My Year End Break at the Debating Championship

Graham Sowa

At the World Universities Debating Championship in Botswana

This past December I used my time off from medical school in Cuba to fulfill my role as Registration Director for the World Universities Debating Championship in Botswana.  The World Universities Debating Championship is a 32 year old event that brings together university students from at least 150 universities and 40 countries every December and January.

This year the tournament was held in Botswana at the University of Botswana.  Botswana is an unlikely host for a tournament of this caliber.

Botswana is landlocked in Southern Africa with a population of around 2 million people and greatly lacking capacity to host such a large contingent of visitors.  There were plenty of people arguing that Botswana would be a poor host.  However, these criticisms lose sight of the purpose of debate.

The World Universities Debating Championship debate is an international forum.  It is an event free of censored speech and trivial regional political correctness.

The World Universities Debating Championship in Botswana

Sides of the debate are randomly assigned, and debaters must argue the position their assigned position (opposition or proposition) no matter their personal beliefs on the subject.  The exercise here is to become intellectually dynamic when it comes to critiquing and defending ideas.

All of the debates are held in English, although there are divisions for native English speakers and those who learned English as a second language.  An example of some participants competing as “English as a second language” (ESL) participants are those from the Universidad Central de Venezuela.  Teams from the Americas besides the United States and Canada are rare.

The World Universities Debating Championship in Botswana

The Caribbean was represented by two universities from Jamaica:  Jamaica University of Technology and The University of the West Indies Mona campus.  Venezuela was the only South American team at this year’s debate championship, and Central America had no participating teams.  However this could soon change, as the Universidad Central de Venezuela is planning a Latin American debate championship in 2011.

Those people saying Botswana was ready to host this event and Botswana was not ready to host have had various elements of their arguments proven erroneous and correct.  However, most of these arguments are about the logistics and social events surrounding the tournament, not the content of the debates themselves.

The idea of debate is to be able to discuss any issue, in any forum.  For example, the motion debated in the final round of Botswana Worlds 2011 “This House would invade Zimbabwe.”  Of course the debaters introduced various reasons for invading Zimbabwe and reasons why Zimbabwe should not be invaded.

This debate took place in Botswana, which shares a border with Zimbabwe, and with Zimbabweans present in the audience.  No one got outraged; no one accused the motion or the proposing teams of being anti-revolutionaries. There was simply a smart, lively debate over the topic and then a winner was announced.

For more information on the World Universities Debating Championship and what happened in Botswana visit

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Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

Graham has 89 posts and counting. See all posts by Graham

2 thoughts on “My Year End Break at the Debating Championship

  • @webber
    hey, just asked to join the group on facebook, so you can hit me back through there. i’m not doing anything with debate in cuba at the moment…i’m in med school and that takes as much time as i have

    besides i’d much rather deal with an organization/group that was already doing something with debate here…if i tried to start something it would probably just die when i left or didn’t have enough time for it.

    however, at Worlds i did meet and talk quite a bit with the debate coach/team from Universidad Central de Venezuela….they want to host a World’s style debate tournament for debate in Latin America in Spanish. hit me up on facebook for details.

  • Hey Graham, good on you for going to work the tournament in Botswana and throwin down with my boy Justice as well as representing for good ole’ Grapevine. Hopefully we will have some teams coming from Mexico pretty soon. We’re gettin it started over here if you ever wanna drop in on us. I used to coach on the US/Texas circuit back in the day but now i’m trying to get something going here in Mexico. Check us out on FB:!/home.php?sk=group_122389464491633
    Are you guys doing anything with debate over in Cuba? We would be interested.

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