Last week world leaders descended on a small snow-covered Swiss town of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. Among the 60 heads of state was President Mokgweetsi Masisi, accompanied by a few Cabinet colleagues, senior government officials, Botswana’s captains of industry and the former Attorney General, Dr Athalia Molokomme who is taking care of our affairs down there.
The forum is an important gathering for the world economies, and politics, as it is where leaders meet in private and public forums to share ideas, engage in talks for trade, direct foreign investment, source financial injections (aid for mainly mineral rich but poorly run African and South American countries), and where the non-governmental organisations which have influence push human rights agenda; an important gathering indeed.
Our neighbour Zimbabwe has been on fire, literally and politically, few past weeks, the country’s leader, Emerson Mnangagwa who just over a year ago took charge, first in a celebrated ‘democratic’ coup and then democratically elected months down the line, returned home. He found the country bleeding and burning, as the heavy hand of the army came down on citizens who were demonstrating against fuel hikes. Deaths, brutal beatings, detentions and just about any form of anarchy that the feared army was known for, was the order of the day. Unionists, civil rights leaders and opposition politicians were among those at the receiving end of the army’s brutality. Mnangagwa had to find the right words to calm the storm, just as the world media in Davos was asking his Ministers to account to among other things, the administration’s decision to shut down social media platforms at the height of the government onslaught. Their excuse that social media was used to incite violence (by ordinary citizens) and push opposition propaganda, was not selling. If anything, the decision, and the implementation by service providers, was just a reminder of government abuse. Silencing voices, in cahoots with business, is how dictators operate, and God forbid unless we are not careful, and guard against that here at home, we may one day find ourselves isolated. Every time the Botswana Police raise issues of the Cyber Crime, in a bid to silence activists, as with the recent rise of exposes of high profile individuals alleged to have sexually abused women, and children, is a scary reminder that freedom of expression is still an ideal less understood and appreciated by the powers that be. Back to Davos; with world media focus, President Masisi used every opportunity to sell and market Botswana. A small market we are and with most of the world movers and shakers, still unsure of where we are located on the map, or if they do, think we are a province in South Africa. Masisi’s task is even more difficult. This is worsened by, sorry to Ian Khama fans, the former President’s isolationist mentality. For 10 years, Davos was attended by low ranking officials, ministers, and as the incumbent said in one interview, he himself was attending this important gathering for the first time. So, we had no face to show to the critical world of business dealings. While he may have fumbled on directly answering the question of youth unemployed, especially after the president of the Umbrella for Democratic Change, Duma Boko, had eloquently gave his party’s blueprint, the message I got from Rre Masisi when speaking to CNBC was, we are finally moving into utilising the information technology and human development capital. As a small economy, though for years believed and pushed agriculture in a hard unforgiving drought hit land, we needed to find ways to ensure our youth especially are engaged in economic activity, they themselves understand and appreciate. Pouring millions of Pula into young people who have never been exposed or trained to man the land, has proven to be anything but wasteful. The new talk about developing and selling human capital to the world needs strategic thinking and implementation. Back in 2008, before Khama stopped travelling the world, I was in the delegation that sat in meetings that shared the Singapore success story with the then President.
The leaders of the small ‘Asian Tiger’ shared that with no commodity to sell to the world, their export was information technology and human capital. They developed their people in such a way that the world business, governments, come knocking and with attractive packages for their nationals. We can do the same. Many other countries have done that. Many of us have passed through the hands of teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, journalists and many other professionals from countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and India and Cuba among others. With Botswana still with few graduates, we depended on others to help build the country. Now we have an oversupply, and in many areas and high unemployment especially among these graduates. All we need to do is develop our education system, seriously engage key players, to develop human capital to enter and play in the world economies.
We can do it, if only we can remove the oogklap of partisan politics and put Botswana first. Young Minister, Bogolo Kenewendo and AP leader, Ndaba Gaolathe are just examples of what the world can and does see in us. Brilliance!