How informed are we on land management?

SHARE   |   Sunday, 24 August 2014   |   By Dr Boga Manatsha

Last week, I introduced Botswana Vision 2016 and tried to relate it to land management, especially the access to and ownership of land. A vision is a dream. In 1997, it was fine for Botswana to have this dream. However, I find this vision too ambitious and unrealistic. Well, dreams are like that. That Botswana will achieve Vision 2016 (in less than two years to come) is a political joke! Curiously, when some villagers give someone a chicken or goat, a token of appreciation, they would say “I am doing this because Vision 2016” calls for a “compassionate and caring nation”, and others would add, jovially, “jaaka Tautona a buile”. This shows that there is lack of knowledge about what this so-called vision is all about amongst the populace. 

This week, I primarily focus on the pillar of an “educated” nation and relate it to land/resource management. Education  is not only about reading books and getting certificates. It is broad and involves lot of aspects. It should produce an informed and responsible character. Vision 2016 pillar on “education” states that “By the year 2016, Botswana will have a system of quality education that is able to adapt to the changing needs of the country as the world around us changes. Improvements in the relevance, the quality, and the access to education lie at the core of the Vision for the future”, a well-crafted statement, indeed!  It goes on to say that “The education system will empower citizens to become the best producers of goods and services”. I do not get deep into the problems bedeviling the education systems in this country. We all know them. It suffices to say that the system has collapsed, and the quality has gone down embarrassingly. 

My interest is on how the above statements relate to the way we manage our land. Our education system fails to effectively take into account that empowering citizens to be key partners in resource (land) management is central to sustainable development. Land is a fundamental means of production. It is, therefore, necessary that citizens are empowered, knowledge wise, about all aspects of it. For instance, land rights, the impact of global warming, food insecurity and poverty are linked to poor education or lack of information by the masses, worldwide. Quality education should ensure that citizens are taught, right from kindergarten, the importance of their resources. It is true that there are ongoing changes globally (socio-economic and political). In relation to land, the international corporations are flocking into African countries like Mozambique, Sudan, Ghana, etc. grabbing land; in what is now termed the “global land grab”. These corporations, and sometimes countries, connive with African politicians to dispossess peasants their land. In some cases, they directly approach the uninformed chiefs, headmen and villagers who, because of little knowledge on the economic value of land, give away chunks of productive land. They do it in a similar way that Lobengula and some African Kings sold land to the brutal colonisers. 

Quality education, which should aim to jealously safeguard local resources, is needed. Botswana lacks that. In Botswana, as I often say, the education syllabus does not emphasise land rights as if knowing such is insignificant. It is not. Because of lack of knowledge and or poor education, some local elites and foreigners cheat the rural people; buying their land cheaply. The Vision 2016 pillar on “education” notes that education should empower people to be the best producers of goods and services. How do you produce best goods and services when you do not have land? Many Batswana struggle to find descent accommodation in urban areas. They pay exorbitant rentals and are very demoralised. How do people produce quality goods and services when they are demoralised and homeless?  The salaries are pathetically poor. Many have had their land repossessed, countrywide. Education should not be artificial and divorced from the reality. Land, a fundamental means of production, is key in the production of best goods and services. Workers/employees with quality education, land and descent accommodation can do wonders. 

The same pillar, interestingly, notes that “Public education will be used to raise awareness of life skills, such as self-health care”. Let me remind the reader that many of the threatening public health concerns are a result of poverty, unemployment, deprivation and other social ills, directly or indirectly linked to land rights (e.g. landlessness, poor/lack of housing/shelter). A Motswana should be taught critical “life skills” that will empower him/her to question corruption in land/resource management. Public education on land management should be accessible to all in all languages. The same pillar says that “No Motswana will be disadvantaged in the education system as a result of a mother tongue that differs from the country’s two official languages”. Is it happening? This is an insult to those whose mother tongues are not English and Setswana.

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Botswana’s education system is far from taking into account the historical, cultural, symbolical, spiritual, economic and political significance of land. Its quality, in this regard, is grossly lacking.  Students graduate from school and into adulthood without knowing their land rights.  Many do not clearly know what the functions of the land boards are. Yet, they are the products of a quality education system envisaged by Vision 2016. Many of them have never seen the Tribal Land Act or even heard about it. Many do not know how the land boards’ members are appointed/elected. The youth sell their land, in masses, because they cannot comprehend its value in the context of “the changing needs of the country as the world around us changes” as Vision 2016 tells us. If we had a quality education system, many Batswana would not give away their land to foreigners at cheap prices as it is the norm these days. It pains me. Soon, it will pain you. Lastly, all shall realise that our education system is too theoretical, and not practical.