Botswana, Week 3: Protests

A couple of weeks ago, there was some tension on campus. The University of Botswana (UB) is working very hard to improve the image, credibility, and stability of the school. However, the actions being taken by the university caused an uprising among students. Although the students that I have spoken with understood the circumstances surrounding the situation, they disagreed upon how to handle it.

Some of the measures UB indicated they would take included:

Close 411:

All of the buildings on campus have a number, unlike at U of R, and most schools in the States, where we name our buildings for other numerous reasons. The bar we have on campus is referred to as “411” and is located only walking distance away.

UB decided that they would consider the closing of 411. The intended date for permanent closure was fall 2012. UB chose to close 411 due to the fact that it caused many problems, such as excess consumption of alcohol, unwanted physical and emotional risks, and constant visitation from outside guests that were not students. Also, unless one orders a soda (known as pop), then he or she will receive a fragile glass bottle with no way of recycling or properly disposing it around campus; trash cans and other forms of waste are still ongoing issues in most developing countries, including Botswana.

However, the UB students are looking at it in a differesent perspective. They know that closing of 411 does not just mean that there will not be a bar on campus – it’s a matter of student rights and freedom. The school has offered to compromise by moving the bar on the edge of campus, instead of closing it entirely, but students’ protests only gained momentum. This is mainly due to the fact that the students saw the real meaning of moving the bar away from middle of campus: Botswana law says that alcohol may be consumed only 500 meters away from any alcohol-serving establishment. Therefore, if the bar is moved to the edge of campus (away from student housing and comfortable seating areas), then that means that any forms of alcohol in open areas of campus, and especially living hostels/dorms, is strictly prohibited.

End Supplementary Exams:

UB’s rules and procedures for students are very different from schools in the United States. For example, if a student fails any subject during the semester, then they are allowed to take what is called a “Supplementary Exam.” This exam is taken once at the end of the year and can erase the previous failing grade received (if passed, of course). The students became very angry upon hearing the news that supplementary exams might be done away with.

Lower Allowance:

Currently, most UB students have their tuition and most other academic needs paid for by the government. Also, a monthly allowance is given in what is considered “to be used for living purposes” only. The allowance comes in cash form and may be used for anything, without any restrictions. UB has been contemplating lowering the allowance because they believe that it is being used for alternative and undesirable purposes that lead to unhealthy choices. Although there is no substantial and realistic evidence for the school to believe this, 411 always happens to be at full capacity immediately after the 23rd of each month – the date that the allowances are distributed.

No More Games:

The Inter Varsity games are like the Olympics, but on a college level, with surrounding country universities participating against each other. UB has decided to not host the Inter Varsity games this semester. This angered students and contributed to the protests that were to come. The school’s reasoning for this was for the safety and security of the students, because the IV Games attract the general population and students from other schools, which can create security concerns.

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Fortunately for my friends and I, we had left for a trip to Namibia. Windows, signs, buildings, and many other things were broken during the protests. Many students, especially those in charge, were arrested and suspended.

UB closed from January 25th-27th, and upon re-opening, there have been no more protests. As of now, none of the initial propositions by the school have been put in place. Even the IV games seem like a possibility, but a very unlikely possibility. Even though the school has not initiated anything yet, they seem to be moving in the direction of what they originally intended. For example, although they haven’t closed down 411 yet, but we’ve noticed the prices have gone up 15% – slowly pushing students and guests to go elsewhere.

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