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BY VICTOR BAATWENG
This past week the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) held its annual international trade exhibition dubbed the Global Expo. The Expo was conceptualized by the government as a premier business to business exposition to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), expand of domestic investment, promote exports of locally produced goods and services and promote trade between Botswana and other countries. The expo has been held around this month every year and as such this past week the national attention was once again shifted to Fairgrounds Holdings show grounds where the Expo is usually held.
One has to state from the onset that it was great pleasure to see some of the indigenous producers of this country participating at the Expo to showcase their products and services while seeking new investments and markets.
As said in this space before, ideally the Botswana Global Expo must be an exposition which serves as a convenient trade hub for businesses in the region and beyond. As compared to its younger/older sister – Consumer Fair, the Global Expo, in our view must be attended by international traders, international exhibitors, as well as both local and international prospective buyers. In other words, for us to say the Expo is really growing we should be seeing an increase in the number of private companies participation from both Botswana and other countries. We should not have the exhibition halls filled-up by Botswana’s State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and parastatals. This speaks and it’s a challenge to the organisers of the Expo – BITC to market the event beyond this set of participants and reach out to more foreign companies. In other words, the BITC should draw a deliberate strategy to reduce the number of SOEs and Parastatals exhibiting going forward. This will create more space for growth for indigenous companies which are still finding their feet.
Indigenous coffee producers like Dinah Botha of the Motlopi Beverages will always surely benefit from an influx of prospective buyers and other private exhibitors. An increase in private companies’ participation is an opportunity for the likes of Ms Botha to make business linkages, source markets for their products and to go global through partnerships with foreign companies.
Indeed the sizeable number of indigenous producers who graced the Expo are a good testimony that we have a great potential as a nation to produce certain good and services for ourselves. For local consumers who attended the expo, one can only hope that you saw what we saw. You realised that the Botswana products on display says to you that going forward we cannot afford to continue with business as usual where South African retailers continue to “eat” a large chunk of the domestic cake.
As citizens we need to re-direct our consumer pattern. The good thing is that we have the freedom to shape it with our wallets even if our legislatures and leaders can chose to turn a blind eye on it.
It is unfortunate that for a very long time, our country led by the government avoided, either deliberately or not “talking too much” or promoting goods that are being produced by Batswana at an individual or small scale level. This has left us with an importation bill which stands at over P70 million. This should be a source of concern not only for local service providers and manufactures but the economy of the country as a whole. The solution is however within us. We need to come up with more initiatives that seek to reduce the number of imports by promoting the use of locally produced goods and services. This has been said countless times in many forums.
Those who attended the Global Expo 2019 and passed through the #PushaBW stands should be in same position as us to say the days in which our misplaced self depreciating psyche that everything that is produced by fellow Batswana is of inferior quality are gone. For now we can only call on the organisers of the Expo to consider amongst other things to market it more internationally. This would have one or two direct benefits. First we would be able to reach point where, like we said, State Owned Enterprises do not waste tax payer’s money by attending each and every exhibition in town. One wonders what a number of them were doing or are doing every year at the Global expo. Secondly an increase in foreign private companies’ participation at the Expo gives bigger room for collaborations between local producers and their foreign counterparts. The Expo we want to believe has been set up to allow things such as business match making between local and foreign companies. As such, the #Bottomline is that it should be used as a major dais to open an avalanche of business from the world over as well as a citizens’ wealth creation tool.