The mismatch between the theory and practice of participatory rural development in Botswana: prospects for transformative social change

15 Nov 2017

The economic situation of Botswana at independence was characterised by net dependence on international aid to maintain a minimum of public services. This state of the economy laid down the foundation for a development process based on the centralisation of decision making wherein urban officials prescribe development interventions for the intended beneficiaries. Such centrally determined support ultimately metamorphosed into direct provision of livelihoods for the majority of the rural people. This approach has established a culture of dependent development where a majority of people in Botswana especially those residing in the country side expect government to provide them with livelihoods. With persisting high levels of poverty, Botswana’s top-down approach to rural development came under criticism specifically for marginalizing the poor and failing to promote equitable development. The criticism led to a shift in thinking culminating with the adoption of the Community Based Strategy for Rural Development in 1997– a benchmark for a long-term rural development strategy for Botswana. The strategy sought to give a prominent role to local communities in identification of their own needs and determination of intervention measures. Using case studies from the villages of Dibete and Khumaga, this paper argues that in spite of the hype surrounding bottom-up planning as stated in various official documents, the reality is that government’s commitment to empowering communities is half-hearted and reluctant. This paternalistic posture is further fostered by what appears to be lack of a desire to participate in local development by rural people. Adult Education which seeks to offer opportunities for communities to undertake systematic and sustained learning and developmental activities to bring about change in knowledge, attitudes, values or skills is used to provide a conceptual framework for this discussion.