Research gems in Botswana

Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, is a small city with roughly 200,000 residents. After Windhoek in linkurl:Namibia;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/23270/, where I was yesterday, it seems a little rough around the edges. I'm in town as part of a 10 day linkurl:trip to Africa;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/23265/ on behalf of The Scientist to talk to researchers about the linkurl:state of science;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/23266/ on the continent. The city ma

By | April 8, 2006

Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, is a small city with roughly 200,000 residents. After Windhoek in linkurl:Namibia;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/23270/, where I was yesterday, it seems a little rough around the edges. I'm in town as part of a 10 day linkurl:trip to Africa;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/23265/ on behalf of The Scientist to talk to researchers about the linkurl:state of science;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/23266/ on the continent. The city may be a bit scruffy, but The University of Botswana, situated close to the center of town, is not at all shabby--certainly not the department of science, which I was able to visit today (Saturday). The science faculty buildings date to 1992, and in terms of equipment, facilities and so on aren't vastly different to many departments I've visited in the West. Each year, the faculty has an intake of roughly 900 students. Plus, there is more than a smattering of MSc, MPhil and PhD students. The academics, including 25 or so in the biological sciences, have a big teaching burden. Nevertheless, they manage to conduct their own research in fields such as biodiversity, microbiology, entomology and physiology, as department head Marks Ditlhogo explained as he showed me around. Of course, the amount of money available for research is limited--most projects must make do with a budget cap of 30,000 Pula ($5,550)?-but Botswana's scientists manage to keep afloat one way or another. Research funding currently comes directly through the university, but the government has plans to establish a central research funding agency, the Dean of Science, Otlogetswe Totolo explained. In fact, the government seems to have made a priority of science. In part, academics tell me, this stems from a realization that the country needs to diversify its industry. Currently, mining?-specifically for diamonds?-is the dominant money maker. Other than that, however, there?s very little industry. By developing its science and technology base, the country hopes it can find other sources of revenue from its scientists? research gems.

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