should be solely agricultural and not compete with either UB or BIUST.

This would results in two disadvantages. The first would be that of lower enrolments due to marginalisation of agriculture as a career amongst our youth. Secondly we may be missing on an opportunity to integrate all facets of tertiary education into moulding a holistic and wholesome responsible citizen.

The world is not compartmentalised into science, humanities, arts and so forth. Human beings are interfaced with the arts, life sciences, earth sciences, linguistics, religion and the rest. And it has been proven that students with a balance exposure to both the arts and science are better innovators. By not pronouncing agriculture in its name, the university may in the future be able to offer programmes and course on business and entrepreneurship.

Therefore, if the new university allow for future expansion into commerce and trade, management, business, finance and ICT programmes, then there would be opportunities for the university to attract the non-traditional agriculture students.

Take Tebogo for instance, hypothetically speaking but a possibility, s/he ignorantly tells him/herself that s/he does not like agriculture, but still enrol at Peo University to do her/his passionate program, business. During she/his progress s/he may then decide to take an elective in horticulture and this may results in a horticultural businessperson when s/he graduate. Through this, the university would have achieved what had eluded BCA for two decades; producing agribusiness people.

So my contention is that the university should be allowed, funds permitting, to compete with UB, BUIST, Botho and Ba Isago. Of course the core mandate will still remain agriculture, that is given, but the university should not be bottled from growing by confining it only to agriculture and natural resource. After all, the secondary industries of milling, of leather, of food wholesale and retail, of timber, of recreation and leisure  involve commerce, business and entrepreneurship and should not be divorced from the primary industries  of land, cattle, sheep, goats, crops, forestry, wildlife, wetlands.

The future of agriculture is also anchored on ICT and as the youth prefers ICT related careers, internet agriculture platforms would results in expansion of extension, business and market information. So students at the new university should have the opportunity to take computer science programmes to allow them to innovate in agriculture. We recently, at Department of Animal Science and Production had a seminar talk by the founders of Modisar livestock management system. Modisar has been making news in the media as a youthful innovation, ICT based agricultural company which is incubated at Botswana Innovation Hub.

They told us that after assembling and testing the ICT livestock management platform, they realise that they lack skills in livestock management to fully derive the benefits of the platform. So as parliament will soon be discussing the bill on turning BCA into a university, I challenge members of the house to pause and think, engage their mind as to whether Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources is a name suitable for this premier institution or are we still stuck with Block 6, Phase 2 when Gaborone city council moving away from that mentality and giving proper names to its suburbs.

*ORM is a professor of animal nutrition at Botswana College of Agriculture and views expressed here are solely of the author and does not represent BCA. The limited version of this article first appeared in The Business Weekly & Review in 2014

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The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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