Botswana has developed and progressed to the status of a middle income country mainly through mining and exportation of diamonds.  Diamonds are the main source of revenue for Botswana and have financed infrastructural development, health, education and human resource development capacity.  Though diamonds have created wealth for the country, there remains a challenge for the country to diversify its economy in order to reduce its dependence on diamonds which is a finite resource.  Recognizing this challenge, the government has over the years developed initiatives to diversify the economy as well as enhancing the competitiveness of Botswana in the global market.  One of the identified areas of focus is science, technology and innovation.

 

The Botswana Vision 2016 espouses the pillar of a prosperous, productive and innovative nation.  In expounding on the pillar’s demands the vision articulates that “Botswana must recognize the rapid international developments in science and technology that are re-shaping the societies of the world.  While much can be borrowed from other countries, we will need to look within our own resources and culture to find the sources of innovation that will allow us to shape our future.  The vision strategy must ensure adequate investment in the development of technology” Presidential Task Group, Vision 2016, 1997.   The country has developed some initiatives to support the pillar and among such ambitious project is the establishment of the Botswana Innovation Hub.

 

In his 2009 State of the Nation address, the President of the Republic of Botswana also highlighted the importance of the country’s vision in moving the country forward in the field of innovation.  He said “It is our vision that Botswana will become a nation in which most of our citizens are engaged in knowledge based jobs.  In keeping with this vision, we have been establishing an Innovation Hub as a commercial nexus for knowledge creation and innovation.  The hub will cater for Information, Communication and Technology (ICT)as well as research and development companies serving the local and international market.” http://www.gov.bw/cgibin/news.cgi?d=20091113&i=State_of_the_Nation_address_by_President_Khama_to_the_first_session_of_the_tenth_Parliament.  The Innovation Hub when fully operational will provide an attractive location for technology driven and knowledge intensive business to develop and compete in the global market.  Its focus sectors include Information, Communication and Technology, Mining technologies, energy and environment and Biotechnology. http://www.bih.co.bw.

 

Other initiatives in the development of science and technology involve a bold and expensive development of the Botswana International University of Science and Technology.  The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2005 conducted a study related to science and technology in Botswana and among its recommendations was a call for increased funding for university level scientific research in Botswana.  Also highlighted in the report was the fact that the country has not taken advantage of its strong economy and a high tech information and communications infrastructure to develop science and technology.http://www.scidev.net/en/science-and-innovation-policy/news/Botswana-begins-building-new-s-t-university.html.  Following the recommendations from the UNDP report, government approved plans for the development of the second university in the country which is a public and private sector partnership.  It is anticipated that the university will produce graduates who will better serve the various industries in the science and technology field.

 

During the month of January, the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology through the Department of Research Science and Technology held a technology transfer Capacity Development Programme workshop in conjunction with the German VDI/VDE Innovation Consultants.  The workshop’s objectives were to share national experiences on implementation of technology transfer interventions, defining Botswana technology transfer needs, exploring the role of stakeholders and determining extend of support for a technology transfer development programme for Southern African countries.  Participants to the workshop were drawn from academic institutions, business community, citizen economic empowerment agencies such as Citizen Economic Development Agency, Local Enterprise Authority and Research Science and Technology Agencies such as Rural Industries Promotion Company, Botswana Technology Center and National Food Technology Research Center. Editor, Botswana Gazette, 22/01/2010.  These workshops are further affirmation of the importance that the government attaches to science, technology and innovation and the commitment adopted by various departments to move it forward.  One cannot ignore the political will of the leaders in Botswana, who have embraced science, technology and innovation as another engine of growth that can help diversify the economy as well as improve the livelihoods of the citizens of Botswana.  The inclusion of science and technology initiatives in the national vision 2016 and in the National Development Plan compels all relevant stakeholders to play their role in advancing the objectives envisaged for science, technology and innovation in Botswana.  More can be done and more needs to be done but the important thing is how the country moves forward in creating and achieving tangible milestones in the field of science and technology for the greater benefit of the citizens of the country. A next step should entail strategically designed, specific capacity building initiatives which will drive sustainable STI development into the 21st century, and position Botswana as a regional knowledge centre in Southern Africa.   These initiatives must include investing in building human and institutional capacity and capability in intellectual property and technology transfer.  A national hub, which consolidates talent and resources, might be one such way to implement such a development strategy.