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Much has been made of the depth of public disillusionment with current economic situation that the locals find themselves in.
Of late, a week after another – and thanks to sanitary pads and house donations made by political leaders, we are reminded of the high level of economic inequality in our society. Perhaps that should explain to you why on this space we so often make a commentary that is centred on Botswana’s troublesome problems – joblessness, landlessness and lack of access to finance.
Many, if not most Batswana are aware of the nature of the inequality in our society today. They know its intensity because they are either poor themselves, live next to a poor family or their relatives are extremely poor. Some come from the poorest districts like Boteti, Kgalagadi and Ngamiland and they know the face of poverty. Some are just a pay-cheque away from poverty, they can actually smell it. If anyone doubt this assertion let them visit the Facebook page of Thapelo Olopeng – a minister responsible for youth empowerment in the country. Olopeng’s Facebook page is awash with updates and comments about a certain family in Tonota which Olopeng a few “volunteers” are helping to build a house. The Pego family – as Olopeng introduced them to his thousands of followers on Facebook were recently blessed with quadruplets. Unfortunately the Four Kings, as Olopeng calls the Pego family quadruplets– just like thousands other new born babies across the country have no roof under which they can be pampered or nurtured as humanity requires. While the good news is that the Four Kings and the Pego family are fortunate to have an area MP like Olopeng, thousands of others elsewhere in the country are not as lucky – they remain homeless or un-housed. The Four Kings story serves as a reminder to the nation about the high level of inequality in this country - mostly visible amongst thousands of Batswana who live in shucks or on the streets. Despite the efforts by the past administration to build the less privileged houses though the Presidential Housing Appeal - now National Housing Appeal, a sizeable number of Batswana in both rural and urban areas remain un-housed. This contributes immensely to the growing income inequality in this country.
Dear reader, as you may agree with us, the lack of decent housing continues to be one of the key problems that the people of this country, more especially those in rural areas are facing.
We have said it so many times in this space, and we shall continue saying it that the high property prices in this country especially housing are part of the reason why a large number of our people remain impoverished. If there is anything that the government of the day should be more concerned about, and swiftly act on - is the housing of its people. As many speakers said at the just ended land summit held in the capital Gaborone this past week, a good number f Batswana are struggling to get a small piece of land in their own country. This makes it even more difficult to build houses for those who can afford to. The end result and final resort then becomes “renting out” which is costly. Like the poor who of late find themselves waiting to acquire a house through the National Housing appeal, there is nowhere for middle income earners to go when they want to stop renting and start buying homes.
We surely are awake to the fact that the problems such as being “un-housed” that are facing the economically excluded Batswana such as those in Boteti, Ghanzi and Ngamiland districts results from decades of neglect and will certainly not be solved quickly or by conventional tools.
It would therefore take political will by the powers that be to ensure that those in the low income bracket are helped to secure the much needed housing.
Action is not required from Government only. Private land developers should also look for creative solutions because land prices and construction costs remain high. They must create a new community-led business model that enables them to build quality homes at a fraction of the cost of their luxury ones whilst also maintaining profitability.
As it stands, a lot of Batswana are without land – such a valuable commodity that could be used to economically empower them and help narrow down the inequality gap. The core Welfare Index Survey published by Statistics Botswana in 2015 paints a rather disturbing picture when it comes to house ownership amongst Batswana. The data contained in this survey shows that only 3.3 percent of the working population of Botswana lives (or lived) in purchased housing units by 2010. This is a marginal increase from 1.3 percent recorded in 2002.
This lack of affordable housing and high income inequality complete the story of how, just like his predecessors, Khama was unable to direct money towards the pockets of indigenous Batswana. To this date, a sizeable number of Batswana are still grappling with challenges of limited access to finance despite Botswana much talked about economic success of diamond mining. Botswana’s case of rich state, poor people is supported by many studies amongst them conducted by the African Development Bank (AFDB) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The two organisations have previously listed Botswana amongst countries with the high levels of unequal distribution of wealth and development amongst citizens.
As we noted at the beginning of this commentary, thanks to the recent donations made by politicians to the poor, we are once again reminded of the big gap between the “Have’s” and “Have-not”. We can choose to do something as a nation or look the other way. The #Bottomline is that our income inequality dictates that we open a new chapter of citizen-building. This chapter will involve providing the less privileged people of this country with the required skills to gather, understand and analyze evidence about the contexts and institutions that affect their lives.