For six weeks, UW–Madison has been home to 25 young Africans taking part in the Mandela Washington Fellowship—an academic and experiential learning program designed to prepare them to be future leaders in their countries. July 25, the final day of the program, was made especially significant through a visit to campus by Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, president of Botswana.
Since assuming the presidency in 2008, Khama has worked to build Botswana into one of the continent’s most stable nations. Understanding the larger role Botswana’s national resources will play in the future, Khama has continually championed sustainable growth and responsible conservation.
Khama met with the Mandela Washington fellows during a luncheon to conclude their program. He spoke on the importance of conservation to the future of Africa and gave the young leaders the opportunity to ask him about the challenges faced by his nation as well as their own countries.
“When we talk about conservation, there are three entities responsible for driving it if you are to have any success,” Khama said. “Those areas are the conservation NGOs, the private sector, and government. I have learned in government that if you have committed leadership, you can achieve more than the other two sectors combined. That is something we have been trying to set an example for by doing what we are doing in Botswana when it comes to sustainability and conservation and protecting the flora and fauna.”
The protection of fauna is an ongoing battle given the prominence of poachers on the African continent. However, policies established in Botswana have greatly reduced the number of animals killed each year from poaching.
Khama stated around 160,000 of the estimated 415,000 elephants living in Africa can be found in Botswana. Thanks to strict measures against poaching, including a ban on all hunting other than on private ranches, Botswana only lost 44 elephants in 2016 to poaching. Yet on the continent, almost 100 elephants can be lost every day.
“We are not very kind to poachers, and they know it,” Khama said. “We use all of our security services. We use police, army, intelligence and correctional services.”
Khama has also led Botswana in responsible development across the nation and with neighboring countries. Mandela Washington Fellow Diénéba Deme-Diallo, a radio journalist from Mali, asked Khama about key policies Botswana has implemented to support environmental issues. Khama cited several examples, including the requirement that before any infrastructure projects begin, an environmental impact assessment must be completed. A team of dedicated experts then assess how the project might negatively impact the environment, archaeological sites, water resources, vegetation and the well-being of people.
“As we develop our countries we should do it with the natural resources in mind and ensure it is done in a sustainable way,” Khama said.
Khama also discussed efforts to roll out a sustainability agenda to the rest of the African continent at a 2012 summit in partnership with Washington, D.C. based Conservation International. The summit was attended by heads of state from 10 countries and focused on the importance of the environment and discussed the introduction of natural capital accounting into national programs and policies. According to Khama, such collaboration is crucial to ensuring a sustainable future for Africa.
Global Citizen Award
During his visit, Khama’s conservation efforts were recognized with the International Division’s Global Citizen Award. In giving the award, Guido Podestá, vice provost and dean of UW–Madison’s International Division, recognized many of Khama’s roles in promoting conservation, noting Khama’s service as a board member for Conservation International and his pivotal role in establishing the Khama Rhino Sanctuary and Kalahari Conservation Society.
“President Khama’s work continues to inspire in a world where we see more and more how critical it is to preserve the natural resources all around us,” Podestá said. “The policies and actions he has taken to introduce sustainable practices to Botswana and neighboring nations will have a significant impact on the future of Africa.”
While accepting the honor, Khama reaffirmed his commitment to safeguarding the natural treasures of Botswana and working to create a culture of sustainability throughout Africa.
“I feel very honored to be presented with this distinguished award,” Khama said. “This recognition is certainly a source of encouragement and motivation.”
The Wisconsin-Botswana connection
While more than 8,400 miles separate UW–Madison from Botswana, many individuals associated with Wisconsin and the university have created significant ties with the African nation.
During a roundtable discussion between Khama, faculty and university partners, UW–Madison alumnus and International Advisory board member John Lange, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Botswana, recalled a notable Wisconsin connection.
“I still remember the visit of the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin, to Gaborone in 2002,” Lange said. “That visit proved to be a pivotal moment that helped spur the creation of President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).”
Khama’s visit holds additional significance in that he is not the first head of state from Botswana to visit the university. International Division Advisory Board Member and alumnus Tony Carroll, a key figure in arranging Khama’s visit in partnership with members of the Botswana government, also arranged a visit to campus from Botswana President Quett Masire in 1996.
“The fact that two presidents of a nation would choose to visit the university in a relatively short period signifies an unusually deep relationship—one that could blossom to mutual benefit from Wisconsin and Botswana,” said Carroll. “The relationship between the university and Botswana is a robust articulation of the Wisconsin idea.”
UW–Madison’s student activities and programs often engage Botswana as well.
The African Studies Program also sees students, faculty and alumni involved with Botswana and the rest of Africa. Wisconsin has awarded 750 Ph.D. degrees to Africa specialists since 1961. Two students served as interns in Botswana last year, with one continuing to work with David Newman, ambassador of the Republic of Botswana to the U.S.
Several alumni from Botswana have also assumed leadership roles. Two of the vice chancellors of the University of Botswana have received degrees from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and several top leaders in government attended the university.
Given so many ties between the university and Botswana, leaders at UW–Madison are optimistic that the university and Botswana could collaborate in more ways in the future.
“I am proud that UW–Madison is serving as a stage for talks on important topics such as conservation, leadership, and the future of Africa,” said Podestá. “It also strikes me that this occasion could mark a new point in the relationship between the university and Botswana. I look forward to exploring ways the university and Botswana can connect so that we can continue to learn through each of our nations.”