So where to from here?

Glory- Flat from land scape.Pic.Kagiso Onkatswitse
Glory- Flat from land scape.Pic.Kagiso Onkatswitse

If Botswana were a building, we would now have arrived at the 49th floor after labouring up the stairway, tripping, standing and dusting ourselves off to reach the apex. So where to from here? Mmegi Correspondent, GALE NGAKANE reports

Imagine taking the steps of Sky Lounge in the swanky Gaborone Central Business District (CBD) with its 19 floors.  With Botswana the climber would be left with 30 more floors.

By the time you get to Floor Number 19, the indefatigable are ready to move on, or die trying, while the tired surrender to the forces of negativity.

When we look back, it is possible to see the smudges, some of them as distant as the day of independence that frustrated our forward march as a nation.

This is not to discount the triumphs that ensued, so much that only congratulations are in order for the protagonists.

Now that we have arrived at year 2015 with only a year left before the country comes of age, musing is allowed.

For instance, can we be allowed to muse about what could be happening now had a different party been at the helm when we took the first step to self-determination?

Should we have had Phillip Matante as president instead of Seretse Khama? Should we have postponed the mining of diamonds and let agriculture continue flourishing? Or should we have run them simultaneously instead of shutting the eye on one honeypot and concentrating the mind and appetite on another?

That is, trying to strike a balance so as to come up with an equitable pie.

Just how strong would have been this country’s economy should it have opted for some of those questions instead of others?

After answering the questions, we are then able to ask, where Botswana would be by now?

Would it have turned into a failed impoverished and backward country with no future?

Would we be roaming the streets of Gaborone and other places with little or no other investment in place, except for cows, donkeys, horses and maize plantations?

Or would Botswana have been the nectar of Africa whose streets would be paved with diamonds, with every other African making a beeline to either benchmark or make business deals with progressive entities?

At the ground floor, that is, 1966, Botswana was a barren backward spot in the world that I believe not many people wanted to be associated with.

It was certainly unlike other Sub-Saharan African countries, which despite the inevitability of independence finally coming their way, the colonial powers were still reluctant to relinquish power because of the  riches and many other strategic benefits they wanted to cling to.

While down south, South Africa was a pariah to the international community, Botswana would have been suited by that status given its backwardness and the fact that colonial masters incurred losses instead of gains when they were the overlords of the country.

However, a few years down the line, Botswana managed to wean itself from that financial dependence.

In 1976, Botswana introduced its pula and thebe currencies as the economy was starting to shape up, thanks to diamond discovery, which placed the country on the high speed train to economic progress and development.

Diamonds started pumping in money such that at one stage Botswana was regarded as one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, even the world.

People started being awash with cash, even those that had been condemned to eternal poverty and servitude.

So much that, some people went crazy the moment the tide turned in their favour. They would either throw away the coins because they were not chickens to be fed maize grains, or wrap cigarettes with notes to indicate that money was no problem.

The banking system was virtually challenged in those days because most people who had the means stashed money inside trunks in their houses. They cared little or not at all about banks, though they (the banks) could have helped look after the money better.

As for the country, government started talking in billions when it embarked on infrastructural development, which made Botswana the envy of other African countries.

Besides the roads and water reticulation, the education and health sectors were also created and later revamped to be either on par, or within striking distance of world standards.

Education and health spurred the country’s citizens who now include professors, doctors, engineers, corporate executives, army generals and more, to take the economy into their hands. Botswana’s foreign reserves also started increasing such that this year they stood at P88,670,925.  That is very rich for a country of slightly over two million people.

This is because between 1966 and 1999, Botswana, according to analysts had the highest average economic growth rate in the world, averaging about nine percent per year.

By the time we reached 30 years, the private sector employed, on average, about 10 percent per annum. At the start of the 21st century, however, the economy of Botswana stagnated up until the early 2010s, when it registered for the first time since the economic boom, a GDP growth above the six to seven percent target.

 Botswana is also commended for being Africa’s longest and among the world’s longest economic booms (which almost surpassed  Asia’s largest economies). The relatively high quality of the country’s statistics means that these figures are likely to be quite accurate. The government has consistently maintained budget surpluses and has extensive foreign exchange reserves.

Botswana’s impressive economic record has been built on a foundation of diamond mining, prudent fiscal policies, international financial and technical assistance, and a cautious foreign policy. It is rated the least corrupt country in Africa, according to international corruption watchdog, Transparency International. By one estimate, it has the fourth highest gross national income at purchasing power parity in Africa, giving it a standard of living around that of Mexico and Turkey.

Unfortunately, diamonds soon overtook and overwhelmed agriculture to a point where it ceased to be the lifeline of any Motswana.

Around the 1990’s, under the government of Rre Masire, there was a push to revitalise the manufacturing industry.

Fledging manufacturing companies were incentivised through government support in the form of tax holidays and ease of access to finance.

Textile companies, which employed thousands of young Batswana women and men opened shop in places like Gaborone, Francistown and Selebi Phikwe.

The companies made fabrics, which they exported to the outside world, hence lending thought that they had the potential to contribute significantly to the economy.

The manufacturing sector was supported by a non-governmental organisation, Exporters Association of Botswana (EAOB) that has since transmogrified into Botswana Export and Manufacturing Association (BEMA).

At one point, Sir Ketumile Masire opened a conference hosted by the organisation in Maun.

EAOB, whose president was the late Eitlhopha Mosinyi, had membership of the business community, especially top manufacturing companies like Hyundai, Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), Lobatse Clayworks and government departments responsible for the manufacturing and exporting companies.

EAOB lobbied government to continue supporting the industry as it saw it as having the potential of helping the country diversify from diamonds, or minerals.

By so doing (the manufacturing industry’s growth), the country would reap good rewards that would be added to the basket for the economy to flourish.

The other fear is that should we identify the smudges and try to retrace our steps to paint the spots, are we saying, there would not be a recurrence?

Following the presidential directive on the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD), the Government of Botswana has embarked on the initiative to promote the growth of a vibrant and globally competitive private sector.

The EDD initiative is designed as a paradigm shift in the economic diversification effort.

This is because the EDD follows:

i. an integrative approach, which brings together all stakeholders (government ministries and departments, parastatals, private sector, civil society and labour unions) on one table to achieve a common agenda;

ii. a clear definition of Critical Success Factors for any sector being developed;

iii. a holistic approach to each Sector/Sub-Sector development; and

iv. a balanced contribution of the Private Sector that is based on well-articulated strengths and opportunities as well as weaknesses and threats that require government support.

It is envisaged that the EDD initiative will heighten diversification of the economy into sectors that will continue to grow long after minerals have run out.

The private sector is expected to be the main driver of the EDD core Thematic Areas, namely, Sectoral Development and Business Linkages, and Export Development and Promotion.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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