Friday, August 12, 2022

Will BIUST die with Bentil’s departure?

The Botswana International University of Science & Technology (BIUST) and the country is about to suffer a major setback, if recent reports that its Founding Vice Chancellor (Prof. Kweku Bentil) is about to leave in September for the USA, for good, is true.

Even though Bentil could not be drawn into a discussion on the issue of his contract and referred all questions about his contract and possible departure next month to the Ministry of Education and Skills Development, according to reliable sources, the Ministry has made the decision not to renew Bentil’s current contract. If the latter is the case, then Botswana and BIUST are bound to suffer a major setback. First and foremost, it does not appear that a successor to Bentil has been named and time is running out. Without proper handover and a smooth transition, BIUST could be thrown into chaos. Secondly, based on Bentil’s accomplishments in the past three years under very difficult and uncertain circumstances, it will be difficult to find another Engineer and Researcher, in a short time, with the vision and passion to continue what Bentil has initiated in the implementation of BIUST.

The vast majority of the initiatives being developed and spearheaded directly by Bentil have far-reaching implications for Botswana beyond the establishment of BIUST, in terms of economic and social development, foreign direct investment (FDI) and applied research. Based on presentations made by Bentil to the business community and foreign investors (from as far away as Singapore and as close as South Africa), examples of the major initiatives of national interest include the following:

THE BOTSWANA REGIONAL MINING MUSEUM, EDUCATIONAL AND RESEARCH CENTRE (BOMMERC). According to the available write-up of this project, this centre will have a Mining & Geological museum that will be open to the public; an educational centre focusing on mining education as well as science education for children and teachers of Science and mathematics; an underground mining research centre; and above-ground mining environment research centre. If Bentil is allowed to implement this project, it would have the following benefits for Botswana as a nation:

Botswana would get its first mining tourism venue. This would help stimulate economic development by attracting tourists, creating new and/or spin-off business opportunities for small and medium enterprises as well as opportunities for employment and poverty reduction in Selebi Phikwe and surrounding areas.

Botswana can diversify its economy and the tourism industry.
It is reported that Bentil has already got things in motion by signing an MOU with BCL to get a decommissioned deep mining shaft and an open mine. He has also secured non-government funding in the amount of P429,000,000.00 (P429-million Pula) from the European Union for this project and has definitive plans to get this project underway, based on his knowledge of similar projects in other countries , and pending the decision of Cabinet on the future of BIUST. Botswana stands to lose this if Bentil leaves next month because it is inconceivable that someone can just come in and get this implemented.

A SCIENCE, ENGINEERING & TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH PARK ON THE BIUST CAMPUS IN PALAPYE ÔÇô A PRIVATE SECTOR DEVELOPMENT

According to the “live, work and play community” concept envisioned and designed by Bentil, this Park which be developed and funded by the Private Sector Investors, would have several “villages”, including a Science, Engineering & Technology Research Village; an Industrial Village; a Residential Village; a Central Village with Commercial/Retail (shopping mall, Recreational and Business Centres; and an International School.

The main outcomes of this initiative are:

Generation of non-Government revenue streams for BIUST. In the long run, this would help reduce BIUST’s dependence on Government funding
Attraction of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Botswana
Stimulation of economic development in Palapye

To implement this effectively and ensure transparency, Bentil has put together “The BIUST Trust”. The latter is a group of 13 diverse and independent local professionals (a former judge, Lawyers, Educator, Architect/Planner, Property Developer, Businesspersons, Banker, and Community Leaders).

Bentil formed this group after consultation with the business community in Botswana as well as the local Palapye community. The Trust would handle all matters related to this concept (leasing of the land, decisions on projects, investment of revenues generated, etc.). Bentil was on the verge of launching the “BIUST Trust” in November and publicly inviting expression of interest in these private sector developments when he was stopped in order to await the outcome of the BIUST review.

Although planned advertisement of this initiative is yet to take place, there has been expression of interest by local as well foreign investors who had gotten a wind of these opportunities through BEDIA and preliminary marketing done by Bentil in sharing the concept with private sector groups.

The concept proposed by Bentil is not new. It has been and is being done on some university campuses in other countries (including the University of Dar Es Salam in Tanzania). However, Bentil’s concept is a little innovative. Through the BIUST Trust, the University would lease the land to private sector property developers and operators and get a small percentage of their monthly gross earnings during the long-term lease period. Upon the expiration of the leases, BIUST would assume ownerships of these properties and/or sell them or release them.

Looking at the complexities and intricacies as well as the level of sophistication of this concept, it undoubtedly would be difficult for a new VC to come in and implement this initiative, if Bentil leaves in a month. In the interest of the nation, it would have made more sense to have him start the implementation and then hand it over properly after a reasonable and practical transition period.

THE REGIONAL TRAINING AND RESEARCH CENTRE FOR ROAD ENGINEERING, CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT AND TECHNOLOGY, GABORONE

This is intended to be a collaborative project between BIUST and the Botswana Department of Roads.

Bentil’s plan was to lead the establishment of a centre that would deliver much-needed competencies in road engineering, construction and management for Botswana, the SADC region and perhaps other parts of the African Continent. The main objectives of this unique centre would be to:

produce employment-ready human resources in road engineering, construction and management at the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate levels. The Centre would also provide continuing education and/or short courses at the Certificate Diploma levels.

Conduct research that can help find appropriate and relevant solutions to national and regional road transportation problems.

Identify, transfer and adapt appropriate road development and management technologies to Botswana and the region.

BIUST has already signed an MOU with the Roads Training Centre. Bentil is in the process of leading the development of an implementation plan for this project, including progressive upgrading of the existing facilities of the Roads Training Centre in Gaborone.

THE BOTSWANA INSTITUTE OF FOOD SECURITY & RESEARCH

This is a collaborative effort between BIUST and the National Food Technology and Research Centre (NFTRC) to be located in the Science Research Village on the BIUST campus in Palapye. BIUST already has a signed MOU with NFTRC. Bentil is in the process of facilitating and forging a 3-way partnership between BIUST, NFTRC and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).

The main objective of this institute is to consolidate and considerably enhance the talent, expertise, resources, and outputs from three major research entities (BIUST, NFTRC, and IFAS) at the campus of BIUST in order to engage in applied research, advanced training and technology transfer in fields of food science, agricultural sciences and food technology to meet the needs of Botswana and the SADC region.

As an alumnus (graduate) of the University of Florida and with his contacts there, his departure would negatively impact the progress of this initiative.

EDU-ECO LODGE PROJECT
This is a joint project between BIUST and Ingolstadt University in Germany. The main object is to transfer eco (energy efficient) technology for the construction of lodges.

BIUST has already signed an MOU with Ingolstadt University. Ingolstadt has recently submitted a proposal to the German Government for funding to build a proto-type eco lodge, within the Science and Technology Research Village on the BIUST campus in Palapye. If funds are provided by the German Government, construction of the prototype is scheduled to begin in Palapye.

Considering all of the above, Botswana was lucky to have found a Founding Vice Chancellor of this caliber, knowledge, passion and commitment to the BIUST concept. All indications are that delays in the implementation of the BIUST project have been through no fault of his. It would be a tragedy and a big loss, in the interest of the nation, to let him leave in the middle of so many initiatives that are critical to the economic and social development of our nation. Most of all, it will indeed be a major and devastating setback for BIUST.

Editor’s Note: The writer is a
public servant who has requested to remain anonymous

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