What is in the name? Peo University, Temo-Thuo University, Segaolane University, Sebele University; these are some of the names running through my mind as I ponder why the name for the university of agriculture and natural resources was settled for Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resource.
Is it that as Batswana we are now caught up in this syndrome of ‘Botswana this, Botswana that’; Is it that we are not creative enough? Following the announcement by the ministry of agriculture that BCA is to transform into a university, there was hasty consultation done to find a name for the university. The previous attempts to source the name from staff and students and the suggested names were banked.
Botswana College of Agriculture decided to take the route of consulting Batswana because it knows how Batswana identify with agriculture and how Batswana value the agricultural training that their children, husbands, wives and relatives received from BCA. It knows that Batswana remembers how the frontline extension workers who trained at BCA and its former forerunner, BAC, have and contunue to help them improve their farming. What is in the name? Everyone, especially Africans, know the importance of a name. If this university we are eagerly waiting for was a child, its parents would have reserved an appropriate name that would carry their best wishes for the child, a name that would signify the greatness that may emanate from the works of this child and a name that would not be a curse to the child. In Setswana we know that leina lebe seromo. A name that would uphold the status of the family or community. In the case of BCA, the name that would be carried by the university should be able to brand the new institution without burdening it with name of a person, alive or deceased (Batswana seem to detest naming any institution or monuments after any iconic persons in our society, save for the first president). It should not be a name that creates complications in the future, necessitating a change in the name. It also should not be a name based on the subject matter (agriculture) that would not allow the university in the future to diversify its programmes. This transformation is not only important for Botswana agriculture, but it is important for the education sector. Therefore, an appropriate name that would sell the university is paramount. See in the local media how Sefalana is re-inventing itself, the new logo and the meaning of the name itself, Sefalana, a basket of opportunities, which is relevant to its business of food. Can BCA learn a thing or two from Sefalana?
From casual observation, it appeared that Batswana preferred an indigenous name, one that is not cliché, like international or national. If at all international refers to reputation, then that would be determined by the works of the university and not the connotation of the word international, hence the word international should not appear in the name of the new university. However, those consulted were complacent and mistook the mandate that was announced by the Minister of Agriculture as a given name and easily settled for Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Were these people the appropriate people to consult? The potential clients of the university who are form 4 and form 5 students, the current students at BCA should be the ones consulted; the people who are going to interact with the name on a daily basis, not their grandparents who will never go to the university. Why did I entitle this article Peo University? It is my dream. I reckon many people, including students had their dream name for the new university. The word peo means seed, it signifies life, and it declares agriculture. It says agriculture without shouting AGRICULTURE. It stands for a new beginning; the future, its represent vegetation, it is green and it symbolises abundance of food. Peo tells a story of your greatgrand mothers who were selecting, conserving and sharing indigenous seeds before the arrival of hybrids and Monsanto. It talks about regeneration, recycling and sustainability, all the attributes of agriculture and natural resources which the university will anchor on. Peo denotes sperm from our Tswana bulls and ova from our fertile heifers. Peo symbolises the fertility (fertility of ideas) of our young prospective farmers. As most people are becoming excited about the new development, the name Peo represents new prospects in education; the prospects of innovation and new ideas that will be ushered by the new university. Why should the word agriculture not be made to burden the new university? This is because agriculture is currently not considered cool with the new generation.
Therefore, let us put the word agriculture aside in the naming of the new university and only include it in the mandate and objectives. The problem is that agriculture is look down upon by many young people, even though that trend appears to be changing, albeit slowly. At the moment BCA is struggling to attract the best students, they prefer to go to UB and other institutions. In addition, the name of the new university should say something about who were are as Batswana, and as Africans in general. An Afrocentric name that tells the story of our journey as cattle people, trekking from Central Africa to the south of Africa, some thousand years ago.
Temo-thuo has been the blood, sweat and tears of all Batswana; the blood when they lose their saving trying to venture into agriculture, when they know very well that it is a risky business. Blood, when they break their backs tilling the land, even when they is no sign of rain. Tears, when they cry for their recently acquired poverty status after their cattle
In other countries, who experimented with University of Agriculture had to change to some other names to make those universities relevant to their clients, the students. I recently met a Nigerian professor at a conference in Nairobi and he told me that some of the old agricultural universities are considering introducing medicine, in a quest to attract students. Though earlier on I indicated that the works of the university are important, the name is vital for marketing and a name that is difficult to pronounce or difficult to sell may become obscure to the clients. The name is important for branding. These days, visibility and branding is what sells. The name is the face of the product and our product here is going to be the university. In this competitive world, the new university can not afford not to compete.
I know that the powers-that-be are pursuing a rationalisation policy in human resources development. In that light it may be said that the university should be solely agricultural and not compete with either UB or BIUST. This would result in two disadvantages: The first would be that of lower enrolments due to marginalisation of agriculture as a career amongst our youth. Secondly we may be missing out on an opportunity to integrate all facets of tertiary education into moulding a holistic and wholesome responsible citizen. The world is not compartmentalised into science, humanities, arts and so forth. Human beings are interfaced with the arts, life sciences, earth sciences, linguistics, religion and the rest. And it has been proven that students with a balance exposure to both the arts and science are better innovators. By not pronouncing agriculture in its name, the university may in the future be able to offer programmes and course on business and entrepreneurship. Therefore, if the new university allow for future expansion into commerce and trade, management, business, finance and ICT programmes, then there would be opportunities for the university to attract the non-traditional agriculture students. Take Tebogo for instance, hypothetically speaking but a possibility, s/he ignorantly tells him/herself that s/he does not like agriculture, but still enrol at Peo University to do her/his passionate program, business. During she/his progress s/he may then decide to take an elective in horticulture and this may results in a horticultural businessperson when s/he graduate. Through this, the university would have achieved what had eluded BCA for two decades; producing agribusiness people. So my contention is that the university should be allowed, funds permitting, to compete with UB, BUIST, Botho and Ba Isago. Of course the core mandate will still remain agriculture, that is given, but the university should not be bottled from growing by confining it only to agriculture and natural resource. After all, the secondary industries of milling, of leather, of food wholesale and retail, of timber, of recreation and leisure involve commerce, business and entrepreneurship and should not be divorced from the primary industries of land, cattle, sheep, goats, crops, forestry, wildlife, wetlands. The future of agriculture is also anchored on ICT and as the youth prefers ICT related careers, internet agriculture platforms would results in expansion of extension, business and market information. So students at the new university should have the opportunity to take computer science programmes to allow them to innovate in agriculture. We recently, at Department of Animal Science and Production had a seminar talk by the founders of Modisar livestock management system. Modisar has been making news in the media as a youthful innovation, ICT based agricultural company which is incubated at Botswana Innovation Hub. They told us that after assembling and testing the ICT livestock management platform, they realise that they lack skills in livestock management to fully derive the benefits of the platform. So as parliament will soon be discussing the bill on turning BCA into a university, I challenge members of the house to pause and think, engage their mind as to whether Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources is a name suitable for this premier institution or are we still stuck with Block 6, Phase 2 when Gaborone city council moving away from that mentality and giving proper names to its suburbs.
*ORM is a professor of animal nutrition at Botswana College of Agriculture and views expressed here are solely of the author and does not represent BCA. The limited version of this article first appeared in The Business Weekly & Review in 2014