This past week the state media held a political debate in Maun that featured atleast five of the parties that are contesting in this year’s general elections –BDP, UDC, AP, RAP and BMD. The topic of the evening centred on Tourism and Human/Wildlife Conflict. Amongst the panellist was BDP’s Bagalatia Arone who also doubles as Basic Education Minister.
Being an education minister, ex teachers and coming from a place as rural as Sekombondoro village one would have expected Arone to be in a better place to explore further what the BDP calls a “Knowledge based economy” in their elections manifesto.
Arone was challenged by one of the Maun natives to give his view on indigenous knowledge (which can and should be part of the so called knowledge based economy). Dear reader, your guess of what was Arone’s response is as good as ours – disappointing. The former Okavango MP displayed the highest order of ignorance when it comes to the issue of indigenous knowledge. It was Arone’s response to the question on Indigenous Knowledge that actually made us remember how politicians in this country have over the years abused certain phrases to gain political mileage. Certain catch phrases such as “benchmarking”, “diversification”, “Knowledge based economy” and “prudent economic management” are usually thrown around by politicians when they seek another term in office. These are phrases with meaning to economists but of no use to the politicians as they have been designed to appeal to voter’s emotions. These are phrases that politicians usually use to confuse rural voters such as those that Arone aspires to represent. To the Okavango voters Arone sounded like he was saying something concrete when he responded to the indigenous knowledge question. The reality is that he appeared lost and clueless on this issue. It pains when people like Arone who have been given the huge responsibility of overseeing the development of basic education in the country are still playing a catch up on vital issues such as importance of indigenous knowledge. It is unfortunate that the society has let the elites like Arone and so called experts lay special claims on knowledge. This is why they have carved out a sphere of life in which they are given decision making authority. As a result it is becoming evident with each passing elections that the voices of those who don’t have certain knowledge are often devalued and disempowered because they don’t have formal credentials like those “given” to the likes of Arone.
It is quite clear that a large number of rural voters cannot engage with technical language and ideas. This leaves little room for them in discussions and decision making.
But this does not mean there is nothing that can be done. Infact, we believe that knowledge of basic economic terminology such as diversification, whilst necessary, is NOT sufficient condition for being able to make informed political choices which leads to economic growth. It is the active participation of citizens in an economy like ours that can help us grow it. This takes us back to the issue of Indigenous knowledge that was brought up by the Maun voter this past week. What the Maun voter had perhaps hoped to hear from Arone was not a lecture on tribalism but rather thoughts on how tribes such as the Basarwa could use their skills and indigenous knowledge of tracking wildlife animals to earn a living.
The Maun voter probably at the back of his mind wanted to hear how Basarwa’s tracking skills can be used during wildlife surveys and in the process uplift them from the jaws of poverty that many of them are in right now. So in short, the ignorance that Arone displayed is the reason why we continue to fail to use Indigenous Knowledge to our own benefit. A good example of Indigenous Knowledge in practice is when we can for instance have the department of wildlife engage the Basarwa to use their tracking expertise to collect data on wildlife populations and in turn use the results to guide our policies such as “Hunting”.
These are not just simple ideas but thoughts that are guided by a scientific study done by one author known as Derek Keeping. In his research paper titled “Can trackers count free-ranging wildlife as effectively and efficiently as conventional aerial survey and distance sampling? Implications for citizen science in the Kalahari, Botswana,” Derek maintains that wildlife skills that the tribesman of the Kalahari Desert has are far more-superior than the conventional aerial survey. We agree with Derek that Basarwa’s track surveys have a potential to replace, the increasingly cost-prohibitive aerial surveys. This comes with great benefit to both the economy and the community in question. In the end, the #Bottomline is that the people of this country need knowledge, support, services and opportunities in order to thrive financially. This would, in turn result in economic growth not catch phrases that the likes of Arone usually throw around.