Botswana celebrates its 49th independence on Wednesday the 30th. The celebrations will mark a year before the golden jubilee. As it is usually the case, many of the masses of the people will flock dikgotla and other public places for the festivities.
Public servants are busy preparing for the country's birthday. It is on the Independence Day that we shouldn't only celebrate but introspect on the country's successes, opportunities and challenges. The speeches by the President and his ministers are usually self-congratulatory; they fully utilize the opportunity to remind Batswana and all and sundry about "where we come from". Emphasis is seldom put on where we are going as a nation.
Notwithstanding the country's problems at independence, for instance poverty, unemployment, lack of access to education, health and services such as water, electricity and others, the country emerged from this disadvantaged position to become an upper-middle income country by world standards. The economic indicators such as GDP and per capita income are good. But who gives a damn about some indicators when there are high numbers of poverty and unemployment and underemployment and when the gap between the rich and the poor is so wide? Why should our young people celebrate simply because they had almost free education and access to public health, that there are roads and there are post offices? These are basic minimums in socio-economic development not worth celebrating? Exactly what do these leaders think was their role as government? Why do they think and behave like they've done everybody a huge favour worth reminding people about?
The truth is that the focus of our leaders is on where we come from because it’s easy to look back and marvel and it confuses them to think about the future. There are no new ideas on how to take the country forward. Forget the slogan "taking Botswana forward" it doesn't mean anything. The country had a huge opportunity at the fortuitous discovery of minerals in recoverable quantities in the late 1960s and early 1970s eg copper and nickel, diamonds, coal and soda ash among others. It wasn't difficult to sell these minerals and build roads, hospitals, schools dams etcetera. Or was it? Which normal government on earth could have really failed to do that? What our self-proclaimed saviours failed to do was to think beyond selling minerals at the buyers price and "develop" the country. As we celebrate our independence we must ask ourselves why a blessed country in terms of natural resources has unacceptable number of poor people, high unemployment and underemployment rates and wealth and income disparities these huge.
The answer rests with lack of foresight and clear vision. Forget about vision 2016, that one may be an event and not a process. Why did it take us nearly 40 years to beneficiate diamonds, the mainstay of our economy for a long time? Why did we fail to beneficiate soda ash, coal, copper and nickel in over 40 years? Why do we still have water shortage not only in the southern parts of Botswana but elsewhere as well? Why are we in darkness when we have huge coal deposits enough to generate power for us and export surplus? It is because of lack of foresight and clear vision. Batswana are tired of the rhetoric on economic diversification. Yes, it is rhetoric because there's never any commitment in terms of measurable and or quantifiable targets on how poverty and unemployment would be significantly reduced or eliminated though diversification. Why is Botswana benchmarking on a country like Singapore on how to create jobs when the two countries got independence during the same period and the latter was worse off with no minerals such as diamonds, gold, copper and nickel? How did Singapore rise from third world to first world status and why did we fail? It doesn't matter whether you study western European history or the USA or the developed Asia. The economic development models have been almost similar. Protectionism, fostering of domestic investment through robust industrialisation policies and minimal emphasis of foreign direct investment were key. The unmitigated free market economic model hasn't worked anywhere as an economic model for any developing country. The orthodox economic precepts therefore won't work in Botswana. Why do we privatise when we don't have a citizen economic empowerment law and when we have so many unemployed and poor people? Why is our economy in the hands of foreigners? Why do we have so many skilled expatriates still working in our country after so many years of independence when our youth are unskilled and unemployed? Why are there so many unemployed graduates? These and many questions should be asked by our youth at every opportunity they get to meet their President, his deputy and their disciples during independence festivities.
Our democracy can only be envied by DRC, CAR, Burundi and others in Africa who have serious deficits in this regard. It has regressed terribly at the hands of one man and his cabal of sycophants. The judiciary is in a mess, civil liberties are limited, elections are not free and fair, parliament has been reduced to a talk show, there are numerous attempts to gag the media, the intelligence agency is running amok and the governing elites are accountable to themselves. Why then should Batswana celebrate when the future is uncertain and when they are in these hardships? Every Motswana should think more about 2019 as an opportunity to change through franchise. Universal adult suffrage is the only way out of this mess. Celebrations would delay us.