My relationship with the Japanese International Corporation Agency (JICA) dates back to 2012. I had gone to their offices along the Kaunda road in Gaborone to meet a friend who worked there.
His boss came over to the reception area and my friend introduced me. On learning that I work for the media, Nobuhiro Kumagai, who was at the time JICA Resident Representative, started telling me about his organization and its objectives in Botswana. I learnt from our conversation that while the American Peace Corps are popular amongst many African countries and their existence readily and frequently acknowledged in Botswana, there is another group of equally important men and women from Japan who have been silently rendering invaluable service to many African states, including Botswana, for quite a long time.
They are in Botswana as volunteers through the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) program under the auspices of JICA. Japan has been sending volunteers to Botswana since 1992. The late Sensei Keisuke Itsubo was one of the many Japanese volunteers I had the opportunity to meet and interview about his volunteer work in Botswana. Just a week before the Africa Youth Games in May, the current JICA Resident Representative Akihiko Hoshino and Programme Officer Mothusi Tiyedze took me to the national stadium where I found Sensei Itsube busy training Botswana’s Judo national team. He looked young and full of life.
He had an insatiable appetite for humor. Even though he was appointed head coach of our national team and I was there to interview him, he insisted that I should also interview the local coaches who were understudying him. He said his main purpose in Botswana was to impart his Judo skills so that when he goes back to his native country, Japan, there would be a pool of local coaches to continue his legacy. He spoke highly of his two assistant coaches, Sensei Kingsley Segokotlo and Sensei Kgosipula Kaupa who worked with him during the Africa Youth Games.
When the Botswana national teams entered the national stadium during teams’ parade on the night of the official opening of the Africa Youth Games, Itsubo was among the many Batswana who were wearing national colors and hoisting Botswana flag. In fact, he was the only Japanese in the crowd. He looked jovial and was in high spirits. When the games came to an end, Botswana Judo team had scooped 5 medals, including 1 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze medal in the four categories they participated in. He had told me that he looked forward to seeing his prot├®g├®es take part in the Tokyo Olympics billed for 2020. I was therefore shocked to learn of his tragic and untimely death last month in Cape Town where he is reported to have slipped off the Table Mountain while hiking. He had indicated that after the games he would want to go and unwind somewhere in Africa to satisfy his adventurous adrenaline.
Itsubo had travelled to different parts of Botswana and this may explain why he chose to cross the border to go and climb Table Mountain in Cape Town. Apart from being assigned Botswana Judo Federation as head coach ahead of the Africa Youth Games, Itsubo coached primary school students in government schools. He runs the Judo development programs at primary schools such as Philip Moshotle, Lesedi, SSKB, Botsalano and Masa. Itsubo had told me that he is driven by the passion towards Judo shown by young people in Botswana during his coaching sessions. Itsubo was a graduate of Tokai University where he graduated with a Diploma in Physical Education. He also represented Japan in Judo at international competitions. He arrived in Botswana as a volunteer coach from Japan in 2013.He loved Botswana so much that he gave himself a Setswana name, Kagiso. Robala ka kagiso Sensei Keisuke Kagiso Itsubo