Botswana is a landlocked country in southern Africa. The country’s name comes from its largest ethnic group, the Tswana. A large majority of the population lives in the eastern part of the country, near the border with South Africa. Botswana’s diamond mines and other mineral deposits have made it one of the wealthiest African countries. The country has maintained an impressive rate of economic growth since independence. Most of the country is quite dry and unsuited for agriculture. The Kalahari Desert covers much of central and south-western Botswana. The country is noted for its many animal reserves. According to the CIA World Fact book as of July, 12th 2011, Botswana has a population of approximately 2,065,398, with an area of about 581,730 sq km. The 2003 estimates population share between rural and urban areas were 49% and 51% respectively. However, the share for urban areas is expected to have grown as more rural youths are recorded to have migrated to urban areas in search of employment.
A story of Sikwane Village Nteletsa 2 Telecentre
During Zambia Telecentre Network’s study tour to Botswana, the team had an opportunity to take a tour of some rural Kitsong and Nteletsa Centres based in Kgatleng District of Botswana. The Centres are based in Sikwane and Mabalane Villages of Kgatleng district. We realised the centres represent a common picture of the more than 50 such centres established around the country. I was impressed to note that every village that we visited had a special meeting space with shelter and other facilities constructed, and every village has a Village Development Committee.
Sikwane village, about a kilometre away from the Sakathe language speaking people of Mabalane village, is one beautiful village seemingly with low population, yet the village has a Nteletsa 2 telecentre and Kitsong centre situated few metres apart. Housed in a specially fabricated container, the Nteletsa 2 Telecentre of Sikwane village has three (3) desktop computers, a fax machine, printer, photocopying machine, community payphone, laminating machine, paper guillotine, paper binding machine, flat-bed scanner, and the centre is connected to the internet through a 3G router. Services offered include document processing, voice and telephony services, faxing, cell phone charging, mobile phone airtime sales, mobile phone SIM packs and internet access. The Sikwane Nteletsa 2 Telecentre employs three people from the local community. Out of these, the supervisor is a Village Development Committee member and works as a full time volunteer, where as the other two are youths working on a commission basis for their wages. Though the centre is open during the week except Sunday, the turnout of users is very low resulting in low revenue at the telecentre. The initiation products stock such as airtime vouchers, SIM packs, 3G router broadband bandwidth bundle were supplied by Botswana Telecoms Company (BTC) who also pays for electricity bills, and other support given include technical support such as equipment maintenance and repair.
The supervisor, in her explanation narrated that the revenue was too low for the centre to sustain itself and at many times employees have to work without being paid. She however, expressed her concern for lack of adequate flow of users as a result of limited services and products offered at the centre. The supervisor suggested that inclusion of services such as resale of electricity prepaid tokens, stationery sales and others that would meet the information and communication needs of the local people, would attract more clients and improve the centre’s revenue. The case of Sikwane Nteletsa 2 Telecentre like other Nteletsa 2 Telecentres and Kitsong centres deployed by different stakeholders including Botswana Post, BTC ,Orange Mobile network operator face similar challenges in terms of sustainability.Therefore, an innovative and sustainable model has to be developed and adopted to ensure success and increased impact of these initiatives on the communities which they serve.
A brief understanding of Botswana
An important aspect of the innovative and sustainable model of telecentres is local content creation and repackaging. However, this requires a thorough understanding of the local community in terms of demography, its people, and economy among other things.
Education: In 2005 Botswana’s adult literacy rate stood at 81.4 percent. Most primary schools are supervised by the district councils and township authorities and are financed from local government revenues assisted by grants-in-aid from the central government. Virtually all primary school-aged children were enrolled in school in 2002–2003, while 73 percent of secondary school-aged children were enrolled. Specialized education was provided by teacher-training schools and vocational-training schools. Thousands of students attend the University of Botswana (founded in 1976), in Gaborone.
Climate: In general, Botswana has a semiarid subtropical climate. Rainfall is greatest in the north, where it averages about 640 mm (about 25 in) annually. In the Kalahari rainfall averages less than 230 mm (less than 9 in). The normal rainy season in Botswana is in the summer months, from December to April. Rainfall, however, is undependable, and droughts are frequent. In general, October is the hottest month, and July is the coldest. A hot wind sweeps in from the west across the Kalahari in August and brings with it dust and sandstorms.
Agriculture: Less than 1 percent of the country’s total land area is arable (suitable for growing crops). Raising livestock has long been the most important agricultural activity in Botswana. Goats and sheep adapt to drought better than cattle do. Most of Botswana’s cattle are raised for beef rather than dairy products. About a fifth of the population is engaged in agriculture, most of it at a subsistence level, and agriculture provides a tiny part of the country’s GDP. People grow crops mainly to feed their families.
Mining and Manufacturing: Botswana is the world’s largest supplier of gem-quality diamonds, with two-thirds of production meeting gem standards. Diamonds account for four-fifths of Botswana’s annual export revenue. Important deposits of copper and nickel are in the Selebi-Pikwe area. Much of the nickel and copper produced annually is exported, as is soda ash and small quantities of gold. Botswana’s manufacturing sector is small. However, a diamond-processing plant opened in 2008 under the joint ownership of the government and the De Beers diamond giant. The new plant, located in Gaborone, created thousands of jobs. Previously, all of Botswana’s diamonds had been exported for processing. The remainder of the country’s manufacturing sector consists mainly of food-processing and mineral-processing, with some textile production. Botswana produces beef for export.
Environmental issues: Environmental problems include overgrazing of the land and desertification. Precipitation is irregular, and the country is prone to drought. A large irrigation and water storage project was planned for the northern part of the country during the 1980s, but environmental concerns and popular opposition led to the suspension of the project in 1992.
Local Content Creation and repackaging for sustainability of Telecentres in rural Botswana
This country overview situation, presents a great opportunity for different stakeholders to provide adequate information and communication to the people. It is not a task that should only be undertaken by ICT practitioners or those behind the deployment of these telecentres; rather it cuts across education, agriculture, health, metrology, mining and other sectors of social and economic spheres of the country. Some of the critical issues that cannot go unnoticed include the need for critical information on climate, critical information, communication and training in the agricultural sector on which the rural population in Botswana depends especially that the climate, land overgrazing and desertification are highly critical issues in the country. Other issues are information and communication for the mining sector which is critical to the wealth and economy of the country.
In particular to rural villages like Sikwane where the majority depends on agriculture .Thus, provision of information and communication and other related services and products that would support enhancement of their agricultural activities and ensure it provides for food security and increased income would attract and benefit the residents. Therefore, Nteletsa 2 Telecentres and Kitsong centres should embark on developing a local content and repackaging model that will embrace the agricultural sector as practiced by the local communities. This will result into more villagers turning out to these centres so that they can make use of the services as they will be aligned to their needs. In turn centres will have their revenue increased, become sustainable and be able to improve on their services and products as need may arise. This development will not only benefit the centres but the livelihoods of the local residents will be improved and individuals and the communities at large will be empowered in a constructive, sustainable, innovative and modern way. As earlier stipulated this task is up for all stakeholders in development, and the strong Public Private Partnership recorded in the deployment of these centres should continue if such an initiative is to be successful and sustainable.