July 2010

The Department of Political Science, with the assistance of the Division of International Studies & Programs at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK), is pleased to introduce its Botswana Program - a unique joint partnership between TAMUK and the University of Botswana, Gaborone, Botswana.

The Program is being directed by Dr. Nirmal Goswami, Professor of Political Science, TAMUK, and co-directed by Dr. Leapetswe Malete and Dr. Maitseo Bolaane, University of Botswana.

The Program will include twelve students traveling to and staying in Botswana from July 7th through July 23rd, attending classes at the University of Botswana, and visiting multiple sites through field trips within Botswana. Areas of focus include history, politics, economics, culture, health, environmental policies, etc., with reference to both Botswana and Southern Africa.

This blog will document our experience. You are welcome to post comments.

You are all invited to cyber travel with us as we learn about the unique and beautiful country of Botswana!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Education in Botswana

In Botswana, education is free for everyone. In the more rural areas, schools can be quite far, but it seems if a family wishes their children to be educated they can. Botswana has a mix of both public and private schools much like the rest of the world. However, both public and private schools require students to wear uniforms. These uniforms are not just the khaki pants and polo shirt that some schools in Texas require students to wear. Students in Botswana wear button down shirts, sweater, tie, trousers (pleated skirts for girls) and hat. We understood this to be a tradition based on British customs. For those students who live too far away from a school, which often includes students from minority groups like the Sans, there is a government program that “boards” the students away from home so that they can receive an education. This was a bit of a shock to me, one because I know the US tried something like this with the Native American population and it did not work out so well for us, and second because I could not stand to be separated from my child. On the other hand, in isolated rural areas, how else can children access education? It might not be the best situation, but at least the Botswana government is trying to do something.
At the university level, if students pass the appropriate tests and have the required grades, their university costs are provided by the government. That means, for about 4-5 years, tuition, books, board, food, and a stipend are paid by the Botswana government. When we went to the American Embassy, they told us that the living allowance for students had been recently reduced and caused many students to protest. Our presenter said, “It’s hard to sympathize with them when US students have thousands of dollars in loans to pay back to our government and banks.” It is a good point but it also means that the United States, with the largest economy in the world, cannot provide sufficient support for most Americans to get college degrees while some countries do.
Another problem one of our presenters discussed involved students from minority groups like the San. Such students, living in isolated communities, do not always have adequate educational opportunities to start with. This makes it harder for them to qualify for university admission. As a response, through a program at the University of Botswana, San students with academic potential are assisted in accessing both university and technical college programs. Many students initially perceived to be “not qualified” for higher education, pursue higher education degrees this way.
The University of Botswana motto, translated, means, “education as a shield.” Botswana has used their diamonds to build the most valuable resource a country can have, an educated majority. They have invested their money wisely. The country’s diamond-based resources could not have been spent on anything better, for when the diamonds run out, the education will still be there.

Katharine K.

False Alarm!

The first night in Gabs could not have been more frightening. A group of us decided to go out on the town. We had our next door neighbor call us a taxi because none of us had cell phones. Since it was our first night out, we did not know what the taxi was going to look like. When two tiny beat up cars pulled up, we were all a little skeptical because they did not have anything on them that said taxi. Everyone decided to trust them, and we split up in the two cars because there was so many of us. The first stop light we go to, the first car turns right and my car goes straight. Every single muscle in my body gets tense and I just start preparing myself for the doom I was about to face. I tried to remember how to get back to campus, but the driver was taking too many turns. The cab driver, Mustafa, got a call from who we imagined was the other driver. No of us could understand the conversation because it was in Setswana. I was eyeballing Caleb, and I could tell he knew what was going on. I looked over at Anthony, and he was clueless. Caleb and I never said a word, but we knew we were not going down without a fight. I was just hoping Anthony would join in as well. Before we had a chance to put the driver in a headlock, we arrived at our destination. The other group was already there. It turns out that our driver had misunderstood where we were going, but that phone call he had during the cab ride cleared everything up.
Mustafa actually seemed worried about us getting worried! The whole time he was doing the right thing. Moral of the story: we all have a tendency to be suspicious of things, especially when you visit a “developing” country. And then you experience a situation where someone does the right thing. That always makes you feel better about the world!

Amanda W.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Botswana: The Place

You notice it first from the air as you fly over the country and then you notice it again as soon as you land in Gaborone, the country’s largest city, also its capital and biggest airport. Botswana has a lot of space but not too many people. It is a big country but a small place. And it has a gentle rhythm. No one is in a hurry. Airport officials, airline staff, university employees, cab drivers, everyday people, move and work without frenzy. A general ambiance of politeness and pleasantry is pervasive. There is much to be admired about this.
The University of Botswana (UB) has been a gracious institutional host for us. We have had presentations by UB faculty members from multiple disciplines covering politics, history, culture, economics, the environment, etc., and they all have been high quality. The overall academic program was excellently organized by Professor Maitseo Bolaane from UB’s Department of History. All of the presentations have been immeasurably educational. Presentations were supplemented by a variety of field trips to places of interests in both urban and rural settings, including spending a night in a village and touring a small game park. We have learned a lot about this unique country in the short time spent here.
Botswana may have a small population but it has significant diversity. It is essentially a bilingual country with English and Setswana as the primary languages. However, other languages are used by non-Setswana tribes in some parts of the country. Differences in the opportunities between major tribes and other population groups are among both economic and political issues. And, as in many countries, despite strides made by women in diverse areas, gender inequities remain. The country has been remarkably stable since gaining independence from Britain in the sixties and has remained committed to the principles of a multi-party parliamentary democracy and market economy. It has a vibrant and free press, vigorous opposition parties, and significant policy debates. Differences regarding national policies, in many policy areas, were evident in the presentations we attended at UB. In literature too, Botswana’s depth goes much beyond the popular No. 1 Ladies Detective Series.
The country has achieved strong economic growth and it has used it well. Both urban and rural populations have access to basic services like safe water, primary health care, primary education, postal services, electricity, telephones, and roads. The images of poverty associated with sub-Saharan Africa are not evident in Botswana. These successes have also attracted illegal immigrants from other countries, especially from neighboring Zimbabwe. UB is the country’s premier institution of higher education and it has students and faculty from several countries. The many economic gains of Botswana have been possible because of diamonds. The discovery of diamonds after independence changed the country’s fortune. That, also, is one of Botswana’s biggest challenges. The economy is largely dependent on this one finite resource. How the country manages its future when the diamond industry declines is one of Botswana’s major current policy issues. Also, its small population does not make Botswana a significant market or labor center for Botswana to be considered as a potential operational base by major global economic players. Further, Botswana’s struggles with the HIV virus are widely known; these struggles continue to be critical to the country. Botswana’s geographic circumstances offer limited opportunities for economic diversity; the economy is also very closely tied with just one country, its big southern neighbor – South Africa. These are the looming issues for Botswana.
An enduring image that all we talked with conveyed about Botswana centers around the role of the Village. The Village is almost a soul in the lives of the citizens of Botswana. It is the place referred by all as “home.” Many in Botswana are determined to continue to live in villages while staying in urban areas. This desire is part of who the Batswana are. From what we have seen, if anyone can do it, it will be the Batswana. They take care of their souls.
Ke a leboga, Botswana!

Dr. Goswami

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Familiar Issue, a Familiar Policy, a Familiar Problem

We were all so excited to have had our first field trip in Botswana and NO CLASSES. On Wednesday, we took a day to visit a San Village, and there I learned so much about families and how they live outside of Gaborone. What caught my attention the most was their seeming isolation. Access to transportation and services like health care seemed limited. There is a clinic in the village which is usually staffed by a nurse but the clinic had not had a nurse for sometime. On our visit, I was lucky enough to see how a government group delivers food and other necessities to families in need. As I spoke to a young lady from the university, I asked her about how this program worked and she mentioned that social workers evaluate families to determine if they qualify for assistance. If approved, the families receive vegetables, powdered soup, maize meals, flour, sugar, cooking oil, 8 pints of milk, and they get a stipend to purchase meat locally. The lady who I spoke with was very upset by this because she said that since the programs provide so much food every day, and the family members do not have to work, that this sometimes lead to fraud when ineligible people take advantage of these programs. This led me to think about how this situation is very similar to ours in Texas. I related the situation with the San village to poor families in Texas who receive food and welfare services from the government. Everything seemed so similar to our situation back home; the way some people are so upset at those who fraudulently receive government services.
I intriguingly noted that Botswana and my country have similar societal problems, similar government policies and similar spillover issues.

Ruby T.

The Joy of a Balanced Cuisine

When people think about the traditions and customs of societies across the globe, food is often reflected upon in order to help understand the culture. As many of us know, the common cuisine in a country usually depicts a history that is unique to a certain region. Although some meals may not sound as appetizing as others, we must keep in mind that food plays an integral role in every society, and while there are infinite variations of food, each society has adapted to its individual allocated resources.
Here, in Gaborone, Botswana, the food we have been served thus far has been unique and delightful. Beef, sorghum, and chicken are among the primary food staples in abundant supply in this area. Therefore, we have eaten them for virtually every meal. A fixture in every major meal here is the attention given to dietary balance. Salads with light dressing, healthy servings of vegetables, and almost always: boiled/mashed butternut squash. The emphasis here on balanced meals as part of a daily cuisine is something to be admired. In addition to having three main meals every day, we have also engaged in the local tradition of drinking hot tea with a muffin sometime after breakfast. This practice has allowed the students here to receive additional energy and maintain more concentration. All in all, the experience we have had has been eye-opening. I have not only been able to consume exquisite food on this trip, but also learn about an intricate culture while doing so.

Mark D.

The Power of Images

It has been my life long dream to go to Africa and to get to come with this amazing group of students has been the experience of a lifetime! I majored in Political Science in the 1980s and this trip has reminded me of the reasons I was drawn to the subject.
We have experienced a lovely sample of the rich culture and history of the people of Botswana. We have tasted the food, participated in traditional ceremonies, heard stimulating lectures, visited villages, museums, art galleries, NGOs, and a San settlement. We have talked with faculty, staff, students, vendors, cab drivers, widows and children. We have fallen in love with the people and this beautiful country. Botswana allowed us to experience the best of Africa in a peaceful and hospitable country where tribal tradition requires individual to openly discuss grievances before they escalate. They stand as an example of the widespread value of open communication to promote peace.
We leave this country richer because of what we experienced. We will take back images of both faces and places with us. All of these images will enrich our lives for forever. We will always view this part of Africa through those images. I will forever remain grateful for this experience.

Ginger G.