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Student unrests and its implications: The case of tertiary institutions in Botswana

The 21st Century life and workplace skills cannot be packaged, labelled and sold without conflict resolution forming part of the key components. It will be a total miss if a graduate being ushered into the workspace has not gone through a conflict resolution awareness programme of some kind.

Our current curriculum in schools trains on almost every subject except conflict resolution. Yet conflict is inevitable and depending on how one perceives it, it may make or break the relationship.

On the area of skills development, we have witness growth. A series of seminars and workshops have been held with leading speakers gracing these events yet none of these would speak to issues relating to conflict. This is notwithstanding the fact that a larger part of our human interactions is governed by some form of a contract. The development and implementation of conflict resolution education policies in our school curricula is long overdue.


Why the conference

The conference builds upon our prior engagements with various stakeholders, and in particular the University of Botswana where we have offered FREE sessions on conflict resolution to their Top Achievers and PhD graduates. We have interacted with other tertiary institutions in Botswana and it has become evident that none of these institutions have a conflict resolution or dispute resolution policy in place. When students enrol, there is nothing that guides them with respect to the process to be followed in the event of a conflict. What seems to be in place though, is a retributive justice system that operates on the realms of Zero Tolerance.

The Conference will offer opportunities to ask and answer questions, express feelings, tell stories, express regrets and hopefully help foster a better understanding and appreciation of the events that lead to student unrests or strikes and how we can act better where we misfired. It is common cause that in a strike situation, there are a number of players; viz: the striking students, the local security personnel, the police, management and the community at large.

How we respond to a group of students who are marching in demand of certain rights will either make or break the event. There are two responses to conflict- Flight or Fight. The latter has tended to be the most adopted and the question is why?  The answer lies at the centre of our focus- taking conflict resolution skills across all sectors including the police force.

This conference is what could be referred to as a grassroots dialogue-to-action process

where students, faculty and administrators as well as the security personnel will sit and dialogue in order to better handle conflicts in their institutions the second time around. We are aiming at improving the campus climate and offer skills and a platform to generate solutions to challenges faced by the university communities.

The conference will provide a unique space where participants will gain insights into facilitation skills, and learn to lead and brainstorm with other committed change agents in solving real problems. While issues related to relationships, socio-economic tensions, gender dynamics and campus commitments do not change overnight, participants will leave with actionable plans for improving the inclusiveness of their campus communities on conflict resolution initiatives.

The conference will indicate that the effects of these strikes are not only confined to the academic performance of these students, but also they have a bearing on the socio-political, economic and security aspects as well. From a security point of view, you would wonder what happens, who does what when all eyes are focusing on the burning libraries at the universities. What happens at the borders, who enters and with what intentions?

On the economy front, the effects will be immediately felt by those street vendors who ply their trade along these university and college perimeter fences. It doesn’t need one to be a rocket scientist to appreciate the fact that the informal sector also plays a huge part on the larger economy of the country.

A school policy that will not detail the restorative interventions that will be available is a recipe for disaster. Restorative justice and restorative discipline as compared to retributive (punitive) justice should form part of the DNA of the conflict resolution initiatives adopted by Tertiary Institutions.

It is a fact that relationships must be built, conflicts resolved and harm repaired. In order for conflict resolution skills to be available as a 21st Century life and work skill, our education curricular must include conflict resolution as a core subject even from primary school level. In collaboration with other stakeholders such as the education sector, we aim at achieving our aim- transforming relationships and designing change.

*Nkiwane Ndaba is Managing Director- Ndaba & Associates

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