Botswana setting up a Research Fund

Botswana is witnessing a steady growth in research collabora- tions. Although not a sig- nificant growth, there are signs that research partnerships between local and regional institutions are growing gradually, according to the Department of Research Science and Technol- ogy Director, Lesego Thamae.

Thamae attributes the growth in research partnerships to Botswana being a member of the Science Grant- ing Councils Initiative. The Science Granting Councils Initiative in Sub- Saharan Africa (SGCI) is focused on strengthening the capacities of Science Granting Councils (SGCs) in order to support research and evidence- based policies that will contribute to economic and social development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Other members include; Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Malawi, Namibia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Senegal, Rwanda, Uganda and Mozambique. Botswana joined the initiative in 2016. Thamae says participation in the SGCI led to new partners, networks, and collabora- tions in projects and research. “Participation in the SGCI has en- hanced Botswana’s partnership with other SGCI member states,” she said.

Through the participation, Botswana has been successfully engaged in the following collaborative initia- tives: the Botswana Digital and In- novation Hub in collaboration with the Research Council of Zimbabwe. They are currently administering two research projects between Botswana and Zimbabwe researchers sponsored by the SGCI with 15 percent budgetary contributions from both Botswana and Zimbabwe. The Projects will complete in November 2022. In 2021, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso successfully co-hosted the SGCI Annual General meeting and the Global Research Council’s Africa Annual meeting.

Through the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), Botswana is also among the first 10 SGCI member states to host a Research Chair under the OR Tambo Africa Research Chair Initiative (OR- TARCHi). The Chair is wholly-spon- sored by the National Research Foun- dation (NRF, South Africa) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Canada). In another initiative, University of Botswana man- aged to receive research grants for three research projects under the Covid-19 Africa Rapid Research Grants. The initiative is sponsored by NRF, South Africa, under the auspices of the SGCI.

Botswana, South Africa and Japan are currently at the tail end of a Research Call, involving research collaboration between researchers in the three countries under the Initiative called Africa – Japan Collaborative Research (A-J CORE) Initiative. The research Projects from collaborative partners are currently at the review stage. Botswana is also participating in a Regional Initiative involving Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe and the German Research Foundation.

The initiative, wholly sponsored by the German Research Foundation, is aimed at proving a platform for development of collaborative projects between researchers from the participating countries sand German researchers. The Department of Research Science and Technology Officers have received training on various courses to attain Professional certification in Research Management through Southern African Research and Innovation Man- agement Association (SARIMA) and University of Wits in South Africa. Regarding the partnership between Botswana and Zimbabwe, the director said the BIUST and the University of Zimbabwe under the thematic area of minerals are spearheading the research partnership. The focus of the bilateral project between the two nations is Coal Beneficiation for the Metallurgical Industry.

According to Professor Edison Muzenda (PhD) from BIUST’s Faculty of Engineering and Technology, they are expected to establish a comprehensive Botswana and Zimbabwe coal database in which the coal and coal seam properties are catalogued. Thamae says about 300 000 Canadian dollars, approximately P3 million was made available through the SGCI for Botswana. “We entered into a collaborative relationship on research and in- novation with the Research Council of Zimbabwe and we signed a Memorandum of Understanding. We were able to identify areas of common mutual interests and in this case were mining and minerals research,” Thamae said.

Abraham Mathodi, a chief research science and technology officer with the Department of Research Science and Technology adds: “Minerals was a thematic area that was agreed by the two countries and out of that two projects from Botswana were successful and both of them came from BIUST. These projects are scheduled to complete in November 2022.” The outbreak of COVID-19 has also presented Botswana an opportunity to carry research projects in partnership with other countries.

According to Thamae, through the National Research of South Africa,researchers were called to do research and implement science engagement activities associated with the pandemic. “Our role was to get the Botswana researchers to participate in that research,” she said. Mathodi adds that, “Our role was to facilitate for our Botswana researchers to take part and apply for the grants that were offered and out of that we had about 30 sub- missions from Botswana.

“Out of that three successful appli- cations received funding. These were from different institutions in Botswana. The projects are ongoing at the moment and our role now is to facilitate for the implementation of the project. Projects are mainly around issues of COVID-19.”

Participation in the SGCI has not only helped Botswana witness an increase in research partnerships but has also helped the Department of Research Science and Technology internal capacity to perform its func- tions. Thamae explains that through the SGCI, Botswana has participated in various capacity building initiatives which had a direct bearing on the development of RSTI in the country.

Some of the capacity building initia- tives that the Department participated in are: Research Granting and Con- tracts management, Research ethics and Integrity, Gender mainstreaming and research, database development and management, Monitoring, Evalu- ation and Learning (MEL), Policy development and Strategy formulation, Science communication and public engagement, Partnerships.

Thamae praised the role played by the SGCI in helping Botswana reach its research, technology and innovation potential. “Other countries are advancing very quickly because they have Research Funds or Council, we joined (SGCI) as a government department, but for us the whole area of how research funding is administered has not been really clearly defined,” she said. Thamae revealed that Botswana is in the process of setting up a Research Fund with the hope that the country’s research and innovation will be better coordinated and funded.