My first job after graduating from university in 1978 was as a rural development planner in Molepolole, Botswana. It was the best job I ever had. Botswana was just beginning the period of sustained, peaceful, democratic, growth that has led some observers to call it an “African miracle”. My day-to-day work was exhilarating – planning for the provision of much-needed social infrastructure such as schools, clinics and water systems. I lived in a traditional mud and thatch rondavel, fetched water in a bucket I carried on my head, and learned enough Setswana to make many friends in the village. And on top of that, revolution was in the air. Molepolole is about 60 kilometres from the South African border. I had arrived in southern Africa just after the Soweto Revolt and the subsequent crackdown on the black resistance movement by the apartheid regime in South Africa. There were a dozen or so South African political exiles living in the village, many of whom I befriended. Even though they were only my age or younger, they were seasoned veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle, whilst I was politically naive. We talked long into the night, as they educated me about the politics of race and struggle in southern Africa.
Looking back, I am appalled at how poorly my university education had prepared me for what I encountered when I arrived in Botswana. I had an Honours B.A. in Economics from a good Canadian university, the paper requirement for my job. I even brought a couple of Economics textbooks with me to Africa. I never opened them. Nothing in my training, which had been all about advanced market economies such as Canada, prepared me for the daily reality of development planning in a poor (at that time) country such as Botswana. Worse, I had no clue about the history or politics or culture of the country, the region, or the continent where I was now living. I am embarrassed to think of all the mistakes I made in my ignorance. I can only wonder at the generosity of spirit of my co-workers and neighbours, who graciously tolerated my well-meaning but often misdirected ideas and actions.
We live in a globalized world. Ever-increasing flows of people, capital, goods and ideas are shrinking the planet, such that we are getting ever-closer to the vaunted “global village”. University students rightly want to engage with this world. But to do so, they need relevant skills and knowledge. Gone are the days when idealism and enthusiasm, which are all I really had to offer when I first arrived in Africa, are enough. Instead, students need language skills, cultural competence, overseas experience and detailed subject matter expertise. The Bachelor of Global and International Studies at Carleton University offers all this and more. Its goal is for its graduates to become active and engaged global citizens.
I am excited about this new degree. I only wish that something similar had been available when I was an undergraduate. I hope that you will consider joining us!