GREED – Has Botswana really escaped the resource curse?

03 Feb 2019

By Mpho Kuhlmann

With news about how the Ian Khama administration may have misappropriated billions of tax payers’ money making the headlines, corruption has become a staple subject in Botswana and sometimes it comes up even before enquiries about the health of children.

Invariably, the word greed is always mentioned in the same breath with corruption, and there is no shortage of home grown philosophies on how we found ourselves in this situation.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says greed is an unacceptable human folly, present in most of us to a certain degree.” In some cases, it’s just the ordinary natural greed, while in others, it is insatiable. Corruption arises due to lack of rules, regulations; transparency and accountability that makes average people disregard the law. The change in the value system and ethical qualities of people have declined and most people give more importance to money than excellence, bad incentives, such as an employee not earning enough to live on; so he supplements his income with bribes. The tolerance of people towards corruption and an absence of strong public forum or civil society to oppose corruption also aren’t helping matters

In Botswana, it is an article of faith that money changes people. It is a Tswanalised version of Lord Acton’s famous wised crack that “power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The observation that a person’s sense of morality lessens as they grow richer and become powerful is etched deeply in the Botswana psyche. A look at Botswana headlines over the years tend to bear out this philosophy: As a poor dust bowl at Independence, corruption hardly made it into the national lexicography, let alone news headlines. For Many years Botswana was the pin up poster of good governance referred to as the shining example of democracy. A legion of political and economic observers raved nonstop about how the country has escaped the resource curse. Also known as the paradox of plenty, the resource curse refers to the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources (such as fossil fuels and certain minerals), tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources.

A few years later Botswana struck it rich with the discovery of diamonds and the country seems to have been blinded by the shine of the gemstones and the riches that came with it. Greed has unseated the temperance that saw accolades being heaped on Botswana for the prudent use of its mineral wealth.

Now almost every week, Batswana newspaper readers are treated to a parade of headlines about greed and corruption. The ink had hardly dried on the National Petroleum Fund corruption court records when the Botswana Revenue Services secured a search warrant to search and seize former DIS Director General, Isaac Kgosi’s alleged ill gotten gains. The newspapers carrying the story were still on the newsstands when newspapers came up with another corruption headline. Another week, another corruption headline – that is just how the cookie crumbles.

Lebo Gabathuse who works at Gaborone City Council says corruption in Botswana has lost its shock value. “Civilians like you and me are familiar with petty corruption; now imagine those involved in grand corruption and the things they actually do. A job applicant must pay before being employed, in politics, politicians can’t identify areas that need attention; they join the ring of dishonest people enriching themselves. Instead of investing into education in the country, they send their families to study overseas, while they empty the government coffers and keep the money at Swiss Banks.”

.Thabiso Mpetsane from HRMC and says money, power and greed breed corruption. “Corruption is infectious and the corrupt are mostly aggressive. In an office, if fifteen people are working, one or two corrupt may corrupt the whole department, because the corrupt will be aggressive. The problem in our society is not the lack of knowledge or understanding about corrupt practices but the lack of courage to stand against such practices. This is a very old method to point the fingers towards the wrongdoing of others. But no one is ready to check their own character. Are we really interested to eradicate corruption from our society?”