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CEE: Let's have the right conversations

MPHOENG MPHOENG
Bigger slice: Batswana are eager for a citizen economic empowerment law PIC: PHATSHIMO KAPENG
In March 2020 the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) announced it was in the process of developing a Citizen Economic Empowerment Law and asked for contributions from the general public on the same.

The President of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi later pronounced during the coronavirus-induced (COVID-19) State of Emergency Parliamentary proceedings that he would be pushing to have the law tabled and possibly enacted in the July 2020 Parliamentary sittings.

Since then we have had numerous commentators and opinions on what people would like to see this law address and this article offers my two thebes’ worth.

In August 2012, Parliament enacted a Citizen Economic Empowerment Policy, which was championed by the then Minister of Trade, Keletso Rakhudu. The rationale for enacting a policy initially was that it would lay foundation for a law. So this discussion is effectively nothing new or revolutionary. In fact, over the years we have had Parliament enact many laws and create policies related to empowering Botswana, the latest being the law passed in December 2019 reserving for citizens government and parastatal tenders below P10 million.

As it stands, Botswana has a plethora of laws and policies that relate to empowerment covering youth, women, disabled, financing, tendering, access to market and business start-ups.

So what should this new law consider?

Firstly we need to ensure we’re targeting the right issues and do not lose focus. Since the conversation started, it seems most Batswana attribute their ‘disempowerment’ to foreigners or even citizens of different races. The conversation has been turned into one about Motswana wa sekei versus the native/indigenous. This populist posturing and conjecture must be kept away from our conversation lest it distracts us from our true problems as a country.

 Batswana’s major problems are gross income inequality, unemployment, corruption and an inefficient and wasteful procurement regime. None of these are controlled or created by foreigners. What we should be discussing is how we are going to use this law to close the gap between the rich and the poor.

Whilst foreigners and non-indigenous Batswana can be part of the elite, a great number of Batswana are there as well and this empowerment law must ensure that the average Motswana moves closer to enjoying the riches and opportunities this country presents. I would love to see the law being deliberate about creating 10,000 NEW Batswana millionaires rather than entrenching the already resourced and connected.

Framing this discussion on foreigner/non-indigenous Motswana versus native Motswana could distract us from creating a law that truly promotes inclusivity. If we do not focus on inequality or rich versus poor, we will see opportunities get transferred from ‘foreigners’ but only to the benefit of the elite ruling class who will have the networks, capital and resources to take advantage of opportunities.

All that will happen is an exacerbation of the current status where the few connected Batswana are getting richer and inequality widening. This is undesirable.

The above conversation also has the potential to get us swept into the current undesirable wave of nationalistic movements we have seen across the world that have sought to divide people based on colour and creed. In the past decade we have seen a rise of these nationalistic trends that have lead the world to the rise of leaders like Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn and referendum results such as Brexit.

Central to our identity and values as a country, has always been non-racialism. This is who we are as Batswana and what has always been our ‘brand’ to the world that labelled us as an African Utopia. We have to defend this religiously rather than abandon this because it forms who we are as Batswana.

So as we have these conversations, let us be careful not to betray our founding values and identity. Research has also shown that diversity actually creates competitive advantage rather than hampering it therefore continuing to embrace diversity in the right manner should make us stronger as a country.

Secondly, we must focus on achieving true and sustainable empowerment. As Abdalla Gergis wrote in BIDPA working paper in 1999 titled ‘Citizen Economic Empowerment in Botswana: Concepts and Principles’, we must remember to make this law inclusive and not take a top down approach where government tells us how it’ll empower us.

We must ensure we are taking all Batswana with us on the conversation to ensure buy-in on the policies. This is to ensure that the people we are trying to empower actually want to be empowered (Remember Basarwa CKGR conundrum of early 2000s). One of the issues we need to address is whether Batswana really want an enabling environment for them to be the best they can be or if they simply want handouts and are happy as long as they get an Ipelegeng cheque. The answer to this may lie in a poor education system that has not done enough to create awareness of possibilities.

This leads me to the next point. Gergis also posited that for empowerment to work we must create conditions conducive to enhancing motivation to perform but also providing the individual with the ability to perform. The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness ranks Botswana #1 in the world on Education Expenditure and Macro Economic Stability whilst ranking 94th in Skills, 104th in Business Dynamism and 99th in Innovation Capability.

This shows that while we spend

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a huge amount on education, our value for money from that spend is very little. Our education system is clearly failing the country and even if we create new ‘opportunities’ Batswana do not have the skills to properly take advantage of them.

We unfortunately cannot switch on our ability to be good business people without the requisite education and development. As a country we need to move away from a colonial education system that emphasises exams and certifications rather than creation of skills and entrepreneurial thinking abilities.

This poor education system further exacerbates the problems that will be posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (AIR). Without a radical change to our education we will fall further behind as countries acquire new skills, which allow them to be globally competitive. Our empowerment law will only be sustainable and get us the desired results if the companies and individuals in Botswana aim to be globally competitive.

We cannot be protectionist forever. Whilst we must deliberate in creating and environment where our companies can flourish and get a foot in the door, this must be for a defined period with the clear objective that at a particular point, excellence must prevail since excellence is the only thing that will guarantee sustainability.

Whilst on the issue of global competitiveness, let us also remember that whatever laws we put into place must not be against prevailing World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. Gosego Lekgorwe (2013) in his paper ‘Interplay of Citizen Economic Empowerment Law and WTO Law in Botswana’ assures us that current policy and possible future reforms are still within WTO law and have room to grow though.

What could be an issue as well is perception as we try to attract foreign direct investment. Let us ensure our messaging is clear and not perverted in any way in a manner that could undo all the work we have done to attract investment.

Another very important aspect to the success of this venture is creating a simple and easily implementable law. As previously stated, Botswana has many empowerment policies and laws that range from youth empowerment to procurement to financing of start-up ventures.

This proliferation of laws sometimes causes confusion and paralysis as one policy gets thrown onto another, which reduces our ability to measure the effectiveness of the different endeavours.

We would do well to take this opportunity to gather, consolidate and rationalise all our empowerment policies and efforts into one document. Have one simple, clear and unambiguous law that relates to all things empowerment. This will assist the people who need to use the law to get empowered but also help the civil servants who would in turn enforce that law. This simplicity and clarity would go a long way in improving our ease of doing business in this country.

We should also ensure that whatever efforts we embark upon are based on research and evidence. Let everyone in the conversation know the facts and figures about industries, existing policies and demographics. Let us know where we could get the most value, easiest wins and what the current state of industries is and where we would like to go.

Based on this evidence, let us then craft enabling structures that will be deliberate in getting us to a clear and unambiguous state as defined by all of us. This also needs to acknowledge that we will in most likelihood have to have a transition period of maybe five to 10 years with clearly key performance indicators and markers we must push.

We must have transparent accountability on the process and achievements as we go forward to the Promised Land. These interventions should encompass everything from changing the education system and skills development, procurement system, start up financing models and many other aspects. This is not a light switch but rather a long transition process.

In my view, this Citizen Economic Empowerment Law will be one of the three biggest legacies of the Presidency of Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi (the other two being constitutional reform and economic transformation of Botswana).

So whilst his heart is in the right place in wanting to enact the law quickly, there is a serious danger of rushing it and not doing it as effectively as it should be done.

A national conversation must be had. We must all get on board and be clear and intentional on playing our parts in the different consultations and development of this law. We must make sure this law sets out to reduce the gross inequality we see in this country and ensure we get the average Motswana enjoying the benefits of being a citizen of this country.

*Mphoeng Mphoeng is currently employed at University of Botswana as a lecturer in the Department of Accounting and Finance at the Business Faculty. He holds an MSc in Finance from Manchester Business. He also works with the pioneering local data science company called Spectrum Analytics, where he is involved in steering Botswana into the 4IR. His career started in 2006 at the Bank of Botswana where he held numerous roles in the Financial Markets Department between 2006 and 2009.



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