“Some students prefer to delay completing their studies by deliberately failing some modules. That allows them to stay on as students and continue to get an allowance that some use to provide for their parents,” says a very good University of Botswana source, encapsulating in that statement, a host of problems that present-day Botswana faces.
The first problem is graduate joblessness. In his 2017 Independence Day message, President Ian Khama said the following: “Whereas less than hundred among us had then had the opportunity to progress beyond secondary school, today tens of thousands have earned tertiary degrees.” While essentially true, the statement is misleading for what it doesn’t reveal ÔÇô that some of those graduates have either been jobless for years or are woefully underemployed.
Last week, UB and the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources held a joint graduation ceremony in Gaborone. Some of the graduates will join thousands that are already walking the streets without jobs. Graduate joblessness has to do with more than lack of jobs. A study conducted by the Botswana Qualifications Authority in its previous iteration as the Botswana Training Authority says that some graduates don’t have the requisite job skills upon graduation. Part of the response to the latter problem is the Graduate Internship Programme which is itself riddled with problems. One is that the allowance that graduates get is not nearly adequate to meet living costs. For the said group of UB students, creatively prolonging stay at UB seems to be a good idea. At least two UB students confirm that some of their peers will delay completing their studies.
The second problem is poverty and with it, the inadequacy of the government’s social safety programmes. With Botswana among the worst-performing countries, Southern Africa is the global epicenter of income and wealth inequality. A year into his presidency, Khama announced plans to “eradicate” poverty. As he prepares to step down next year, Botswana is still one of the most unequal countries in the world and extreme poverty still lives cheek by jowl with opulence. Until it was closed, the entrance fee at an upmarket nightclub in the new Gaborone CBD was equivalent to the monthly wages of a manual worker in the government’s manually intensive public works programme known as Ipelegeng. While the government extends material assistance to the poor, Botswana’s social safety programmes are so outdated that the World Bank has called for their overhaul. Some programmes ÔÇô like the loan grant scheme operated by the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology ÔÇô benefits the rich more than the poor.
The third problem is that no matter who is in power, the good times are over, the standard of living is rapidly declining and nothing suggests the situation is about to change. That is the reality that the opposition will deal with when it knocks the Botswana Democratic Party off its pedestal.