In Conversation: Mbako Kutlo Motshwari (Laser Application Engineer, HB Botswana)

Over the years, there has been a lot of concern about the lack of citizen participation in the upstream activities of Botswana's diamond industry where most value is derived from diamonds.

Mbako is one young man seeking to use his skills to change this narrative. As a laser application engineer at HB Botswana, Mbako's work involves cutting and sawing rough diamonds as well as adding facets to the stones as they travel up the diamond value chain.

We caught up with the Ramokgwebana-native and got to learn more. about the origins of his love for tech, what exactly his job entails, his opinion on citizen participation in Botswana's diamond industry, and much more!

In your own words, please tell us who Mbako Kutlo Motshwari is?

Mbako Motshwari is a young man who grew up in a small village in the northeastern part of Botswana called Ramokgwebana. Raised by his loving grandparents in a lower-middle-income family, Mbako was provided with all the necessary resources and support to unlock his full potential. He pursued his passion for Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at BIUST and is now proudly employed with HB, where he serves as one of the pioneering members of HB Botswana.

Briefly take us through your journey to a career in tech

My first significant exposure to advanced technology came during my studies at the Department of Chemical, Materials, and Metallurgical Engineering in BIUST. There, I learned about complex machines like X-Ray Diffraction and Transmission Electron Microscopy, which have critical applications in today's world. I was fortunate enough to secure an internship at Lucara Diamond Corp as a trainee Process Engineer, where I gained experience with technology used in the mining industry, specifically for extracting rough diamonds from their ore. This invaluable opportunity allowed me to hone my engineering skills and learn how to handle cutting-edge machines uncommon in Africa.

Subsequently, I was recruited by HB Antwerp to train as a Laser Engineer in Belgium before joining HB Botswana. This extraordinary experience exposed me to the fascinating transformation of diamonds from rough to polished, which truly opened my eyes and filled me with pride as a Motswana. It was a remarkable opportunity to contribute to an industry sector that had been lacking in Botswana for 50 years since the discovery of diamonds in the country.

What inspired you to pursue a career in tech?

Growing up, I was disheartened by the prevailing notion that Africa solely exports raw materials. This motivated me to pursue engineering, with the aim of innovating, developing, and utilizing technologies that would propel Africa towards industrialization and enhance the value of our economies and products. It became apparent to me that countries exporting value-added goods would possess stronger economies, as they reap greater benefits from the value chain. Achieving this goal requires the extensive adoption and advancement of technologies that facilitate manufacturing and industrial processes.

As a laser application engineer, how important is that technology in adding value to rough stones?

The introduction of lasers in the diamond industry has been nothing short of transformative. Lasers serve two primary functions: first, to saw or split rough stones, and second, to add facets to these stones. Traditionally, this work was carried out by craftsmen known as cleavers; however, lasers have now taken on this role. By streamlining the rough diamond processing chain, lasers afford us both more time and unparalleled precision when adding facets to rough diamonds. HB has mastered this technique and graciously imparted this rare skill to me.

In your opinion, is there enough of a skillset like yours in the country?

Regrettably, the number of individuals with this skill in Botswana is quite limited. Apart from myself and my colleague, Kgosietsile Lenyatso, who is also part of HB, we've noticed that there are only a few Batswana who possess this unique expertise.

If not, what is the impact of this lack of skillset in helping Botswana extract much value from its diamond industry?

The scarcity of expertise in diamond cutting and polishing in Botswana has negatively impacted the value we derive from our diamonds. This industry holds immense potential, offering numerous job opportunities for skilled professionals and creating an additional avenue within the diamond sector, beyond just mining, in Botswana. The presence of HB plays a crucial role in effecting change, as the company not only brings in advanced technologies and processes but also provides training and skill development for local talent. By doing so, HB contributes to the growth of the diamond cutting and polishing industry, fostering a sustainable and value-added sector within Botswana's economy.

What can be done to increase the pool of knowledgeable laser tech engineers like yourself in the country?

Thankfully, HB has provided me and my colleagues with valuable training, imparting rare skills and knowledge to us. Equipped with this expertise, we are now in a position to educate the next generation, thereby expanding the pool of talent in this field and fostering a brighter future for our country.

Engineering requires constant relearning to ensure that your skill set remains relevant to your specific industry as the underlying technology evolves. How do you ensure that you are always on par with the latest laser tech technologies?

In the ever-evolving world of technology, there is a constant drive to perform better and push the boundaries of what is possible. At HB, we acknowledge this need for continuous improvement and have established an in-house Research and Development facility called HB Blueprint. This facility is dedicated to the ongoing development of superior technology and equipment, ensuring that we stay at the forefront of innovation and maintain a competitive edge in the industry.

What challenges have you faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?

Throughout my career, I have faced numerous challenges, including limited access to resources, staying current with cutting-edge technologies, and finding knowledgeable mentors in my field. Rather than being deterred by these obstacles, I have used them to fuel my determination and passion for success. By concentrating on self-education and relentlessly pursuing opportunities to learn from industry experts, I have embraced every possibility for growth and skill development. These experiences have not only enabled me to surmount hurdles but have also enriched my professional path and fostered personal growth.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

The pinnacle of my career has been my recruitment by HB and the opportunity to travel to Antwerp, Belgium. It was there that I gained exposure to numerous rare skills previously unknown in Botswana. I am deeply grateful for this incredible opportunity and am committed to working diligently every day to excel in my field. My aspiration is to one day share these invaluable skills with fellow Batswana, contributing to the growth and development of our nation.

What's something you know now that you wish you knew earlier in your career?

I have come to realize that with determination and focus, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. Africa is home to countless brilliant minds that have often been overshadowed by the misconception that we are incapable of innovation. To change this narrative, we must work tirelessly and demonstrate unwavering persistence in our pursuits.

 If any, what is the best advice you have received in your career?

Diligently strive to develop your professional profile and embrace every opportunity that you believe could contribute positively to your career. Don't let fear hold you back from pursuing new experiences and expanding your horizons.

Career-wise, where do you see Mbako in the next 5-10 years?

My passion for the diamond industry drives me to envision a future where I continue to be actively involved in it. I hope to become an influential figure within the sector and a valuable contributor to both Botswana and our economy. My aspiration is to pioneer the establishment of the first major, successful diamond cutting and polishing company in Botswana.

What advice can you give to young people who are interested in pursuing a career in tech?

Believe in our capabilities, work diligently, and fully dedicate ourselves to the tasks at hand. The essence of technology lies in creating solutions to our challenges and enhancing the simplicity and quality of our lives. By grasping this fundamental concept, we can pave the way for the development of innovative technologies that shape a better future.

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