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Botswana marching towards neoliberalism

SOLLY RAKGOMO
have for the past few years been studying Botswana’s economic decision making and with many recent developments I am now fully convinced that indeed our country is fast marching towards the neo liberal economic model whose origins can be traced to the western world and have gained more prominence during the ascension to power in the 1970s and 1980s of British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher and US president Ronald Reagan. This is a model of free market fundamentalism better known as neo liberalism.

According to Henry Giroux neoliberalism is a philosophy which construes profit making as the essence of democracy and consuming as the only operable form of citizenship. It also provides a rationale for a handful of private interests to control as much as possible of social, economic, and political life in order to maximise their personal profit. Neoliberalism, Giroux assets, is marked by a shift from the manufacturing to the service sector, the rise of temporary and part-time work, growth of the financial sphere and speculative activity, the spread of mass consumerism, the commodification of practically everything. It is indeed true that neoliberalism combines free market ideology with the privatisation of public wealth, the elimination of the social state and social protections, and the deregulation of economic activity. Core narratives of neoliberalism are: privatisation, deregulation, commodification, and the selling off of state functions.  Neoliberalism advocates lifting the government oversight of free enterprise/trade thereby not providing checks and balances to prevent or mitigate social damage that might occur as a result of the policy of “no governmental interference”; eliminating public funding of social services; deregulating governmental involvement in anything that could cut into the profits of private enterprise; privatising such enterprises as schools, hospitals, community-based organisations, and other entities traditionally held in the public trust; and eradicating the concept of “the public good” or “community” in favor of “individual responsibility.”

I have a strong believe that neo liberalism  is a form of economic terrorism because it abstracts economics from ethics and social costs, makes a mockery of democracy, works to dismantle the welfare state, thrives on militarisation, undermines any public sphere not governed by market values, and transforms people into commodities. Neoliberalism’s rigid emphasis on unfettered individualism, competitiveness and flexibility displaces compassion, sharing and a concern for the welfare of others. In doing so, Giroux argues that it dissolves crucial social bonds and undermines the profound nature of social responsibility and its ensuing concern for others.

In removing individuals from broader social obligations, it not only tears up social solidarities, it also promotes a kind of individualism that is almost pathological in its disdain for public goods, community, social provisions, and public values. Given its tendency to instrumentalise knowledge, it exhibits mistrust for thoughtfulness, complexity, and critical dialogue and in doing so contributes to a culture of stupidity and cruelty in which the dominant ethic is organised around the discourse of war and

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a survival of the fittest mentality. Neoliberalism is the antithesis of democracy.

For many years, some influential members of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank notably Christine Lagarde have continued to visit Botswana and hold meetings with economic gurus of this country especially officials from Bank of Botswana to offer “expert” economic advise. Botswana has been over many years advised by these agents of economic imperialism to make some economic reforms such as making drastic cuts on civil service, cuts in public service salaries, privatise all the public goods and make Botswana extremely more open to foreign direct investment.

Furthermore these economic sharks masquerading as “expert advisors” calls for the dismantling of the social welfare state which has always cushioned the poor against poverty and hunger. The Botswana Government has been advised by these so called “experts” that government have to roll back from economic business and leave everything to the vagaries of the market forces. Readers must understand that by the state rolling back means selling off of public assets like schools, hospitals, public enterprises to the private sector.

The private sector here means the local financial elites and corporations from western countries like the United States of America and Asia. What follows next is the ruthless retrenchment of those who are deemed surplus to requirement from the privatised entities in order to ensure profit to the corporations and send retrenched workers to a dehumanising life of poverty and squalor.

When you look deeper into Botswana since the persistent nagging by IMF for Botswana to privatize, privatization has become a buzzword. Some public tertiary institutions are earmarked for takeover by private tertiary institution investors where tuition fees will skyrocket high. A public enterprise like the BCL mine was shut down late last year, resulting in around six thousand people losing their jobs. Newspaper reports have shown that some ultra-rich Asian or Arab businessmen have been spotted around Selibe Phikwe with the aim of buying the mine or entire Selibe Phikwe and push the whole project under private ownership. The other public entity to go is the Morupule B plant where a certain Chinese company will soon takeover pushing power tarrifs to the rafters. There has been talk of privatising the Botswana Meat Commission and the countries’ only national airliner- Air Botswana. These entities will follow in the footsteps of the already privatised Botswana Telecommunications Corporation. Tough times ahead.



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