Magang delivers another classic

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Former Cabinet Minister and prominent businessman David Magang is the author of another ground-breaking book.

The book, titled Delusions of Grandeur, is a constructive critique on the contemporary economic condition of Botswana. Written with the same depth and linguistic sophistication of his 2008 autobiographical sketch, The Magic of Perseverance, Delusions of Grandeur not only highlights the ills of our economy, but also offers viable remedial measures.

Since the book explores a broad range of topics, it is presented in two volumes, each comprising 18 exhaustive chapters and averaging 600 pages approximately.

Volume 1 will be launched on February 25 at Phakalane Hotel. The main speakers will be University of Botswana academic, Professor Brothers Malema, and the country’s most eminent economist, Dr Keith Jefferis, who also wrote the book’s foreword.

In writing the book, David Magang, a lawyer by training but who gained valuable economic management experience whilst Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, researched prolifically. He provides apt examples of model economic practice from a cross-section of economies drawn both from Africa and around the world which he avers Botswana could benchmark against.

Ever the maverick position-taker and straight talker who knows no holy cows, Magang tears into the popular economic narrative on Botswana and hardly finds common cause with the general adulation heaped upon the country by economic pundits. Below is the extract from  a chapter in the latest release.

In 2005, James Clark Leith served up a rather brief and concise treatise titled Why Botswana Prospered. Despite its sparing size, the book was far from superficial. It was remarkably succinct, an ingenious performance that avoided the circumlocution so commonplace in much of the scholarly literature and restricted itself to the barebones of the argument at issue.   In a cover blurb tribute, Henry Temple, a professor of economics at the University of Manitoba, characterised it as “an informative, well-written book, the only one that tries to pose and answer the question of why Botswana prospered”.  

The paradox of the above statement was that Leith made no attempt whatsoever at formulating a definition of what “prosperity” was. His other undoing was that in setting forth the case for Botswana’s “prosperity”, his rallying point was the country’s unprecedented GDP growth rate over 33 years, the snare of many an economic pundit. His language was not incomprehensibly technical but beyond the usual macroeconomic generalities, exactly how this striking statistic translated to a corresponding leap in the fortunes of the ordinary Motswana was conspicuous by its absence. 

Clarke Leith had previously served in Botswana’s Finance Ministry and   its Central Bank in very senior capacities and so was undeniably adept at the issues he so eloquently engaged. He therefore could not be lumped together with the “Africanist academy” that had provided the “lead chorus” to the “song of self-praise” directed at Botswana courtesy of Kenneth Good.  Yet as objective as he tried to be, he too was smitten by this seemingly unavoidable contagion.   In fact, I get the sense that where he should have gone for the jugular, he elected to be so diplomatic as to sound plain apologetic!

 In Chapter 1, I posited the somewhat maverick view that Botswana did not prosper as such: she progressed. This progression was evident in our awe-inspiring metamorphosis, it ought to be admitted, from a dirt-poor country that fed from the crumbs of the departed colonial power to a respectable, Upper Middle Income Country.

The kind of socio-economic advancement that should have accompanied this Shangri-La-like transformation, that should have made us worthy of the prosperous tag, sadly eluded Botswana  not by a hair’s breadth but by a long shot. Certainly, the Elysian heights the Tigers scaled, the same Tigers   who for 30-plus years we on average edged  two percentage points to the good in GDP terms, were a searing and humbling rebuke at our delusions of grandeur. 

My thesis for what it is worth is that progression may not be synonymous with prosperity. That does not mean it is an inconsequential feat. Many a country around us have suffered economic degeneration and even atrophy.  A compelling case can also be made that as a criterion, progression is perceptually much more clear-cut: it does not have the ambiguity that attaches to prosperity.

Whereas prosperity conjures up a scenario akin to the bliss and vibrancy of the likes of the Asian Tigers, progression is a decidedly relative phenomenon. If as a nation we were to use the degree of progression as a basis for comparison with our own neighbours, who in this context encompass every country south of the Sahara, our stance would be less objectionable, less onerous, and less illusive.    

So how and why did Botswana progress?  What were the catalytic factors? In this chapter, I set about  distinguishing these elements in the order, in my own humble opinion, of their significance, an order, I must hasten to say, that may not necessarily be strictly demarcated.   Having already made the disclaimer that I am no economist, my take on the subject is by no means unassailable: it is debatable. That is the spirit and beauty of public-domain  discourse.

Writing in 2003, the American economist Scott Beaulier noted with a nostalgic undertone that “Botswana’s success was the result of good post-colonial policy choices. Khama’s market-friendly polices led to high growth, and high growth produced better policies that led to more growth. Thus, Khama’s policies were the exogenous shock that helped Botswana get on a sustainable high-growth path.”

It is in the context of  Beaulier’s take that I will first train my lens on perhaps our greatest mascot as a nation state since Sechele – founding president Seretse Goitsebeng Maphiri Khama(exerpt from chapter 3, Why Botswana progressed, that elusive prosperity)

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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