It is a great honour to be patron of the 2015 Youth Leadership Training Programme.
It is also a great delight to be among such a promising gathering of the leaders of tomorrow. Certainly, when I’m in the midst of young people bristling with vim and vitality as you do, I too feel much younger than my 70-plus years!
Youth are the future. We have heard such a statement so often that it now borders on the hackneyed. It stops just short of being a cliché. Yet it rings very true. You the youth are not only the future: you are the present. You offer energy and vibrancy. Youth flowers intensely, but briefly, and while it can be a period of confusion, it is also a time of great opportunity.
Every society is like a bouquet of flowers where each flower participates to make the bouquet wonderful, and each flower has a different colour, fragrance and size but together making the bouquet brighter, attractive and beautiful. Young people are part of the bouquet of a society, but their role is more important. They are an integral and essential part of a society and a society is incomplete without young blood. Therefore it is said: Todays youth are the force, hope and leaders of tomorrow”, because they are the future of the community, society and, country.
Now, if we, as senior citizens from the various segments of nation-building endeavour to recognise you as our stars and stripes of tomorrow, are we giving you enough support to enable you to ascend to the commanding heights we envisage of you? Are we empowering you? These are questions we should, and must ask ourselves because indications are, in my view, we have failed you dismally.
We have long graduated from a dirt-poor country 50 years ago to an upper middle income country today. For more than 30 years, we were the world’s fastest growing economy in GDP terms. We have built a whole Mount Kilimanjaro of foreign exchange reserves over the years. We are said to be one of Africa’s healthiest economies. What is ironic, however, is that we have very little to show in terms of tangibles on the ground. The overwhelming majority of our youth remain unemployed. Poverty is endemic, particularly in the rural areas.
The gap between the haves and have-nots has seen exponential growth, yet the economy of the country has been stagnating over the recent years. In my view, we are clearly at the cross roads and we have to self-introspect as a nation to determine the appropriate direction to follow. Remember that this country was dirt poor at independence. The earlier generation, without educational background, was able to bring this country to the present stage of development. For many years Botswana was touted as the “Model of Africa“, at least in terms of GDP and public infrastructural development, strong convertible currency, low external debt position, high foreign exchange reserves, etc. However, what is of great concern is that inspite of the success that the country has hitherto experienced, there are now deep-seated problems such as economic stagnation leading to unemploment, poverty, deteriorating and unmaintained infrastructure, etc.
What is clear is that the present generation, with all the educational apparatus, does not add much to the existing infrastructure by raising the country to a higher level of economic prosperity. We must ask ourselves in my view, why? The Government should seriously consider changing our educational system to adopt a system that can adequately prepare our youth to be creative and inventive to fend for themselves, rather than look up to Government to provide for them. Our education system, in my observation is not appropriate for the economic needs of the country and for the people. This is a serious challenge.
As a progressive cadre of youth, I’m sure you have read my recent book, Delusions of Grandeur. In the book, I have made the point that full employment is not a pipe-dream: it is attainable. I have cited countries
In Delusions of Grandeur, I have pointed out that if we have to foster job creation and therefore alleviate poverty levels considerably, we should put our economic accent on the SMME sector. SMMEs as a collective engender by far more employment than the swashbuckling formal sector.
In South East Asia, SMMEs account for 85 percent of total employment and are responsible for 53 percent of GDP. 99 percent of businesses are SMMEs, providing employment to over 80 million people. Even in the highly industrialised United States, SMMEs accounted for 43 percent of net job creation between the years 1990 and 1997. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) economies as a whole, SMMEs dominate: they account for 99 percent of firms, 66 percent of employment, and 50 percent of GDP. SMMEs are the lead creators of new jobs in the OECD.
In Botswana, we have practically sidelined SMMES. They are hampered by lack of access to finance despite CEDA, NDB, BDC and 14 commercial banks; excessive Government laws and regulations that stifle entrepreneurial enthusiasm and in some cases kill the entrepreneurial spirit altogether; shortage of operating premises; and lack of formal entrepreneurial training and skills.
Yet hope is not lost because you people gathered here, are our very hope. In the history of the world, change often starts with the young. Young people look at the world with fresh eyes. They see the world as it is and ask “why?” and imagine a different world and ask “why not?” You are the driving force of change. You have a duty to be honest, genuine, of good values and to work day and night for the betterment of your country. You have a duty to use your skills, strength, creativity and imagination to serve the country and the nation in the best possible manner. You can make a difference, because you are the backbone of a nation and can build a bright future for society based on values and courageous behavior.
I like to believe that you have the strongest desire and motivation to build and improve the situation of our country, to build a better tomorrow. We can count on you to bring innovation, creativity, enthusiasm, energy, tolerance, respect for others, the desire to discover, question, listen and understand, to test, to try out, plan, re-do and rebuild, and share your successes and your pain with smiles or with tears.
Youth can be an emotional, intense roller coaster. It is the stage of life when elation soars highest and frustration swoops to its lowest arc. Be reminded, therefore, that the enthusiasm of youth is a resource, and like all resources it is finite and should not be wasted. At one time, the present crop of leaders must leave the floor open to youth, because that’s the cycle of life; handing over the baton is inevitable. Yes, I think, and I’m persuaded that, we are at a crossroads. And you the youth are our torch bearer. I would like to wish you an enjoyable and fruitful training programme. You are critical to the future of this country. Therefore, choose to lead; live your values; be the persons others choose to follow; inspire and provide the people of Botswana with a view for the future. Dare to dream.
With that said, I wish to declare the 4th Annual Youth Leadership Training Programme officially open.
*David Magang is an accomplished lawyer/businessman and former minister of Transport and Communications. He delivered this speech at the 4th Annual Youth Leadership Training Programme last Saturday.