Last week, I focused on Botswana Vision 2016 pillar of an “educated nation”; and how it relates to land/resource management. I argued that Botswana’s education system is grossly deficient when it comes to land/resource management. Most Batswana graduate from schools clueless about the need to jealously guard their resources. Most know nothing about their land rights. This week, I examine the pillar on “informed nation”. It is directly linked to what I discussed last week. Yet, I separate them. I want Batswana to clearly reexamine themselves, and their so-called Vision 2016. I may not give answers; or even write what some would want to hear. I do not need to be liked to write what I like. I am passionate about what I discuss. I intend provoking a debate.
The pillar on “informed nation” states that “Botswana will have entered the information age on an equal footing with other nations. The country will have sought and acquired the best available information technology, and have become a regional leader in the production and dissemination of information”, what a nice statement! It goes on to say that “Batswana will be informed about the rest of the world”; well I am not sure if they are. What I am sure of is that they need to be informed about Botswana first. They are not as I shall show with land management hereinafter. Lastly, this pillar fascinates me when it states that by 2016, Botswana shall be a country “where information on the operations of Government, private sector and other organizations is freely available to all citizens. There will be a culture of transparency and accountability”. No doubt, this pillar is well-crafted and strikes the right cord with democratic principles. Transparency, information sharing and accountability are key to economic and political stability. I do not discuss the corruption cases threatening Botswana’s image; most of you are aware of them.
My interest is on how the lack of sharing/dissemination of information is a hindrance to effective land management in Botswana. How many Batswana are in waiting list for residential plots in Gaborone or Francistown or Masunga or simply in towns and rural areas? What is the procedure of changing land ownership? Who qualifies to be a land board member? How do you query a land board decision? How many plots do each individual own in Botswana? What is the procedure of applying for a title deed? Is it right to sell land? Are you allowed to apply for land when you are 18 years old? Who is eligible to own land in Botswana? Do squatters have rights? What is the role of a land overseer or kgosi in land management? Do Batswana have answers to all these? The above rhetorical questions are just elementary, yet critical. With them, I want Batswana to realise that information dissemination is a very complex issue, especially when it comes to land management. Botswana does not need to be a leading information technology country to disseminate information to its citizens. It just needs to be realistic and appreciate the local diversity or heterogeneous nature of its society. I consistently argued that lack of up-to-date information or its poor dissemination confuses and make the masses vulnerable and gullible.
Acquiring the latest technology is a good thing. But a country needs to domesticate (localise) that technology to best serve its society. The Japanese did that efficiently and effectively. Not all Batswana are well- educated to understand the new technology. Language, no matter how one can be transparent, is critical in information dissemination. That by 2016 Batswana would be in a position to know or have the full information on how different government departments operate is a good dream. But the land boards have the worst poor record keeping, and are notorious for excluding the local communities in land management. They are elitist and are unpopular with the local communities. Looking for information from the land boards is cumbersome and frustrating. The application process (for land) at the land boards should be done more transparently than it is the case. When submitting application forms at the land boards, one is given an application number. It is not possible for the applicant to track the queue (independently). There is no transparency. The land boards must publish these names in newspapers or updates via the radio.
Moreover, there is disconnection between the land boards and other local authorities. This results in local conflicts and poor dissemination of information. Interestingly, the Tribal land Act empowers Batswana to challenge the land boards’ unfair decisions by approaching the Land Tribunal Court. Most rural people have never heard of this court. For them, the closest institution to approach is the bogosi (chieftaincy). This information is lacking and the government needs to work hard on this and facilitate the process that the rural people can easily access this tribunal.
I have consistently argued that land has cultural significance, and language is a very crucial aspect in its management. It is unfortunate that the information on land issues is widely disseminated in Setswana and English only. This disadvantages other groups. The elders, not from the Se-Tswana-speaking groups, are comfortable sharing their experience on conservation and land management in their respective languages. Since Botswana has embraced the Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS), it is crucial that information dissemination with regard to resource/land management considers language as key component. In my conclusion, I want to emphasise that information on land management is poorly disseminated. Sometime, I wonder whether those with the privilege to possess it sit on it deliberately so that they can benefit from the ignorance of the masses. Information is power. This power should be given to people in the simplest communication strategies possible. We do not need sophisticated technology to do it.