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Obituary: Farewell Jolly Good Fellow!

Professor Salkin
The harsh cruelty of COVID-19 is that pain is now universal, we are all gripped by an overbearing blanket of pain.

Someone is crying, another is hurtling in fear and the other is sedated by the many tragedies. The losses are immediate and tragic. There is no shoulder to cry on.

We are all hoping that one day  it will subside and ultimately stop like a storm; and then we might have time to pick-up the pieces, count the losses and perhaps even grieve-for we never grieved.

During this COVID-19  phase we have lost family icons, community builders and national leaders. Others due to COVID-19 while many others were due to natural and other causes. In our self absorption with our own grief and fears during the pandemic climate some losses might have gone under the radar. One ruby star that has been plucked off from Botswana’s finest vestiture is the venerated Dr Jay Salkin.

Professor Salkin was many things to Botswana. He was born in Philadelphia, the United States’ original capital city. After studying his junior and senior economics degree, he pastured outside his home country criss-crossing the world as an economics lecturer and eventually shifting largely to the life of economic consultant.

In Botswana, Jay has had a decorated public life which began in 1981 when he joined the Ministry of Finance as a Senior Planning Officer and rising through the ranks to Director of Macro-Economic Planning and Policy and Chief Economist of the Ministry. Professor Salkin has had a short stint as an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Botswana. He worked as a Research Fellow at BIDPA and served the Bank of Botswana in various capacities including as Director of the Research Department. Towards the twilight of his career at the Bank, he served in a distinguished position as the Advisor in

the Research and Financial Stability Department.

I interacted with Prof at the then Competition Authority where he was Commissioner, which meant he was a Board Member and a member of the adjudicating tribunal. Knowledge and experience reeked through his very demeanour and interjections. His life seemed to reverberate around a written document; he seemed to draw life from it. To him a written document was like clay to a potter. He loved the charts, the tables and most suprising of all; he loved the mechanics of the written word, the commas, the full stop. He loved them all including spotting the inconsistent font size, the wrong captions, the inconsistently formatted text and the math that did not add up. With the hand of a grammar surgeon he uprooted all of them with dexterity. In many documents, he killed and buried sentences, reconstructed phrases, breathed life into clauses that were comatose. 

I never actually asked him about his fascination with spelling of places in Botswana. Did he serve in the Committee that standardised names of places? Without a miss he smoked us out many times without number for wrong spellings of Selebi-Phikwe (Selebi Phikwe), Gantsi (Ghanzi). He was American by descent but a stickler for British Spelling.  He was an economist and to him brevity was golden. According to Keith Jefferis, Salkin was the go-to development economist about Botswana, terse and preaching economic prudence but I dare add that his grammar scalpel was furiously used without frugal control and knew no bounds.

The founding CEO of the then Competition Authority called him a jolly good fellow. Farewell, Jolly Good Fellow. You put up a good shift for your adopted country.


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