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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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Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan

Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.

This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.

The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.

Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.

Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.

Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?

This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.

The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.

So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?

This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.

Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.

I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’  I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’

Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message.  Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?

The answer is – as always: now.

This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.

We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.

It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.

Let us start today.

*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana

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Opinions

Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.

So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair.  When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees.  They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.

It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government.  To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.

It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.

If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer.  It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.

An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.

On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.

Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country.
Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.

Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country.
The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?

Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.

When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised.  If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?

Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land.  Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.

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Is it possible to make people part of your business resilience planning after the State of Public Emergency?

12th October 2020

THABO MAJOLA

His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.

The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.

The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.

Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.

Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?

The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.

The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly.  So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?

COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.

Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.

Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.

Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.

Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.

Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.

Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!

This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety.  Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.

Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.

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