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In Botswana, February of each year has become the month when we listen to a Budget Speech as presented by the Ministry of Finance. For the 2023/24 financial year, the Ministry of Communications, Knowledge, and Technology was allocated eight hundred and seventy-six million, two hundred thousand Pula (P876.20 million) or 4.17 percent of the total budget. Part of this budget will “cover on-going research and innovation projects such as the Innovation Fund; the Research and Development Fund; Research Capacity Building; Implementation of Research, Science, Technology and Innovation projects; Climate Change Research Projects; Natural Resources and Materials Research Studies; ICT and Electronics Research Studies; Energy Research Studies and Building Materials Research Studies”. This is a welcome development in the history of research in Botswana. We can also hope that research funding gets prominence in Botswana’s Budget initiatives and continues to expand.
From this budget, we assume that the long promised National Research Council for Botswana will be established. Currently, Botswana does not have a national research fund, however, we have been informed in the past that plans are on-going to set up the research fund, which should be accessed on a competitive basis. It is critical to note that until Botswana invests significantly in research and development, achieving economic diversification and knowledge-based economy will be a pipe dream. Botswana is under performing in investing in science and technology, the fields that are crucial towards economic development of any country.
The national research fund is critical to drive the knowledge-based economy. To keep up with the ever-changing technology globally, spending on research was imperative to improve ordinary lives of Batswana and position the country well on the Global Innovation Performance (GIP). Developed countries which were leaders in innovation spent more of their gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development where some invested 3 to 5% on research. African countries have a low research budget. Botswana spends 0.4 per cent of its GDP on research and development. As a result, more is needed to be done to drive innovation. No country in Africa invested above one per cent of its GDP on research and development. On the continent, South Africa was the leading country spending about one per cent of its GDP on research and development.
There is an inadequacy of research funds and facilities such as research laboratories and research equipment in Botswana. In addition, there is lack of adequate academic support facilities such as IT infrastructure and associated services. This indicates that Botswana is challenged by having inadequate funding for research support.
However, to develop high quality research and innovation that can be transformed into tangible applications and products, there is need to provide research funds and services and facilities that can support the needs of industry and society. The National Research Council is tasked with the responsibility to make the best research and innovation possible. It promotes a society where research is created, used, and shared, and thus contributes to restructuring and enhanced sustainability in a country. The research councils grant funding for scientific research and the development and utilisation of research framework conditions.
Finally, the National Research Council for Botswana is long overdue and needs to be established sooner than later. The time has come for the Botswana Government to fund research and innovation. Our researchers in Botswana rely on research grants from developed countries. In other words, citizens of other countries pay tax to fund research in Botswana. Botswana is faced with challenges that require research and funding, this include: climate change, environmental management, biodiversity conservation, persistence of HIV/AIDS, slow economic diversification, rising youth unemployment, poverty and social inequality.