Introduction

 

Africa faces many diverse challenges.  There are several development needs that have to be addressed to improve the quality of life of the people in the continent.  Different countries in Africa are at various development levels both socially, economically and politically.  Grappling with all the challenges is not an easy feat for these countries for it involves a lot of prioritization of what needs to be done for the economies and the people’s social and economic needs.  More often than not the plans involve short term measures to address different issues while long term solutions are not at the forefront.

 

Another huge factor in Africa‘s lack of development is the slow pace of adoption of new technologies to match the pace of developing countries and the challenges of competing in the globalized world.  The global competition is skewed in favor of developed countries because developing countries lack the requisite human resources, skills and technology to be able to compete effectively and significantly in the world market.  Being part of the global village, there are other challenges such as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that African countries have to pay particular attention to.  These initiatives demand an investment of financial resources to achieve the initiatives and many countries do not have the financial capability nor the requisite skills to facilitate progress in the achievement of the MDG’s.

 

It is therefore not surprising that Africa or developing countries lag behind in the development of science, technology and innovation initiatives because they do not have the financial and human resource capabilities to fully engage in such initiatives.  Whenever such initiatives have been put in place, they are addressed in a piece meal like way that ultimately does not produce the anticipated and necessary results to deal with social, economic and health challenges bedeviling the countries.

 

Therefore there is a greater need to find ways and solutions to assist African countries to catch on the bandwagon of science, technology and innovation.  Science, technology and innovation has proven to be the bedrock of diversified economies and provides different solutions to problems experienced by mankind such as diseases, poverty, hunger and use of natural resources.  If developing countries intensified their creation, development of science and technology innovations, they can successfully address some of their problems and attain economic as well as social development.

 

Botswana as a developing country in Africa is not immune from the many challenges faced by other African countries.  The country has done well over the years in terms of managing and maintaining its economy.  One way in which the country has managed a stable economy over the years is through the use of natural resources such as diamonds to support the socio economic development of the country.  The country invested so much in building the country’s infrastructural development which included the building of schools, hospitals, clinics, roads, telecommunications network etc.  Government also dedicated some resources to develop the human resource sector in order to manage the infrastructural development put in place for the benefit of the communities.  However not all areas of human resource development were pursued for various reasons some of which includes the lack of diverse tertiary education schools to cater for subjects such as advanced science and technology, engineering, intellectual property, technology transfer etc.  Other factors relate to the huge expenses incurred to train people abroad which competed with local challenges such as creating employment, eradicating poverty and addressing the HIV /AIDS challenge.

 

Despite all these challenges, the government over the years put in place different initiatives to promote science and technology in the country firstly by incorporating science and technology development in the main National Development Plan which guides development priorities government will undertake during a seven year period.  Some of the initiatives in the National Development Plans overtime include the establishment of the Rural Industries Promotion Company with key performance areas which includes

1.       Establishment and implementation of internationally recognized research standards and procedures in the area of science, engineering and technology.

 2.      Development and implementation of research programmes in accordance with national priority focus areas for research and development.

 3.      Initiation of programmes targeted at stimulating the creation of new products, processes, services and supporting infrastructure and platforms in the domain of Research and Development

 4.      Initiation of research projects which enhance the reputation of the organization and contribute to the development of processing industries and utilization of Botswana‘s natural endowments.

 

5.            Assessment of emerging international scientific and technology challenges and

trends and their impact on the country’s R&D Agenda

 

6.            Competencies in training and development of Staff. http://www.ripco.co.bw/

 

Other organizations established by government included the Botswana Technology Center, The National Food Technology Center, National Veterinary Lab, Government departments such as the Agriculture research and training institutions which includes the University of Botswana, Botswana Agriculture College and Vocational Training Institutes.

 

Inspite of all these initiatives, the institutions have not fully been able to attain remarkable results in fulfillment of their mandates.  Educational institutions continue to have low levels of students pursuing science related courses compared to other subjects.  The research institutions sponsored by government have not come close to fulfilling their mandates.  One way of ascertaining that is the fact that so far the institutions have little or no intellectual property that is exploited to address the socio economic challenges of communities in Botswana.  The spinoffs from some of their research are yet to be adopted for the betterment of communities and added significance to the diversification of the economy.

 

WHAT BOTSWANA NEEDS.

 

Science and technology policy

The country has taken some steps to improve science, technology and innovation but more needs to be done hence the starting point is to build on what the country has so far developed.  The main thing is to have a robust science and technology policy that will form the basis and a framework for science and technology initiatives for Botswana based on the needs of communities and anticipated future needs of the country.  There is need for development partners to work with certain stakeholders in Botswana such as the Research Science and Technology Department to come up with the policy.  The development partners will play a facilitators role and the local stakeholders will insure that the policy has relevance and focus in Botswana by addressing pertinent and priority needs as identified through the engagement of communities.

 

Capacity building in science and technology education

 The human resource element is always the critical factor in getting things done.  Without the requisite knowledge and skills in the science and technology field, not much can be achieved in terms of the development of technologies to be used to address challenges faced by communities.  It is important therefore to improve science and technology training.  The government has taken a bold step of setting up the University of Science and Technology.  It is an ambitious public private partnership project which is meant to improve the level of science and technology education in Botswana to support local and regional industries.  It is in this endeavor that government needs partners to make the initiative a productive one by providing quality, focused education. The Science and Technology Group of the World Bank can assist in such an effort by making it possible for Science and Technology graduates and professors to assist to make the University a regional Science and Technology Innovation hub which will support and build capacity for scientists not only for Botswana but other countries in the region and afar.

 

Other initiatives would include comprehensive and deliberate efforts to recruit students from primary schools to engage in science and math at an early age in an effort to prepare them to pursue careers in the science and technology fields.  The initiative should target both males and females alike as a way of promoting gender equality and equal opportunities for all.

 

Capacity building for research and development organizations

Research and development agencies need to have capacity to conduct quality research to meet international standards and therefore research and development practitioners need the requisite skills and capabilities to work in an R&D environment.  Professionals in the institutions in Botswana can benefit from training to enhance their skills and build their capacity to conduct research in various fields and also to adopt and use new technological research tools available in the research and development world.  These initiatives can be facilitated by the attachment of officers to developed and reputable research and development institutions to get practical experience and guidance in conducting research.  This initiative will also build their capacity to act as professionals and ensure that they are able to support their organization in getting registrations for intellectual property more especially patents and industrial designs.

 

Capacity building on intellectual property.

Intellectual Property administration and management is an important part that supports the development and the resultant innovations from the R&D.  The intellectual property policy is therefore important.  Putting in place laws on IP is also important.  Botswana has since the early 1990’s reviewed some of the Intellectual Property laws that it inherited from the British colonial rule.  The laws were meant to be compliant with the TRIPS agreement and all other treaties and conventions Botswana is signatory to.  The main challenge for the country is the lack of sufficient human resource with capabilities to deal with all aspects of intellectual property to support research and development institutes, entrepreneurs by facilitating the registration and management of IP for market exploitation and community benefit.  Botswana still needs more intellectual property professionals and that can be facilitated by the education of officers in the government intellectual property offices and officers in public sector research institutions as well as the private sector.  With the financial challenges faced by the country and competing priorities, Botswana needs development partners to assist in this important area.  It will not only benefit the country but also different international companies that wish to set up in Botswana because they will be assured that their intellectual property will be protected.

 

Technology Transfer Offices (TTO)

Botswana needs a technology transfer office to support the local research and development agencies to convert science, technology and innovation into business opportunities.

 

Many developing countries face an innovation gap in the sense that there is a large stock of potentially relevant, available knowledge and know- how that could help to solve or at least alleviate many high priority social and economic development problems.  These problems might include such vexing issues as delivering clean  drinking water to rural villages adding value to natural resources, transferring off the shelves technologies to local SME’s, diversify exports and improving industrial competitiveness.  From the perspective of most developing countries, however this knowledge and know-how appears to be locked in its country of origin.  This is not because the country of origin will not let it out.  On the contrary much of the required knowledge is freely available and much of the rest can be licensed. (See URL below).   Rather it is because developing countries do not have the capacity to find this available know-how, adapt it for local use diffuse it widely throughout the economy, incorporate it into globally or locally competitive goods and services produced by local businesses and deploy it to solve local problems.

 

To address this issue, developing countries need to build appropriate STI  institutions that in collaboration with each other as well as the private sector, government ministries and agencies, universities, research institutes, educational institutions and NGO’s can

i.                     identify and locate relevant technology that exists outside the home country

ii.                   license it or find other ways to acquire it and bring it into the country

iii.                  pass it along to universities and research institute that can perform the “translation” or “developmental” research to adapt the technology for local use.

iv.                 Transfer or diffuse the technology to farmers and local enterprises who will use to  produce more knowledge intensive higher value added goods and services

v.                   Develop new entrepreneurs and attract existing entrepreneurs from inside and outside the country who can start new businesses on the basis on this “new to the country” technology

vi.                 Provide students and existing workers with more sophisticated skills so that they can perform more complex tasks with this technology. (See URL below). 

 

Moving forward this is the role that can be assumed by TTO’s but there remains a greater need to build capacity in terms of human resource development to set up and actually run the TTO successfully.   Botswana like other developing countries need the capacity to build and run a TTO that will be a central place for all agencies both private and public to access resources to manage their IP, market their technology and to exploit it or through their partners in the market both locally and abroad.  

 

Botswana needs support from development partners to sustain its economic development initiatives.  Without a diversified economy the country will find it hard moving forward to maintain and sustain the infrastructural development it has put in place.  With some assistance the country can use science and technology as another engine of economic growth and increased diversity of the economy.  The success of such initiative will depend on the human resource capabilities that will be built and sustained overtime, hence a long term planning, commitment and implementation is critical.

 

http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTSTIGLOFOR/0,,contentMDK:22250539~menuPK:3165896~pagePK:64168427~piPK:64168435~theSitePK:3156699,00.html