The woman leading Botswana’s digital transformation
At the Botswana Communications and Regulatory Authority (BOCRA), Tsaone Ruth Thebe’s chairmanship is not by mistake; she is an accomplished Administrator and Manager, with extensive experience in directing the human resources, finance, administration as well as policies in the public sector for over 30 years.
It is under Thebe's leadership as Permanent Secretary - Ministry of Lands & Housing, that Government introduced the Land Administration Procedures, Capacity and Systems (LAPCAS) Programme – encompassing land administration processes, computerisation of land records, land registration and capacity building;
She also served as the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport & Communications, whose mandate included eGov and supervision of BOCRA.
She successfully managed large organizations with employees of between 5 000 to 20,000 people. She also managed development and recurrent budgets in excess of P2 billion. At present, Thebe is but a captain of Botswana’s digital transformation strategy at BOCRA.
As the Board Chair, her mandate is, among others, to: promote and ensure enhanced performance in the communications sector, the very sector central to the country’s digital transformation.
Further to that, she is mandated to ensure that BOCRA imposes a universal access and service levy on identified operators for purpose of funding universal access to communications as well as promote and ensure universal access in respect to provision of communications services and effective regulation of the regulated sectors.
It is no small task. In this era of the Fourth industrial Revolution (4IR), where the world is racing towards digital transformation, only a strong and visionary leader could be mandated with such a task. Thebe is one of the first women in Botswana to be entrusted with such a mammoth task. It can only prove her as a leader extraordinaire.
The rise from humble beginnings
Like most of the high-achievers in Botswana, hers was as a result of hard work, dedication and perseverance in spite of the obstacles she endured then, especially as a girl child.
Thebe grew up underprivileged. In fact she grew up in a typical rural household, with none of the amenities which could make studying a bit easier.
“For lighting, we relied on paraffin lamps and candles. At often times, these were not even available. Nonetheless, failure was not an option,” she reveals.
Consequently, Thebe says she learnt and understood the value of education at a very young age. She understood that to make it in life, education was key.
“My mother would often say the only inheritance she can leave to us, is help us get educated, which is something nobody can take from us,” she recalls.
Excelling and doing well at school was Thebe’s only ticket out of poverty.
She recalls vividly her boarding school days at St Josephs’ College in Kgale, a Catholic boarding school then. It was where she completed her form 5.
Thebe knew then that Form 5 was the cut-off point. It was the determining factor for success. To her, failure was not an option. She would later pass her form five and proceed to the University of Botswana (UB).
Today she holds a BA Environmental Science, University of Botswana. Further to that, she pursued further studies and acquired a MSc in Environmental Planning at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom (UK).
Thebe’s professional versatility
Decades ago, her career began as a Geography teacher for O’Levels’ students. After 5 years, she joined the Local Authority as a landuse planner for 10 years. This was after she acquired her BA Environmental Science at the University of Botswana. Thebe moved through the ranks, eventually reaching the position of Permanent Secretary in the Ministries of Lands and Housing as well as Transport and Communications. By then, she was already armed with a MSc in Environmental Planning from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom (UK).
At those positions, Thebe states in an interview that she influenced policy concerning landuse planning as well as planning standards.
“There were challenges. I had to assert myself in these male dominated fields, against some expectations for me to organize lunches/teas, even at a very senior position,” she says, laughing it off.
But her career blossomed. Through the various positions she held in the public service, including heading Ministries of Lands and Housing and that of Transport and Communication as Permanent Secretary, she provided strategic leadership.
At the Ministry of lands and Housing, Thebe played a key role in the team that influenced for the digitization of all land process at the Ministry through a program named the Land Administration Procedures Capacity and Systems (LAPCAS). Around 2009, the Government of Botswana identified an improved Land Administration system as a prerequisite for economic development that has the potential to diversify its economy, contribute to the economic empowerment and increased job opportunities for the people in the rural areas. The project, which Thebe was part of, was in partnership with the Swedish Government. Its intentions according to Thebe were to digitize all land processes.
“The project exposed me to digitization processes and the potential it has in the economy. With LAPCAS completed, a lot of data could be accessed at the Ministry of lands and could be used by the public and private sector for anything. It could make access to data easy,” explains Thebe.
At around 2013, when Thebe was Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, a decision was taken to consolidate all government systems and processes into one system. The project was named E-Government. Thebe was a key figure in its conceptualization and actualization.
Government decided to implement e-Government for its population in an effort to enhance and improve service delivery. The idea was to centralize all government systems, records and database into one system, which would be accessed through the click of a button. Thebe as the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, was the overseer.
She oversaw the operations of Ministries and other Government Departments as Permanent Secretary. She initiated various reforms and projects to streamline strategic and operational outlook of Ministries. Through these various assignments, she got exposed to specialised training in leadership and management.
“As a result I amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience in building strategic teams, partnerships, managing performance of teams, and coordinating different stakeholders. I also held other executive level positions in the public service including as Deputy Permanent Secretary, and Director of Ministry Management,” she reveals.
Thebe played a key oversight role in the management of Parastatal Organizations that fell under the different Ministries she headed, working closely with Chairpersons of the Board of Directors to provide the necessary vision and strategic oversight to ensure that the interests and aspirations of the Government were met. She served in different Boards and Regional Bodies, such as the Botswana Housing Corporation, Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board and Regional Mapping Resources and Development.
Through these various roles, Thebe was not only a technocrat. She learnt something that the technocrats can never learn. She learnt strategic leadership. She learnt how to drive a vision in any sector, regardless of the technical expertise required. Thebe learnt how to manage and lead the technocrats to a specific vision.