F/town feels left out as economy nosedives

Ghost town: Haskins Street in Francistown during last yearu00e2u20acu2122s lockdown PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
Ghost town: Haskins Street in Francistown during last yearu00e2u20acu2122s lockdown PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG

FRANCISTOWN: Authorities in the city are concerned that government is limiting its focus to developing the Selebi-Phikwe economy leaving Francistown behind. 

This is despite the fact that the two urban areas have identical economic challenges. Regardless of several calls to save the Francistown economy,  it appears as if there is no urgent policy or initiatives formulated by the government to address the economic challenges of the country’s second city.

Francistown has experienced a serious decline in various sectors such as real estate, commerce and manufacturing since the closure of Tati Nickel Mining Company (TNMC).

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has also worsened the economic situation in the city. TNMC was the prime driver of the city’s economy. Phikwe also experienced a sharp decline following the unceremonious closure of BCL Mine (both TNMC and BCL were owned by BCL group until their closure in 2016 following liquidation), but government through the SPEDU has come up with strong measures to revive the economy of the town.

Businesses that set up in the SPEDU region enjoy incentives such as five percent Value Added Tax (VAT) for the first five years, 10% VAT thereafter.

They also enjoy zero customs duty on imported raw material amongst others. Some government tenders are also reserved for companies in the SPEDU region as a way of boosting economic activity in the area.

 For five years the government has been mulling over the idea of turning Francistown into a logistics hub of note as part of revitalising the city’s economy. However, the idea has failed to take off since then.

This week, Francistown South Member of Parliament (MP), Wynter Mmolotsi noted that he believes that there is no better approach for the revitalisation of the economy of Francistown than offering Francistown businesses or those that want to set up in the city incentives offered to Selebi-Phikwe ventures.

“For the past two years, I have been advising the government that the main policy responses adopted to revive the economy of Selebi-Phikwe should be extended to the city of Francistown.

Unfortunately, the government is not keen to take my advice,” a frustrated Mmolotsi said. 

He added: “Francistown and Selebi-Phikwe have the same economic challenges and social conditions that require the same policy interventions from government.”

In particular, Mmolotsi proposes that the government should establish the Francistown Economic Diversification Unit (FEDU). The MP believes that having a body devoted to driving the economic growth of the city is very key and essential looking at the prevailing circumstances.

Furthermore, Mmolotsi said he was deeply worried that efforts to turn Francistown into a logistics hub were yet take off despite the fact that the idea was mooted five years ago.

The Vision 2022, a brainchild of the Francistown City Council (FCC) identified Francistown as a logistics hub due to the city’s strategic positioning.

The whole idea behind the vision was to turn Francistown into an economic powerhouse (anchored by the logistics hub) in the northern part of the country.

The anticipated development (turning Francistown into a logistics hub) is not only seen as an initiative to catalyse the economic outlook of the city, but will also contribute to a more aesthetic view of the city with anticipated iconic buildings that resemble the culture of Botswana with special emphasis on the city’s culture through the adoption of local architectural designs.

Eighty percent of the anticipated developments will be for anchor activities whereas 20% will be for local investment and locally supporting activities.

It is also thought that the Kenneth Nkhwa Interchange, which acts as a getaway to Zimbabwe and Zambia, combined with the anticipated expansion to a dual carriageway of the A3 Road and the development of Gerald-Aerodrome link road, will enhance the ability of the city to function as a logistics hub of note.

For some time there have also been concerns (particularly from councillors, business owners and related stakeholders) that government is not doing much to turn the Vision 2022 (particularly turning Francistown into a logistics hub) into a reality.

Business Botswana (BB) Northern region manager, Eileen Van Der Est is amongst those who have been relentlessly calling on the government to extend incentives provided to SPEDU firms to Francistown businesses.

“Companies in Francistown should also be considered to be given incentives as provided for companies in SPEDU region to revive the city’s economy.

This should be done as a matter of urgency. Businesses in the city are going through a very hard time,” pleaded Van Der Est in a recent interview with Mmegi.

This week, Itekeng ward councillor, Lesego Kwambala also emphasised that Francistown needs incentives designed to encourage economic activity.

Priority in some tenders according to him should also be given to Francistown businesses.

 “There has to be something that entices business to set up in Francistown. It should be made cheaper to operate and set up businesses in Francistown.

This has to be prioritised and done as a matter of urgency,” he said. 

Kwambala is equally frustrated that it has taken so long to turn Francistown into a logistics hub.

Last week when addressing a full council meeting, Francistown mayor, Godisang Radisigo offered a hint about the proposed logistics hub.

He said plans by the FCC to turn Francistown into a logistic hub of note with the support of the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) were slowly gaining traction.

“The city is at a final stage of approval of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Master plan for the hub which will house a high-class logistics hub characterised by a work-live-play model of development,” Radisigo said.

The mayor indicated that the master plan was approved early this month and is to be adopted by the council.

“This will be followed by detailed engineering works, a cadastral survey of the layout and actual land servicing of phase one of the master plan, which is expected to start in April this year and run for a period of six months,” he said.

Phase One of the project will feature some core or anchor activities, which are the intermodal hub (road, rail and air) the truck shop, the dry port, the industrial warehouses as well as the SEZ business centre.

But Kwambala is worried that the lack of details on the modalities of the exact implementation of Phase One of the project suggests that it will take time for the logistics hub to be an established entity while residents continue to suffer.

“That is why I believe that as an alternative, the government should come up with incentives to businesses that want to set up in Francistown as a matter of urgency.

It will not be logical to pin our hopes (for the economic revival of the city) solely on full establishment of the logistics hub.”

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