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BY VICTOR BAATWENG
This past week Botswana played host to Paul Kagame – the Rwandan President. Kagame is a well known transformational leader across the continent of Africa who has been credited for Rwanda’s economic success. While some people across the globe say Kagame is a despot, others praise him for his accomplishments. The World Bank study ranks Kagame's Rwanda as the second-easiest place to do business in Africa. At the same time, poverty in Rwanda is on the decline with 90 percent of the population reported to have access to health insurance while infant mortality rates have dropped by two thirds since 1998. Kagame has also been credited for a low corruption in Rwanda compared to almost all other African countries including Botswana. The man is however not as angelic as some of the things listed above could make him look. He has in the past been accused by Amnesty International and other Human Rights Watchdogs for gross human rights violations and silencing his critics. The most used example is the 2017 rejection, by Kagame of the only female presidential candidate Diane Shima Rwigara - a 37-year-old accountant who together with her mother were jailed. Kagame's rigorous suppression of the media has also made him Rwanda's unchallenged leader. The question therefore is what can we learn from him? As nation, through the Office of the President, do we take him as a whole or we should be selective in our engagement with him? Whilst all these are rhetoric questions there is one thing that we can learn from Kagame and Rwanda. It takes a strong leader to steer a country away from a path of self-destruction. As noted before, Kagame is widely credited with guiding Rwanda’s economic and social transformation following the devastating 1994 genocide. Botswana is at a point where she also needs a leader that can transform her economy given the failure by the current political system. We say this because we believe that the failures in politics and economics are related and they reinforce each other. We should never forget or ignore that.
Kagame’s visit should be treated as a reminder about the things that we planned to do but never did - our lack or failure to implement. We should be honest enough to introspect on how we were surpassed by a nation that was blood-spattered wreck and now is an orderly society with robust economic growth, falling poverty and declining inequality.
This is a similar question we asked about Israel - How on earth has Israel with no natural resources, enemies on every border and in a constant state of war was able to produce more start-up companies than any other peer nation?
Back home, our key question could be, how on earth does Botswana, with so many natural resources, no security threats on its borders, highly ranked on democracy and governance fail its indigenous populace? HYPERLINK "https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10157332085959096&set=a.46248749..."
The people of this country might not be on the same state as Rwandans were in 1994 but it is quite evident that persistent economic inequality and a geographically uneven recovery have left many Batswana deeply frustrated. Regrettably, the economic inequality we find ourselves in was partially sponsored by looting of public coffers and corruption. Rwanda has been listed amongst the least corrupt nations in the continent. Surely Kagame has some notes to share on ways of fighting corruption.
Kagame’s visit should be a reminder that rebuilding trust and social contract is critical more especially during times like these of economic recovery.
Batswana have of late been very vocal on issues related to wealth creation. They are at a point where they are actually aware that they continue to be fed crumbles of their country’s economic pie. They are also at a point where they know what they deserve thus failure to deliver what is due to them can only bring trouble to all of us including those in power and their rich foreigners. No one benefit from unrest.
As stated before in this space, to avoid this unrest we need economic reforms. To reform is to turn the inevitability of change in the direction of progress. To reform is to improve the life of every citizen of this country, more especially indigenous Batswana.
As we slowly gears towards where we want to be as a nation, our leaders should bear in mind that they can harness the energy of the people of this country either towards constructive work to generate optimism and hope by proving basic services efficiently or towards tensions and unrest by failing to provide the basics such as land, jobs and business opportunities.
Surely in the short term a lot will remain unchanged but for the first time in decade, there is a real opportunity to effect positive mood change and improve the livelihoods of Batswana. The #Bottomline is that if we play our cards right, we can once again show the world that there are benefits to success and adversity, to boom and bust alike. Most importantly, our country will forever be prepared for the inevitable storm and the interesting opportunities that spill from the highs and lows of the economic swells and to benefit from their diverse treasures.