Saturday, January 22, 2022

Botswana’s knowledge based economy dream goes up in smoke

Plans to turn Botswana into an information and knowledge based economy have been stuck in the drawing room files because responsible government officers spend more time pushing paper than acting on research findings. A draft Botswana country report states that the Botswana Research Science and Technology Funding Agency, the government’s flagship funding agency for the country’s research and development, has instead delayed the resolution of socio economic problems such as unemployment and poverty because government has done a lot of paperwork without implementation. The result is also that the economy has not diversified as planned.

The draft country report on Botswana by the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology ÔÇô CREST ÔÇô at the University of Stellenbosch states that in 2002, the establishment of the Botswana Research Science and Technology Funding Agency was approved and it was aimed at administering public funds to ensure research into science and technology benefits Botswana socio-economically. However, to date, 11 years later, it has still not been implemented. The report is part of an in-depth study of science granting councils in Sub-Saharan Africa commissioned by Canada’s International Development Research Centre, or IDRC. The report states that in terms of science and technology, the government is Botswana’s major research funding agency, contributing about 84% of total research funding.

Interestingly, 30.8% of researchers in 2008 were women. Funding is crucial for the promotion of scientific research and technological innovation, the report points out, and in line with the 9th National Development Plan, or NDP9, the MCST was given a budget estimated at BWP1.1 billion (US$129 million), to be spread out over the NDP9 period of 2003-04 to 2008-09. “In the 2005 fiscal year, there was an under-expenditure of BWP667 million (US$77 million), representing about 15% of the revised development budget total of BWP4.45 billion. Of this amount, the then Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology, and the Ministry of Education, accounted for under-expenditures of BWP66 million and BWP81 million,” states the report. According to the report, ironically, Botswana is one of few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa ranked as an upper middle-income country.

“The pula, its national currency, is one of the strongest on the continent, and it has a relatively high gross domestic product (US$16,800) per capita. Yet more than a third of the population of just over two million people lives below the poverty line,” says the report. The report found Botswana’s research system wanting as it is hampered by a number of constraints, including inadequate investment, fragmented, uncoordinated and untargeted research activities, lack of technology transfer and scarce human resources. Despite the fact that the government funds Research and Development (R&D), the report says, this has failed to provide comprehensive research because it has occurred in small, erratic amounts. The report states that, compounding the problem is that, many proposed funds and councils have been approved ÔÇô yet more than a decade later, there has been no sign of their implementation.

It notes that until 2002 and the establishment of the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology or MCST, no government department had direct responsibility for science and technology. “In 2004, the Department of Research Science and Technology, or DRST, was set up under the MCST umbrella, the state’s aim being to turn Botswana into an information and knowledge-based economy,” says the report adding that but a decade later nothing has been implemented. The government intends to partner with the private sector to invest at least 2% of GDP in science, technology and innovation by 2016, and has various players involved in funding and governance. The report further states that categories include the higher education sector, public sector research and technology institutes, and private sector research institutes ÔÇô the latter still perform limited research and development activities. Apart from overseas training opportunities, the University of Botswana and its 15 affiliated institutions, including the Botswana College of Agriculture, are the main centres undertaking scientific research and training new researchers and technicians.

The six major public technology and scientific research institutions outside the higher education sector are the Botswana Technology Centre, the Rural Industries Promotions Company, its subsidiary the Rural Industrial Innovation Centre, the National Food Technology Research Centre, the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis, the Botswana Vaccine Institute and the Department of Agricultural Research. The report recommends that if Botswana is to be successful in building the capacity of small industries and in increasing productivity, it will need to create links with private industries. Fiscal incentives like tax concessions and rebates should be introduced to increase private sector involvement in science and technology, states the report. “For these partnerships to be effective, encouragement could be provided in the form of: substantial funding for collaborative research; grants for equipment purchases and postgraduate training; recognition and monetary awards for the generation of intellectual property and other significant output; and support for inter-institutional exchanges, especially where international institutions are involved in local consortia,” says the report.

The country needs to continue to demonstrate a strong governance system and a results-driven approach if it wants to attract support from international agencies. The national science and technology strategy should determine the funding priorities, rather than allow these to be driven by donor funding, the report stresses. The report also suggests that for strategies to increase global awareness of Botswana’s opportunities in science and technology should be developed, for instance by establishing a strong relationship with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

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