With citizens trying but largely failing to make a significant mark in manufacturing over the decades, much solace has been from the fact that Batswana tycoons dominate in the transport sector. Staff Writer BABOKI KAYAWE speaks to BOCCIM Transport Sector chair, Gobusamang Keebine on the citizen niche and the challenges of the manufacturing sector
Mmegi: What would you say are the main reasons behind the lack of growth and sustainability of citizen-owned businesses?
Gobusamang Keebine (GK): The lack of growth of citizen-owned companies is mainly occasioned by several issues among them lack of adequate capital injection occasioned by stringent demands by financial institutions. The other factor is that there is very little support by multi-nationals operating in the country.
For instance, in the transport and agricultural sector the likes of Spar, Pick ‘n Pay use their own trucks or South African trucks for transportation. These operations also pay peanuts or refuse to buy local produce.
There is no deliberate policy for these organisations to work with locals to up their produce to the standard required as it is the case in South Africa where government policies insist on these mega stores to have local syndicates helping with technical expertise including funding greenhouses, water and water reticulation. Take the South African agriculture sector for example, policy requires that citizen entrepreneurs in this field have access to experts who help them prepare, and do soil tests to determine what crops or vegetables would be suitable.
Mmegi: The transport sector has been seen as one area where local or citizen entrepreneurs are thriving in. Do you concur with this point of view?
GK: The public transport sector is probably better performing though the operators will tell you that they are not.
This is due to the fact that government and the likes of Botswana National Sport Council always hire external buses for mega events that require mass transportation. Hence we have seen major complaints and have had these discussed at the High Level Consultative Council.
Mmegi: Is the success in a way attributable to the fact that the sector is protected by government, especially the public transport sphere were foreign players are denied entry?
GK: These operators could perform much better if they had the necessary government support. Currently, the trucking fraternity is the one totally done under because South African multi-nationals like UNITRANS and others get all the work and they do outsource to locals at very low returns, to the extent that the trucking companies have requested the Ministry of Transport for rate regulations. They have argued that the rates they are offered as subcontractors are uneconomic.
Mmegi: Government has put in place a number of interventions (funding and mentoring processes) for instance, through the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency loans, Young Farmers Fund as well as the establishment of the Local Enterprise Authority. Despite these efforts, citizen enterprises are failing to successfully take ground and flourish. In your analysis, what might be lacking in these initiatives?
GK: Like I said earlier, a young farmer without requisite farming skills would produce what your Pick ‘n Pay calls low grade produce and pay such a farmer very low rates, which are uneconomical. Ideally, such a farmer should be mentored on the job and a deliberate collaborative working environment needs to set the right standard of produce, which would then be entered into between the farmer and Pick ‘n Pay. Clearly the young farmer compete with very established farmers in South Africa who have the benefit of longevity on the job and support from the same Pick ‘n Pay as per South African policy.
Mmegi: In which sectors would you say there is potential for local entrepreneurs to venture into?
GK: Truly any and all as long as the government of Botswana comes up with radical policies that protect local produce. For instance when Walmart took over Massmart in South Africa, (Game stores) the South African government was very stringent on how and what local production should not be negatively affected. In Botswana we could not have bothered, rather the takeover could have been allowed to materialise without any conditions. If Botswana cares about employment creation and sustainability of its industries, radical changes on the outlook of the country policies are critical.