We must either accept that this was one of the weirdest comments ever made about this government or agree that it comes close to being the most disturbing.
At the recent launching of David Magang’s second volume of Delusions of Grandeur, guest speaker, Dr Keith Jefferis, a former deputy governor of the Bank of Botswana, managing director of Econsult Botswana and one of the most, perhaps the most, respected economist, in the country remarked that ‘after lots of interaction with different government bodies, I have concluded that government doesn’t understand and trust the private sector. As a result it wishes to keep a tight grip on what companies do’.
Presumably resulting from this dismaying conclusion, Jefferis noted that, ‘many aspects of the business climate could be improved, often at little cost, by simple regulatory reform’ – implying that no effort is made to do so. He further noted that the current situation is ‘compounded by the anti-foreigner attitude that results in counter-productivity and that,’ the immigration point system has made matters worse’ because it is administered by people, ‘with a wrong attitude towards foreigners, who use the system to deport, and deny foreigners entry into the country.
(Mmegi 31.7.15). It is probable that similar points were made by Magang in his two-volume book, by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee only a few weeks ago and by the now newly styled. BOCCIM. So let us accept that all these observations, however astonishing, even bizarre, are dead accurate and correctly reflect what is now happening. Bot does it make any sort of sense?
Yes, over the years the government has sought more to control than to enable. But it has also spent millions in an attempt to attract foreign investors. But, as the Parliamentary Committee remarked, and as appears to be well known, it has then denied work and residence permits to some of those it had recently persuaded to invest here as well as those of longer standing who were significant contributors to the economy, the well being of society and employers of local citizens.
This is uncomfortably similar to the practice of those ladies who acquire foreign husbands, quietly dispossess them and then dump them. The unchallenged notion that the government is anti-foreigner does, however, contradict just about everything that has been written or said about the people of this country.
It would seem to follow either that the government is acting against the general feeling of society that foreigners, subject to the usual norms, are welcome and needed or, alternatively, that it knows very well that,
Yet how can the government be anti-foreigner and anti-business when so many in it, at every level and from top to bottom, civil servant and politician, are involved in a bid to bring in the business goodies, not least from tenders. Perhaps this is an exercise in exclusion.
Thus, remove those foreigners who won’t engage in the front-runner game or those who fail to make the usual donations. But with major problems of power and water supply, a record of poor productivity and an inappropriately educated work force, and with the prospects for the young looking so grim, inclusion makes much more sense than exclusion.
It may be an explanation of sorts that the government sees this as pay back time for years of pre-Independence diminishment and is determined to demonstrate that it has no need of foreigners because there will always be a Motswana on hand to do the job that an expatriate was previously doing.
If even slightly correct, this may be a stage that the country has to experience, as other countries have done, as it makes the shift from colonial dependency to self assured, self confident comfortable sovereign state.
All earlier commentators, however, have noted the ease with which the country’s first President, Seretse, was able to achieve that very difficult transition in circumstances that were infinitely more difficult to those today. Fifty years on, the government appears now to be demonstrating the kinds of post independence resentment that might have earlier emerged.
Who now cannot be concerned? Is resentment, individual or collective, now a corner stone of government practice? But where is practice and where is policy? When decisions are taken to deny permits to foreign investors, long term or recent, big or more modestly scaled, the surprising absence of protest suggests that all MPs are agreed that the loss of jobs that results in their constituencies is a price that has to be paid.
Perhaps an explanation of sorts for this strange situation can be found in the comment made long ago about Kenneth Kaunda – that he was capable of holding contradictory ideas in a state of mutual balance. Does that somehow sum it up?