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We don’t need a COVID-19 SoE - deal with GBV, unemployment and the poultry duopoly

KGOSIETSILE NGAKAAGAE
I never agreed with the first State of Emergency (SoE) declared.

I appreciate the efforts by government so far in fighting the pandemic and I have said that we have done fairly well. It is with the effort to link the relative success to the SoE that I take issue.  I always believed the Public Health Act could be amended to enable the Health Ministry to confront the challenge. I further believed the resources question could be answered in the like manner. A SoE is not necessary for the outlay of resources to answer this emergency. We are just playing politics with a disaster.  Besides, we have been grappling with this challenge for about seven months. Granted that we were not well capacitated to deal with the problem, we should be far down the road in our understanding and responses. Certainly, we should be advanced far enough to let the health practitioners take the lead role and for the politicians to go back to kgotla meetings. Assuming, without conceding that it was an emergency in the first instance, it is surely not an emergency anymore. It is absolutely unnecessary. It is simply a distraction from socio economic realities.

I think Gender Based Violence (GBV), amongst others, is the true state of emergency. Maybe it does not have the draw that COVID-19 has in keeping the population fixated on political effort. I would readily concede that same doesn’t make good television, but it should never be about that. The situation has become unbearable and a section of the population lives in fear in arguably the most peaceful and politically stable country in Africa. To be sure, COVID-19, will never catch up with GBV on the number of deaths it has or will cause. In fact, it will be over soon after a vaccine is found. However the GBV problem is abiding. If the effort is about saving lives, then we have our priorities wrong. I would rather give more money to GBV. I would rather allocate more resources, specifically, to the ministerial GBV strategy and to a wholesome national campaign effort against GBV.

The other emergency, has everything to do with youth unemployment. A senior BDP member said to me the other day, we are sitting on a time bomb. He agreed that at the rate things are going, there might not be a BDP government post 2024. There is an ambiance of grave desperation sweeping through the economy. Don’t blame it on COVID-19. COVID-19 affected an economy that was already in dire straits. To be sure, we are approaching a period of political instability resulting from this state of affairs. It is for this reason that we are agitating for the opening of the economy to

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ensure that Batswana have space to play. It is for this reason that we are challenging the duopoly in the poultry sector, among others, to make concessions. The duopoly is protected by a policy firewall against foreign and domestic competition. The reason given by government is that we have achieved full import substitution status and are nearly export ready.  But the devil is in the detail. The protection is not for the market, but for the duopoly. The donor funded government policy on poultry production was focused on improving household income, not mega industrial players. That is how it was under Sir Seretse Khama. Enter the duopoly, with their intellectual property rights claims and vertically integrated value chain. Households are watching from the sidelines and are rationed day old chicks like they are for famine relief.

We want the main beneficiaries of this policy firewall – politically connected duopoly- to start looking outside and the bottom rung to thrive in order that there could be more income for households, outside the formal sector. They are ungrateful beneficiaries of overprotection. In other markets they would be on their own with their IP rights suffocating from foreign competition. The continued, arrogant assertion of intellectual property rights over Rosses and Cobbs, in an atmosphere of near total policy protection in a market they dominate, is the single biggest symptom of a sense of entitlement. The duopoly is spoilt, and our government spoilt it. 

Fancy this; 70% of production costs in poultry produce is from the feed cost. What that means is that the economic threat posed by the importation of day old chicks, in so far as the market is concerned, accounts for the residual 30%. When the protection is removed, indigenous Batswana would likewise be able to generate the taxes that come with the 70% and the market, is only 30% exposed. If imports were to be allowed and that can be balanced against the imperative of a more liberal market, the benefits of competition on the consumer, and the increase in household income.

As such, the market protection argument is a fraudulent excuse by the policy-makers to protect the duopoly. Something must give. Batswana must have a foothold. In exchange for this near total protection, government must demand that the duopoly set aside and fixedly commit a percentage of their existing day old chicks production capacity to servicing the small scale poultry producer. There is no other way. If this cannot be done, then we should just open the borders because we have very little to lose, and much to gain, by so doing. Government is not protecting the market. It is protecting the duopoly.



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