Re-claiming the insurance industry for Batswana

Ahead of the celebration of 50 years of our nation’s independence, I penned an opinion piece on how Batswana Ba Sekei continue to be on the fringes of the national economy.

This issue, the growth of the economy and unemployment will continue to be the key issues to which we must, as a nation, dedicate our energies.

This is our inconvenient reality. The retail sector is for people of Indian extraction; the construction sector for those of Chinese and Arab extraction; the petroleum sector, for Indian retailers; while the insurance industry is by and large the preserve of people of Zimbabwean and South African extraction (if the word can be used in that context). 

Ours is a largely racial economy and the South Africans would be justified to scorn us that we achieved that without apartheid. We just let it happen. It can’t be right. There are so many Batswana who could just as well be involved. Don’t ask me who stopped them.

It is government’s duty to ensure that Batswana Ba Sekei are capacitated to play a meaningful role in the national economy and that policies and structures are in place to ensure they have a fighting chance against foreigners who come overly resourced and well capacitated to play against them.

In law, we say that treating un-equals equally is in and of itself a form of discrimination.

Picture this; the big underwriting companies in the insurance industry are almost all South African owned. We have about five Batswana brokerage firms.  The balance are mainly Zimbabwean owned. 

Typically, locals survive in the fringes, as insurance agents.  They knock from door to door, surviving on paltry commission pay and exposed to all manner of risks, including sexual abuse. Batswana are errand boys in the insurance industry. There is no indigenous, big insurance Botswana company that underwrites, just like there is no Botswana indigenous Bank. Clearly something is not right! 

Yes, ours is a capitalist system. It’s a liberal economy.  However, we must accept that our country is economically divided along racial lines. We must find a way of ensuring that Batswana Ba Sekei are supported in their endeavours to actively participate in mainstream, as opposed to peripheral  economic activities. 

The government, regulators and chamber(s) of businesses cannot demand of us to ignore this ugly reality under the fraudulent pretext of national unity and racial inclusivity.  We owe no apology to the world for empowering Batswana Ba Sekei. 

Why should the interests of Batswana Ba Sekei - yes you heard me right - be disregarded under some flimsy pretext of racial harmony? I warn that I will refer to indigenous Batswana as Batswana Ba Sekei throughout this piece. It might not be politically expedient to some, but I will not be dissuaded from doing so. Can I be truly independent for just this month, please?

Batswana Ba Sekei must face and accept as a fact, the reality that the economic scales are tilted towards Batswana of other racial or national origins. It doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault. It is a problem regardless. Economic disparities continue to be the defining feature amongst Batswana and closely follow race and nationality. 

The lives of Batswana Ba Sekei, in this country, remain marked by economic exclusion, and pervasive inequality. Young people are the hardest hit, and remain the most vulnerable.

There is no need for an apologetic approach to this crisis. We don’t have legislation on empowerment and as such it is not justiciable. 

This socio economic injustice has been cleverly perpetuated and left to fester by the ruling party to please their funders.  Our clueless opposition must take some blame too. They have never seen the urgency to put up a fight over this long overdue problem thanks in part to an obsession with to politics of empty rhetoric and their near absolute fascination with the diamond and tourism sectors.

There is absolute vagueness as to what ought to be done to in order to ensure that Batswana Ba Sekei take centre-stage in the ownership, control and management of the economy. As a result, regulators, government procurement and private companies have abused the status quo and Batswana remain completely in the cold.

The policies and programmes of government have been more concerned with micro enterprises and less with positioning Batswana to lay claim to significant market share in key economic sectors.  To this day, there’s no Citizen Empowerment Act and no innovative systems and mechanisms by PPADB to monitor citizen empowerment on their end. 

Having no indigenous Botswana insurance underwriting company(s) is a serious indictment on our part as a nation.  NBFIRA cannot gloatingly tell us, each year, in their annual reports how many South African  loan sharks they have registered, without advising the country at large what they are doing to ensure there is inclusiveness of Batswana on mainstream financial services sectors.

We cannot accept poor assigned roles as cheap insurance consumers and door to door insurance sales consultants. We have a right if not a bigger moral right to be owners of this important sector of the economy. 

The annual reports of most government departments, agencies and parastatals, ought to reflect how these organisations have moved to give indigenous Batswana, youth, and women an opportunity in the economy.

Government must take keen interest in the Insurance sector and how the massive wealth in this sector is benefiting the national economy.

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