Last Updated
Thursday 18 December 2014, 14:58 pm.
Ndaba's burden (Final)

In this final part of a profile of economist and Botswana Movement for Democracy policy thinker Ndaba Gaolathe, staff writer TSHIRELETSO MOTLOGELWA tracks the inspiration behind the young businessman's economic philosophy and his role in the opposition BMD
By Staff Writer Sat 20 Dec 2014, 12:23 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Ndaba's burden (Final)








As things would turn out, by the late 1990s, Hidipo Hamutenya was sidelined after he sought to succeed the powerful Sam Nujoma as Namibian President while the latter wanted to anoint Hifikepunye Pohamba.

Ndaba returned to Botswana to join the country's think tank the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis in 1997. President Quett Masire, who had vast experience at the economic stewardship of the country, had seen to the establishment of BIDPA two years earlier. Its sole objective is to offer policy analyses through research and to monitor the country's economic performance. BIDPA was more prominent then, that being the time when economist Festus Mogae took over as President.

Ndaba wanted to be part of the brain trust that would scrutinize economic policy. BIDPA was keen to equip its members of staff with world-class training, often sending 'neophytes' for further training at some of the best universities in the world. Ndaba was engaged by the think tank as an assistant research fellow specializing in macroeconomic modelling, computer programming and macroeconomic analysis. Under the founding Executive Director, Jan Isaksen, who possessed vast experience in economics, BIDPA was bustling with activity and ambition.

Afterall, at the head of state, Festus Mogae, who enjoyed pondering economic issues too.

BIDPA was made up of a team of experienced researchers in all major sectors of the economy. It balanced this experience with youthful zeal exemplified by young researchers like Ndaba and Lisenda Lisenda. It engaged in a variety of work that would have varying degrees of influence on policy development. Among many examples often cited is the 1995 Study of Poverty and Poverty Alleviation at the request of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. Other included the Regional Study of Cattle and Maize, a look at Botswana's monetary policy, a study of the impact of HIV/AIDS and an analysis of the country's Exchange Rate Policy.

The board of BIDPA included none other than Ndaba's father, Baledzi Gaolathe, then Governor of the Bank of Botswana, as well as Kenneth Matambo, then Permanent Secretary at the finance ministry, and Modiri Mbaakanyi of the Botswana Confederation of Commerce Industry and Manpower. Ndaba had other reasons for coming home too: "I thought Botswana could help me settle down."

However, BIDPA had other plans for Ndaba: it was time to go for further studies. He chose the famous Wharton Institute. The Wharton School of Business is one of the top such schools in the world. The Financial Times has ranked it at the top until this year. Ndaba was among a select few who would become cogs in the world economy.

"If you get there and you think you are the best, you'll be shocked. If you come second after last, you are still going to become the CEO of a major company," he explains. The opportunity to make money - serious money - was at his fingertips. Thus the joke about him: "They said I was going to be the poorest person ever to graduate from Wharton. My friends are extremely wealthy.

"In Botswana, if you work for Barclays, it's very good. But at Wharton, they would be shocked. You would hide it if you ended up there. If you became a government minister, they think you are a failure," he says with a serious - almost sombre - face.

Orlena Nwokah Blanchard met Ndaba at Wharton. "He struck me as highly intellectual. Yet he was so humble in his desire to fulfil his destiny to serve his people. His love of his country and his idea of 'duty to serve' was without match," says Blanchart.

"We were all interested in a lot of things. We were breaking new ground; trying to break new ground in the world of finance and economics," says Ndaba.

However, business schools have their critics. In their paper, Pedagogical Objects in Management Education: A Cultural-Historical Critique, Norman Crump and Bogdan Costea of Lancaster University argue that prestigious business schools such as Wharton offer an 'academic' cover and a legitimate role to the monolithic world of economic conservatism. Crump and Costea see business schools as the bridesmaid of the modern capitalist world, dealing more in something akin to indoctrination than enquiry and interrogation of all economic ideologies. In turn, the graduates of these universities - people like Ndaba, as a matter of fact - get to become the anointed sons and daughters of this system, thrust onto the top plane of the corporate world.

Crump and Costea continue: "The dominant economic doctrine in business education is centred on neo-classical views. Through neo-classical macro and micro economics, courses ensure that the overall 'space' of managerial practice is portrayed as a space of transactions between rational agents seeking to optimise the use of scarce resources and information."

These are the debates that have been unfolding in the Western world. However, for someone like Ndaba, the challenge is even more specific. Critics of Western universities like Wharton say such institutions play more than an 'apologist' role in the perpetuation of the defective international economic system which has failed to avail the benefits of so-called economic development to the majority of the world's people in the Third World which people like Ndaba call home.

In many instances, non-western scholars criticise Ivy League institutions and other prestigious tertiary institutions in the West for working alongside such Western-controlled institutions as the World Bank and the IMF and as a part of that apparatus. Ndaba says this is a legitimate concern and becomes more specific: the problem is the American model. "The American model has not worked, and we know that Wall Street has been criticized for its role in the recession. Wall Street is full of Wharton graduates," he concedes.

However, he argues that some products of Wharton have broken away from the American model. "Ivy League guys tend to perpetuate the system, but they can also break new ground and create opportunities for others," he argues. It was at Wharton that Ndaba realised that the role of government in guiding economic development is important. He found that by bridging the gap between public resources and private expertise, government could act as a driver of the economy. In the model, government harnessing available resources would adopt the expertise of the private sector and partner with it, and in some cases even develop corporate bodies in which it would retain control.

He realised that the state could adopt some practices found in the corporate world to improve on its ability to deliver. Ndaba is a big believer in the central role of government, contrary to the philosophy spawned by the Thatcher and Reagan regimes of small government. The Thatcher and Reagan duopoly also spawned the orthodoxy of privatization, which became the dictum of Western economic thought from the 1980s. This permeated the world's funding bodies like the World Bank and the IMF where the US wields power and thus became the ideology behind the prescription handed out to Third World countries as a precondition for funding.

One would expect Ndaba to be a disciple of that ideology. However, unlike those of the 'neo-liberal' school who believe government should pull out of all meaningful activity in the economy, Ndaba's draft of the Botswana Movement for Democracy's economic and industrial policy shows a direction towards bigger government whose resources are channelled through government-owned corporate entities, if such a thing exists, in the form some might call the state-capitalist model.

He believes that in an economy like Botswana, small but relatively endowed with national resources, the state needs to offer the overriding influence over economic activity. Ndaba believes government should run a state holding company that would guide the state's investment in strategic sectors of the economy. This is a radical departure from the economic school of the ruling party which has been under the economic guidance of such neo-liberal ideologues as Festus Mogae for decades.

But this idea has been taking more and more centre stage in post-Debswana debacle Botswana disillusioned with lack of citizen economic empowerment in the midst the economic growth of the last four decades. The Government of Botswana is in the process of putting together a state oil company - something unimaginable in the recent past.

In Ndaba's economic plan, the government adopts a corporate outlook, adopting the private sector's profit motive in some of its enterprises, utilising corporate sector methods within the civil service and running its own companies, in some cases in partnership with the private sector. Botswana occupies a special place, at least until recent times, of having enough resources to meet its own budget needs. Botswana, during the heyday of diamonds, also accumulated substantial foreign reserves that now stand at P54 947 million. Ndaba thinks resources should be invested in sectors that can bring more value.

Central to Ndaba's model is the role of think tanks to offer expertise to government's forays into the private sector. He believes government's resources remain locked and provide no further value while they could be invested in a myriad of activities, guided by the expertise of think tanks.

Ndaba returned to BIDPA in 1999 with an MBA in Finance. However, he did not stay long. "I picked up a lot of things to do on the economy which did not need government per se but needed niche institutions like BIDPA. We don't have institutions that can bridge the gap between ideas and business reality. If somebody has a great business idea, it remains that," he says. Ndaba wrote a paper on the need for government to set up an equity fund from which investment would flow to develop a strong local economy.

In 2000, he quit BIDPA to form his own company, Delele, with a view to offering business and advisory services. But business was not forthcoming and the company evolved towards strategic services for companies such as market studies and advice for companies seeking to move into those markets. "We would do a market encroachment strategy. First of all, check whether there is a market, target that market and help the company raise the necessary funding. We also advised on strategic alliances," he says.

In 2002, Delele made a proposal for Botswana Insurance Fund Management to pioneer the same idea Ndaba had of forming a venture fund with the giant pension managers. Photon was a joint venture between Delele (Pty) Ltd. and Bifm, the largest fund-manager in the Botswana market with more than US$1 billion under its management.

Ndaba and his partner would invest their deep knowledge of how companies functioned and which business ideas and sectors were worthy of pursuit, while Bifm would offer capital to establish new businesses.

However, Ndaba says the two partners fell out when they differed over many major issues. Ndaba was the largest individual shareholder in Photon which wielded capabilities in market, organizational, operational and integrated strategy as well as in financial structuring.

They established Botswana's pioneering private equity initiative, Cassiopeia Private Equity Fund, capitalized at more than P120 million (approximately US$25 million). Another major thrust for Ndaba was not to only develop local businesses but to assist them in moving into the sub-continent. "Bifm thought we were dreamers," he says, laughing. Delele crossed into South Africa. "We ended up doing large projects there," he explains, face turning serious. The company was engaged to review the strategy of the Financial Services Business Unit of Ithala Corporation in Kwa-Zulu Natal, provided project management for Mangaung Municipality's brand strategy, raised and structured funding for various companies from real estate, hotel and tourism ventures to IT, and did consultancy work for the Japanese Embassy encompassing an extensive study of the automotive and IT sectors.

As we sit down for lunch on the terrace of the President Hotel in the Main Mall, looking down on Batswana going about their business, hawking sculptures and selling phone credit and cooked lunches, Ndaba looks down at the hustle and bustle down below.

"We can make a difference, but we just don't have the leadership," he says. Since the evolution of the BMD, Ndaba has been compelled to spend more time in Botswana and one senses the ease with which he interacts with people. He feels a sense of responsibility towards Batswana who want a change of leadership.But not unlike his father Gaolathe, Ndaba is not made of political material. His BMD comrades say he is ill at ease in the gamesmanship that political parties demand. He is more of a thinker and finds little interest in political positions.

However, the caveat is that in our political landscape, one cannot be at the centre of thinking without political power. Therefore, sooner or later, Ndaba may have to occupy some sort of political position if he is to influence things in any effective way. Gaolathe the father, who found politics a tedious process, inevitably had to find a position in the political structure. Or more specifically, those who wanted Gaolathe had to clear the political space and reserve a place for him. Both Masire and Mogae, appreciating the vital input of Gaolathe's policy expertise, often paved the way for his political journey to be easier.

Within the BMD, those close to the leadership say Party Chairperson Gomolemo Motswaledi, who is very close to Ndaba, has been the one to protect Ndaba, often taking bullets for him when those steeped in political engagement took aim at the economist.

"Motswaledi appreciates that people like Ndaba, while not political heavyweights and not even interested in the accumulation of political power, are very vital to the brain trust of a party. Often, therefore, Motswaledi is the one who fights for Ndaba when it comes to political battles because he knows that Ndaba will be very useful in linking political ideology with policy," an insider says.

Despite the similarities in thinking and agreement on many political and economic issues, Mma Gaolathe says Ndaba is not really a carbon copy of his dad. "Even as early as when he was a teenager, he would sometimes express his opinion, but diplomatically. He would just say, 'But you daddy,'" she shakes her head and laughs.
Ndaba says Gaolathe always consulted with his children. "So son has finally broken ranks with dad?," I offer. "The break-up of the BDP, unprecedented in the history of the country, sent waves around the world." He smiles. "I think the old man understood my position," he answers.

There is a shift within the political landscape that the BMD is a part of. Some analysts have even suggested that a new generation, Ndaba's, is taking over. Ndaba says the country needs a new mentality, which the ruling party does not have. Whether as part of a new generation or a new economic outlook, it remains to be seen if that boy who had to climb a tree from the branch in the 1990s will play any meaningful role in the future of this country.

Next week, THIS GENERATION continues as we chart a course with state prosecutor Kgosietsile Ngakaagae.



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