Botswana is widely regarded as an exceptional African Success Story. As evidenced by economic and governance indicators, Botswana ranks amongst the highest in Africa in regard to political stability, control of corruption, government effectiveness, voice and accountability, regulatory quality, or rule of law (e.g. Commonwealth Business Council, 2009; World Bank Institute (WBI); Botswana Embassy, 2008; Bertelsmann Foundation, 2008). The national Vision 2016, “a development ideal which pre-dates the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by some two years, articulates Botswana’s long-term development aspirations and provides a broad framework for development. … The aspirations of Vision 2016 and the MDGs are complementary and therefore none needs to be promoted at the detriment of the other” (United Nations Development Programme).
One of the seven pillars of Vision 2016 (Presidential Task Group on a Long Term Vision for Botswana, 2007) calls for an educated and informed nation after 50 years of independence which will contribute to an overall objective to transform Botswana into a Knowledge Society with research and innovation the cornerstones of development. Hence, the major goals of the recently approved new tertiary education policy, “Towards a Knowledge Society” (Government of Botswana, Ministry of Education and Skills Development, 2008), are to enhance relevance, ensure quality, maintain diversity of choice and increase access - including more than doubling the ratio of young people entering tertiary education within two decades. Science, technology and innovation are considered as crucial areas of development in Botswana’s drive towards achieving the national Vision 2016 and the MDG objectives as well as the further transformation into a knowledge-based economy.
Botswana is a free market economy with a liberal tax and foreign exchange regime, but with a domination of mineral extraction, principally diamond mining. In an effort to diversify the economy and to facilitate the necessary investment activity both within and beyond the mining sector, government has set up several hubs. By focussing on the sectors of diamonds, agriculture, medicine, transport, tourism, education, and innovation, the hubs serve to support the conditions for doing business in Botswana. Whereas the first five hubs address specific sectors, the latter two follow a multi-disciplinary approach. The Botswana Education Hub (BEH) aims to encourage leading international universities to establish schools and programmes with a strong emphasis on the globally relevant theme of sustainable development and in support of the market sectors earmarked for growth. By adding partnerships and linkages between local HE institutions and global academia, Botswana also is determined to become a viable contender in the regional graduate student arena and exporter of knowledge-based products and services.
The concept of the Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH), on the other hand, incorporates best practices from science and technology parks worldwide and will offer state-of-the-art infrastructure and a wide range of business services. The physical facilities are being constructed near Gaborone’s International Airport with the aim to serve knowledge intensive activities and innovation and value added environments for ICT, Biotechnology, Mining and Energy clusters in particular. Tax benefits, permit exemptions, and training schemes are examples in the repertoire of incentives offered by government to companies relocating from elsewhere in Southern Africa and inward investors. The BIH incubation services will add opportunities to BIH tenants to easily link up with existing SMEs or start-ups and spin-offs from tertiary institutions. Thus, the major objectives of the hubs set up include: “Attracting of FDI in high technology businesses...; encouraging and supporting the start-up of innovative technology based businesses with a focus on exports; accelerating growth of existing businesses by creating an environment of innovation, and helping businesses to commercialise innovative products, processes and services; attracting research and development activities of leading multinational corporations to Botswana. The innovation hub is expected to improve Botswana’s ability to compete in the global market because of a productive labour force with technical skills and training provided by the hub” (UNESCO).
On the systemic level, the inception report of the BIH summarises: “For natural-resource-based economies, the innovation/knowledge economy offers improved technologies and higher-value added products with closer customer links, as well as a path towards sustainable development. For developing countries, knowledge offers the possibility to short-cut development phases, leapfrog technologies, and hasten integration within the global economy by becoming more attractive to international investors” (Technopolis, 2008).