Row over location of second university

The decision to build a Pula 500 million (US $114 million) university near the home area of Botswana's vice-president has sparked heated debate.

Education Minister Jacob Nkate told parliament recently that the nation's second university would be built either in Serowe, Vice-President Ian Khama's home village, or Palapye. The two locations are 30 km apart in central Botswana.

Nkate's announcement has sparked controversy, as a government taskforce had recommended that the university should be built either in the mining town of Selebi-Phikwe, which faces economic collapse, alternatively in Maun in the northwest, or in Francistown, north of Gaborone and the country's second largest city.

Neither Serowe nor Palapye were mentioned by the taskforce as suitable locations, but Nkate said the decision to locate the university in one of these areas was based on the fact that they both had good rail, road and water networks.

He added that the government would instead build a Pula 300 million ($68 million) technical training college in Francistown, and a Pula 146 million ($33 million) arts college in Selebi-Phikwe.

Daniel Kwelagobe, an MP and secretary-general of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), castigated the government for undertaking "unnecessary consultations" on the location of the university, and said the institution should be used to revive the fortunes of Selebi-Phikwe's over 60,000 people, who relied on the jobs offered by a nickel and copper mine that was set to close in 2010.

"The issue haunting legislators and everyone else is, 'What will happen to Selebi-Phikwe when [the] mine closes?'" Kwelagobe wondered.

"The executive has itself to blame for going around soliciting people's views and opinions on the project, and then rejecting the taskforce's recommendations," he said.

A delegation calling itself the Selebi-Phikwe diversification committee met with President Festus Mogae this week to urge him to reconsider the decision to locate the university at or near Khama's home village.

"We, the people of Selebi-Phikwe, humbly request for your re-examination of all the pertinent factors, and pray that you reverse the decision to locate the university either at Serowe or Palapye," the committee proposed.

The education minister has rejected their call, saying Selebi-Phikwe was not the only area in the country in need of development.