Wednesday, June 29, 2011

TOMORROW BEGINS TODAY: A conversation with Bose Maposa


"I feel lucky to be in a position where I can influence how the continent is represented, a willing ambassador, this is a space I take with full seriousness and sensitivity as I will not want to be accused of misrepresenting the richness and the diversity that is Africa. As a young woman whose roots firmly based in the best that is Batswana culture, yet by all measure I am a living testimony of the struggles for equality that women in Botswana and all over the continent have fought to claim the proper place for women’s voices, I carry all of those histories. " Bose Maposa 2011

In the first of a series of interviews with Batswana living abroad we speak to Bose Maposa a young Motswana who lives in Athens, Ohio, United States. Born and raised in Gaborone, Botswana, other than a 3 year stint spent in the north-eastern mining town of Selebi Phikwe, this twenty nine year old is now Assistant Director of the African Studies Program at Ohio University in Athens, OH, USA.

We ask Bose how the sports loving little girl I went to school with at a local community junior secondary school finds herself living where she is and doing the impactful work she does.

BM: I first came to Athens in 2007 for graduate school. I completed my first MA in International Affairs- African Studies in 2009, and my second in 2010 in Public Administration in the same university.

TJ: . Tell us a bit about your day to day - basically what shape does a day in the life of Bose take

BM: Hmmm, this won’t be easy. My day-to-day varies a lot; there are days when I am in the office sending and answering emails either to organize an event such as our weekly African Studies at NOON series or communicating with students and faculty members; I monitor our budget and work on processing payments for faculty and students. There are times when I am out of the office attending Africa related events, and or organizing conferences. The latest conference I was intimately involved in was the 37th Annual African Literature Association Conference themed: “African Literature, Visual Arts & Film in Local and Transnational Spaces” which was hosted by African Studies on April 13-17, 2011. By intimately I mean I was involved in the selection of abstracts, drawing of the program, booking flights and accommodation for speakers, transportation, registration, just to name a few. I of course did not do this alone; I worked with a great team of individuals. I am also the FLAS (Foreign Language Area Studies) coordinator. The only constants in my day-to-day are an hour or so of gym and another hour or so of reading.

TJ: What did you study and where

BM: My undergraduate studies were in Sports and Physical Education- and I did that at the International School of Sports and Physical Education in Cuba. Living in Cuba for 5 years was a life changing experience. The Cuban socialist system for all its troubles taught me a lot about the importance of community service as everyone from professors to students in Cuba is expected to do their part in giving. For example, though it was odd for me to see the University Chancellor sweeping floors, this happened a lot. As an African I also learnt to let go of the biases and xenophobic tendencies that I had towards other Africans. I learnt the importance of a united Africa; not as a country but as a people and the many strengths that come with it. (As stated earlier she then moved on to Athens for graduate school in 2007)

TJ: Speaking of Cuba if I remember correctly you left on a government sports scholarship - do you still play basketball and darts? If so at what level?

BM: Unfortunately no! I still do go to the gym just to stay in shape. But I have transferred my love for sport to academia- I do some work on Sports and Development. For the past 2 years I have been involved in the organization of the Sports in Africa conference here at Ohio University. I was involved in the organizing of the conference; as well I presented a paper. Last year as part of celebrating the world cup in South Africa I presented a paper titled ‘Its Africa’s turn’: Putting symbolic politics into perspective with South Africa 2010”. After getting some useful feedback and working more on the paper, I also presented at the National Conference of Black Political Scientists in Atlanta in March 2010 with my fellow colleagues from Bokamoso as we were given our own panel.

TJ: You came home for how long after studying abroad? Why did you leave again?

BM: I stayed home for a year, at first I could not find a job, and then I got a job as a teacher. I left because I got the opportunity to further my studies.

TJ: Where do you see yourself in the next couple of years?

BM: I definitely would like to come back home and work. I would love to be more involved in projects that encourage Batswana and Africans at large to be knowledge producers rather than consumers. I also would like to start a social business, I am not sure in what, but I know that’s something I would like to do.

TJ: When was the last time you were home/ how often do you come home

BM: Last time I was home was in 2008, and I am hoping to visit before the end of this year. When I was in undergrad in Cuba I came home every year, but graduate school and work commitments do not allow that to happen as often. Thank goodness to the Whatsapp, Gchat and Skype I am able to “see” my family from time to time. Although not easy technology has made it much easier to keep in touch with family and friends back home.

TJ: How do you feel about Botswana (either in the context of the current civil strike and/or generally)

BM: Regarding the current strike, I honestly feel government is not being fair to the workers. Yes, we might not be able to afford a 16% wage increase, but from what I have seen in the last couple of years when I was home- people are struggling, and the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. I am amazed at the comments I read online about how ‘there is no money’ and yet people working for the private sector know they spend more than what some of these government earn in a week! I think there needs to be more dialogue; you can’t just tell people there is no more and be done with it. I am however generally impressed with how vocal and engaged we seem to be as a nation; that is good for 'democracy'.

TJ: What opportunities do you feel are missing here at home (in Botswana) for someone with your qualifications/desired career trajectory?

BM: When people insist that you should have some work experience, a tremendous amount to be exact, they systematically cut out a huge amount of talent and people who can add value. I am not saying experience is not useful, but I think it is a problem when it becomes the determining factor. Rather, I believe it would be useful to hire someone, qualified of course, and train them. That is the main lost opportunity for someone hoping to come back home. I think many of us just want a chance to prove ourselves and add value.

TJ: What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?

BM: I like to think that my position as Assistant Director is a great achievement as I get to do work that I have passion for because my work sets the agenda of how students at the university engage and re-imagine Africa. Knowing how marginalized African views are, I feel lucky to be in a position where I can influence how the continent is represented, a willing ambassador, this is a space I take with full seriousness and sensitivity as I will not want to be accused of misrepresenting the richness and the diversity that is Africa. As a young woman whose roots firmly based in the best that is Batswana culture, yet by all measure I am a living testimony of the struggles for equality that women in Botswana and all over the continent have fought to claim the proper place for women’s voices, I carry all of those histories. My diverse education background born in Botswana, educated in the Caribbean and USA, speaks to the fact that after all despite Botswana being my “local” I am by all means a global citizen. I consider this journey to where I am today an achievement in itself. My current ability to be an ambassador not only for Botswana but for the continent is perhaps my greatest achievement thus far.

TJ: You contribute to a US based blog about African issues - Bokamosoafrica - tell us about your involvement

BM: The blog (http://bokamosoafrica.org/) essentially grew out of the forum we formed and our mission is "Founded in the celebration of Africa’s democratic philosophy to advance the free flow of noble ideas, Bokamoso seeks to groom Africa’s emerging leaders apt to face Africa’s challenges of the 21st century and committed to pushing forward her development agenda." In graduate school I got an amazing and extraordinary chance to meet gifted and motivated individuals from different countries and disciplines, who were interested in contributing to Africa's development-so we got together and formed the Bokamoso Leadership Forum. Seeing that we were far from home, the blog would then be a platform for us to share our ideas and also be aware of what is happening on the continent. Currently I am one of the editors; but I think the most important thing about the blog has been the opportunity we all got to share our ideas, get feedback from peers and other readers, get new insights about our fields, and learn about other different disciplines. We have grown from a small group in Athens Ohio to now be covering three continents, Africa, North America and Europe. Our editorial team which includes myself and my other colleagues one based in South Africa and another in Basel Switzerland speaks to the motto of Bokamoso whose vision is to unite young African scholars and practitioners in grappling with various pertinent issues that affect all of us in the continent. Our theme for the year is “celebrating our own: the power of local knowledge” where we have ventured into such some themes as challenging African intellectuals to produce work that is relevant to Africans in their context instead of borrowing Western tools and inculcating nothing about the local context in implementing development initiatives, we have looked at the role of the African diaspora in reimaging the “local” in Africa, as well I have also written a piece challenging our notions of sexuality in Africa advocating for an inclusive agenda that speaks to the diversity of the nature of men and women in the continent some which are heterosexual and some who are homosexuals.

TJ: What experiences - cultural or otherwise do you think someone voluntarily living in the 'diaspora' such as yourself can/will bring home at the end of the day.

BM: These are endless and it basically depends on the individual. I believe the blog that I spoke about earlier is one way. Mentoring young adults, assisting in school applications, exploring funding opportunities, etc are some of the way too. But I think at the end of the day, the cultural exposure that one gets helps fight most types of discriminations as living here one becomes more aware of those biases they have, they are affected by other peoples biases and when going back home you can be more understanding and this can help build relationships.

Bose misses everything about being at home especially her family, so the next time you are headed 'overseas' do carry a little something local she can nibble on. In the meantime please visit the bokamosoafrica blog to keep an eye on what's going on in her head while she's far and away...

2 comments:

  1. Great interview Bose! I have seen you grow to be a true Ambassador of the continent. I congratulate you on being a living testimony always challenging yourself to be the best that you can be. I definitely agree with you the continent is missing out on the talent that is planted in the US and other European countries. The older generation is always talking about experience but when you look at the direction they are taking us you just wonder if this is the kind of leadership that we want with years of empty experiences. If you can be an Assistant Director in a university of such magnitude in the US I have no doubt that there is a directorate position in Bots or other parts of the continent that you can take and run with it. This is the beginning continue to represent and remember you are standing on the shoulders of great people...Long Live Bose!

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  2. Thanks Skhu!!! As you know, surround yourself with good people, good things rub off on you and you become one of them. Knowing you, the BLFers and many others has shaped me to be who I am today- and I will forever be grateful.

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