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!

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

No comments:

Post a Comment