WITH the increasing sophistication of Botswana's economy there is a greater need than ever to have timely and accurate data to facilitate decision-making. Computerization, training, re-organization and additional skilled manpower are all required to address the problem of coping with masses of data on outmoded manual technology. Crucial to the socio-economic development of a nation is the effective use of technology, and those countries which have put the most energy, initiative and money into technology have reaped the benefits of greater social and economic development, resulting in improved living standards for their citizens.
A Nimric windmill produced at the Rural Industries Innovation Centre in Kanye.
IDENTIFYING APPROPRIATE CHOICES
In Botswana, the connection between proper technology choice and economic development is beginning to receive recognition through the efforts of the Botswana Technology Center (BTC). The BTC is an organization with the specific aim of assisting the people of Botswana to identify appropriate technology choices. By using readily available resources and knowledge, the BTC constantly evaluates and, where necessary, adapts new technologies to meet the needs and challenges specific to Botswana. Activities include transfer of relevant technologies to the various economic sectors, industry and the public.
The BTC is actively involved in the design and development of electronic products such as the photovoltaic controller, borehole water sensor, solar rechargeable hearing aid, and modular data logger, all of which products are widely used locally, with some patented in other parts of Africa.
The center controls research on solar technology, energy efficiency and conservation in buildings, effective rainwater catchment and appropriate methods of water supply to remote areas of Botswana. Research on alternative building design methods and local materials for promotion and dissemination to the construction industry is currently being undertaken by the professional staff at the center. Building techniques being investigated include passive solar design, computer-aided design, use of natural lighting in houses, and waste water recycling - some of these technologies have already been incorporated in building BTC staff houses in Gaborone West.
Consultancy services to industry are provided in several fields of specialization such as computer technology, construction, technology development, information databases and management, and renewable energy. Such services also extend to providing technical advice to the food industry on products which can be manufactured from locally available food crops. Professional support is offered by the BTC to the business community by actively assisting industry in applying the right technology, from conceptual stage through to operational stage. One of the efforts of BTC in facilitating business growth through the use of technology is its support to the Botswana Association of Small Entrepreneurs. The BTC is furthermore development institutions in Africa.
The National Industries Promotions Company (NIPCO) is wholly owned by the Rural Industries Promotions Company (RIPCO), which works in close association with the national research and technology organization, Rural Industries Innovation Center (RIIC).
The policy of privatization of the RICC's commercial activities into independently owned business was initiated as early as 1986. In the seeking of new business ventures in partnership with other Botswana entrepreneurs, RIPCO has become engaged in at 50 people, the group has raised a turnover in excess of P5 million for the current financial year. The group manufactures furniture, produces high quality sorghum grain meal, and manufactures and installs solar technologies both for water heating and lighting.
Operational objectives of NIPCO are the following:
- To promote the creation of employment and local entrepreneurship by providing management support to its subsidiaries and other entrepreneurs
- To galvanise and strengthen its subsidiaries in order to provide high quality goods and services that might otherwise be imported
- To perform the duties and functions of a holding company and create a dynamic entrepreneurial environment
- To undertake consultancies, reviews and studies to ensure that the group remains informed, as well as to generate income and provide a useful service.
NIPCO was recently commissioned by the Swedish International Development Agency to undertake an evaluation of Bride, and it is currently carrying out an overview of the sorghum milling industry and determining training needs for the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation. In addition, a feasibility study on a bakery is being conducted for the African Development Foundation.
The fairly recent boom experienced in information technology in Botswana is, to a large extent, slowing down. The computer industry has become a great deal more competitive and has seen many of the world's major players moving in - there are currently more than 50 dealers throughout the country, the main concentration being in Gaborone. Receptive to new technology, Botswana in many cases receives products sooner than South Africa does.
A large proportion of the business of information technology is directly or indirectly government-related, with local companies able to supply, to an ever-increasing degree, the expertise and service to meet all requirement s of state departments. With the whole spectrum of the industry catered for, some dealers offer a total solution, supplying hardware, software and support, while others have opted to specialize in industry-specific products or particular packages.
Botswana's own monthly computer magazine keeps users up to date with the lates developments in the industry. Also assisting information technology specialists in this regards is an electronic billboard which allows access to over 1500 computer-related topics.
Over the next few years expansion of companies north of Gaborone appears to be 'on the cards', with companies already based in such places as Kanye, Maun and Francistown - for the present, however, most of the industry's clients are serviced from the capital.
Forming a central part of the 1994 Bitex exhibition, the largest display of computer equipment and office automation in sub-Saharan Africa, was the first Africa Computer Focus, with most of the local companies participating and providing a dazzling display of the latest technology. The computer industry is estimated to produce an income of approximately P30 million a year. However, the possibility of making any real profit is limited due to the current number of dealers trading in the market, while one of the industry's greatest challenges for the future lies in the ability to provide an impressive standard of after-sales service.