Botswana was formerly British protectorate of Bechuanaland and adopted its new name upon independence in 1966. The economy, closely tied to South Africa's, is dominated by cattle raising and mining. It is situated in Southern Africa just north of South Africa. It is completely landlocked and has a semiarid climate, warm in winter and hot in summer. The land is very rich in natural resources and the terrain is predominantly flat to gently rolling tableland with the Kalahari Desert in the southwest.
Botswana has a population of about 1.5 million and is a parliamentary republic. The GDP in 1999 was 5.7 billion dollars with a real growth of 6.5% and 47% of the population below the poverty line. The economy is structured with agriculture still providing a livelihood for more than 80% of the population but supplies only about 50% of food needs and accounts for only 3% of GDP. Subsistence farming and cattle raising predominate. The sector is plagued by erratic rainfall and poor soils. Diamond mining and tourism also are important to the economy. Substantial mineral deposits were found in the 1970s and the mining sector grew from 25% of GDP in 1980 to 38% in 1998. Unemployment officially is 21% but unofficial estimates place it closer to 40%. The Orapa 2000 project should have been the main force behind continued economic expansion.
The early history of the people and territory of Botswana is still being uncovered, as archaeologists sift evidence from legend. Indications of settled communities go back as far as the fourth century. Before that, the territory was sparsely populated by hunter-gatherer communities of the San people. Major settlements took place in the early 16th century. British missionaries arrived in the 19th century. Botswana Paramount Chiefs Bathoen, Sebele and Khama "the Great", sought British Government protection against the Boer threat in the last quarter of the 19th Century.
Today Botswana is working hard to strengthen its ICT network yet the statistics show that there is still considerable work which needs to be carried out. 1999 statistics show that Botswana had 77 telephone mainlines per 1000 population and 31 personal computers for every 1000 population. It also had 9 Internet hosts for every 10000 people.
The size and population of the country are two aspects that may present some challenge in the deployment of Information and Communication Technology in Botswana more so since return on investment tends to increase with population density. The other challenges faced by the country are similar to those faced by other developing countries in that it is faced with rural-urban population migration and is largely dependant on expatriates in key professional positions. For the acquisition of ICT facilities the country is also highly dependant on the developed countries. In addition to this, David Magang, Botswana's Works, Transport and Communications minister said that making the Internet available is one of the biggest challenges currently faced by the country. He said that although the Internet market is fully liberalized in Botswana, most of the users are currently corporate institutions and government organizations and that Internet penetration is low both in urban and rural areas, and it should be the stakeholders, including the government, who should promote the use of Internet more in rural areas. The possible reasons for this besides a poor infrastructure is the high cost on Internet connectivity including connection charges and subscription fees and telephone charges for dial-up access. He said a preliminary estimate indicates that to date (May 2001), Botswana has 30,000 Internet users compared to 10,000 in 1999. And currently there are nine licensed Internet service providers and six licensed data gateway service providers.
Recently, the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) set up an ISP called Botsnet, mainly with the idea of providing service to Botswana companies that want to get to the Internet. They have set up standard mail and a Botsnet Web server. They offer some special features, like online registration, access to HTML Mail, and a way to search the Botswana telephone directory. Botsnet intends to expand to give users some news channels, a chat board and even a way to set up personal Websites. They will also be offering e-commerce services.
Botswana has an established national development planning process with the current one scheduled to end in 2003. In 1999 Botswana had no national ICT strategy but the Government had its ICT Vision 2003 which basically said that:
Botswana will have made significant and positive steps towards becoming a regional leader in the exploitation and utilization of IT within its Government administration. In addition, Government will have played the leading role in helping the private sector to embrace IT in the interests of national objectives.
Quality IT systems will be implemented in key Government sectors where competitive advantage can be gained over regional Nations or where increased revenues or savings can be realized to help fund the IT Vision.
IT will be supported by a workforce which has been well trained to carry out its duties and responsibilities in IT. In addition, senior officers will be well versed in the critical issues for successful IT management.
A Data Communications Infrastructure will be in place to allow Ministries and Departments to share information and to transfer data electronically amongst themselves in a secure and managed environment.
IT systems will be in use in key areas to improve Government services to the Private Sector and the Public and to reduce instances of excessive queuing and wasted time.
Common IT systems will be in place across all Ministries for the management of key resources and activities.
Each Ministry will be developing and generating its own relevant Information databases, providing decision-makers with up-to-date and accurate management information through computer workstations. In addition, Ministries will be working closely together on IT initiatives of mutual interest.
Each Ministry will be largely in control of running its own IT systems, with its own dedicated IT support unit working closely with GCB, and will operate within a framework of agreed policies, standards and guidelines.
Government will be interchanging information electronically with Local Authorities, the Private Sector and other external bodies in a managed and secure environment.
The volume of paperwork flowing between Ministries and physically stored in registries will be reduced and greater emphasis will be placed on the electronic storage of data and its subsequent retrieval on computer networks.
A Botswana Centre for Geographic Information will be established to make best use of existing information and to optimize future information sharing and management.
Government will be working closely with the private IT services sector to ensure quality and continuity of service in the required areas and will appraise them of future plans to help them develop their business activities.
In order for the successful implementation of the above strategy to happen a number of issues would need to be addressed successfully. These issues include:
Getting the top management into adequate level of ICT awareness to ensure meaningful participation in the implementation
Ensuring alignment of this strategy to the National and Local government ICT strategy.
Government has no plans at present to interact electronically with the Citizens of Botswana. The prevailing view in the public sector is that while Botswana has an enviable telecommunications infrastructure both in terms of reach and diversity of products, there is insufficient access to the technologies (Internet) by the ordinary person on the street to justify the cost of investing in the development of e-portals as a key method of reaching the citizen for the delivery of service. This is borne out by the low (compared to USA and the first world) telephone density and even lower access tool (Personal Computer) density. For now, civil servants believe that using traditional methods of service delivery whether these are counter services, or any other public sector service, are more appropriate to reach the optimum number of citizens. Development of E-Government has tended to be restricted to back office systems targeted at specific groups e.g., development of comprehensive business support systems for the members of parliament.
There are however, plans to develop infrastructure (government Data Network) to support normal back office systems, as well as high bandwidth applications such as distance learning, telemedicine, and appropriate use of video conferencing in the next two years. The plans are approved for implementation in the current development plan of the country but have not been given much publicity as the clients of the infrastructure are intended to be mainly government departments.
Plans are also afoot to provide a wide coverage of access to the Internet in the public school system as government realizes that for its citizens to compete effectively in the global village, the nation must start to invest on availing technology skills right from the primary school level.