At 41 years of age, Dr Alfred Madigele is Botswana’s youngest Cabinet Minister.
After completing his studies in Ireland, Dr Madigele was employed for a year at one of the biggest hospitals in Ireland called Limerick Regional Hospital, as a Medical Officer and he decided to quit and come back home.
Dr Madigele was employed by Princess Marina Hospital for a year before opening his own private clinic as a general practitioner before contesting for Mathethe/Molapowabojang Constituency in the 2014 general elections.
Voice reporter Portia Ngwako-Mlilo had a chat with the youthful minister about his political journey, challenges and growth opportunities at his ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology.
Q. What inspired you to join politics?
A. When I was at junior school I read a lot about former South Africa leaders of the struggle like Robert Sobukwe and Oliver Tambo and got inspiration from their stories and what they did for their people.
I think I developed interest at that age and I thought perhaps when I grow up I would be interested in joining politics.
One of the things I really wanted to do was being a medical doctor which I managed to achieve and after 10 years of practice I joined politics.
Q. One would say you were not known much in the BDP until you stood for elections, when did you join politics?
A. I joined politics a long time ago behind the scenes because I had established a business of private clinic and I didn’t want my professional life to mix with politics.
I came into the picture two years before the election.
Q. What was the response from people in your constituency?
A. People were very appreciative and according to them it was a breath of fresh air.
They appreciated that I was a professional and young compared to previous leaders.
The message that I put across was also appealing to the electorate.
Q. It is said you come from a family of BNF activists, why did you choose to join BDP?
A. Growing up I read a lot of literature from Russia- the former USSR, because my uncle was a communist and a councilor in Lobatse.
It didn’t mean I was pro socialism, and as I grew up I evolved into a situation of a free market of capitalist tendencies because I also felt that I was an aspiring entrepreneur, so I couldn’t go with socialists.
BDP is a natural home for me.
Q. What have been your achievements so far in your constituency?
A. There is a lot that has been done so far and I believe there is still a lot that needs to be done.
There is a primary hospital and a bridge on the cards for Molapowabojang village as well as a police station and housing currently under construction.
In Mathethe we have developed an Agricultural Centre which is under construction.
Other areas include Lorolwane village where electrification is underway and there is also a maternity clinic coming up at Gasita village, just to mention a few.
Q. You were employed at Limerick Regional Hospital in Ireland for a year. Why did you decide to quit and come back home?
A. I really wanted to achieve that agenda of business and I had to come back so that I could develop a conducive environment for myself and eventually join politics.
Q. Don’t you miss your days at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, considering that it was in line with your qualifications?
A. Yes I do, but for me it was a blessing to shift from the Ministry of Health because it is good to try other new things in life and it was good for growth.
I was happy that the leadership appreciated my leadership skills and I believe so far I have done a good job in starting a ministry from scratch.
Q. There were rumours that you were suppose to defect to the opposition, what happened?
A. I heard about that too but it was just that, rumours! Defection has never crossed my mind.
I think people mistake my character. I like to engage in discourse even with opposition politicians and some of them are my friends.
I would spend some time with them and people tend to believe I am considering joining them.
Q. Are you standing for the next elections?
A. Right now I am the Member of Parliament and the decision to stand or not has not arrived yet.
Q. What’s next after politics?
A. To continue being a reputable entrepreneur.
Like I said I am not a career politician and I am still a professional at heart.
Q. Should BDP be worried by the merging of opposition parties?
A. I don’t think so. BDP should get strengthened because for us to govern we need a strong opposition.
In a democracy like ours there has to be strong institutions that will make sure that the government is able to deliver.
We shouldn’t take change just for the sake of change.
BDP has so far done a lot of good things in terms of provision of basic things.
As we speak there is no other country that gives free health care or education.
Q. What challenges do you face at your ministry?
A. There is a lot of challenges like provision of quality relevant training.
We talk about programmes that are fully accredited and our graduates can be compatible with graduates from the region and the world at large with regards to relevance.
One of the problems we find is skills mismatch. Creation of HRDC will make sure that we train looking at the economy demand.
Our mandate is to migrate from a resource based to a knowledge based economy.
Q. We outsource skilled labour especially from neighbouring countries.
What are you doing to ensure that your ministry benchmarks in those countries?
A. This is a result of skills mismatch and we trained more people for white collar jobs and there was stigma attached to vocational schools.
We are very much working on that and we believe that a strong Technical and Vocational Education Training is very very key towards attaining a good level of employment.
We studied new models like that of Israel and Singapore and those countries do not have natural resources and depend only on their skills.
Q. What criteria is used to upgrade colleges to universities?
A. We have what we call National Credit and Qualification Framework which grade the level of qualification.
The purpose of a university is not only teaching but also for research and strategies.
Q. Why are other institutions intakes higher than others?
A. As government we have an obligation towards our institutions and we should be able to support them.
For the economy to grow it needs a strong private sector and that is why for the past 15 years- through a parliament Act, we allowed the emergence of private institutions.
Allocation of students is upon institutions to ensure that their programmes are fully accredited.
HRDC gives us an idea of which courses we can sponsor.
This year we have concentrated on construction, auto motive industry and others.
Q. Kindly share with our readers, progress on the Target 20 000.
A. It was introduced to up-skill and to re-tool our young people. More than 9 000 students benefited.
It is a great idea but I believe and agree with some critics that maybe the implementation was not great.
This year we suspended enrollment of new students for the programme and next year we will have a new and revamped Target 20 000, more appropriate and responsive to what we need from our students.
Q. How is the BQA transition process going?
A. I am working closely with the Board of Directors and BQA management to make sure that all the challenges we are facing are addressed.
BQA was formed in 2013 from two organizations BOTA and TEC.
BOTA was responsible for vocational training while TEC was for tertiary.
There was a bit of confusion because with BOTA there are true criteria either the course is accredited or not while TEC there were different levels of accreditation, approved provisionally, fully accredited or rejected.
Q. Do you think the time given to institutions is enough? What happens if they fail to meet deadline?
A. We realized the amount of work that needs to be done is so immense given to a transition within 12 months.
I am still waiting for a report from the board which would advice me on what to do.
Our stakeholders need to be reminded that the transition deadline is nearing so that we can all meet our obligation.
Q. Government funding is drying out.
What are you doing to ensure that scholarship grant beneficiaries pay back the money?
A. BGCSE produce about 35 students every year and our budget only sponsor around 10 000.
The issue is about budgetary constraints.
We are currently exploring a policy shift in tertiary education financing so that we can increase access.
There is need to reform the grant loan scheme which is behind times and really talks to government employment but things have changed.
We are talking with government to open up to the employees to allow them access to education loans for their children, even for people with bad credit, if not they will have to access to other options as the nation21 loans for bad credit people.
Q. Who is your inspiration?
A. There are many but I was mainly inspired by political figures like Robert Sobukwe at the level of politics.
On an individual level I was inspired by my late father, Fish.
I always admired his perseverance and hard work.
Q. What legacy do you want to leave at your ministry?
A. Issues of relevance need to be addressed.
there is also the training for the economy which would obviously reduce unemployment.
I would also want to leave a legacy of strong and innovative society.
Q. Thank God is Friday. What are your plans for the weekend?
A. I will be at the farm.