Saturday, June 3, 2023

50 years of independence: Has the miracle finally come to end?

On Monday afternoon a group of young unemployed citizens, mainly with tertiary education set out to demonstrate to Members of Parliament about their enduring plight.

Many of these young people said while the country is gearing up for festivities that are part of the golden jubilee to celebrate 50 years of independence, for many of them they feel they do not have anything to show for the success of the past 50 years that world likes to talk so much when referring to Botswana.

These young people said while the country continues to be showered with praises and accolades of being a star pupil in the African continent when it comes to economic management and low levels of corruption, for them the benefits have simply not come their way.

In response the police descended on them with shocking brutality that that even embarrassed some of the better known adherents of the establishment.

It is difficult not to sympathise with the demonstrators.

These young people might have their own peculiar grievance which is unemployment.

On general terms, the truth though is that these days it is difficult to know who in our country is really happy about anything.

Even the people who we used to think were patron saints of the economic miracle we are said to be are forever complaining that under the current administration they too feel left out.

Complacency has been our biggest enemy as a country.

We have failed to grow the cake that we are supposed to share as a country.

Unemployment, for example is probably much worse than the statistics are telling us.

While as a country we spent inordinate lengths of time basking in the glory of international accolades that we received from outside, there was not much effort expended to ensure a lasting legacy of our achievements beyond diamonds.

We allowed ourselves to become to diamonds what drug addicts are to drugs.

Economic diversification, which has been an official mantra for over twenty years now, has in practice turned out to be an empty catchphrase.

Not only is the country still heavily reliant on diamonds, policy on the ground has taken an especially ugly turn to be hostile to any moves towards wrestling the economy away from the clutches of diamonds.

In that score the country’s Immigration Policy is actively against foreign investors.

Businesses are not able to grow because they are denied an opportunity by the same policy to import skilled labour that is not readily available locally.

This is notwithstanding an admission that for a greater part, much of the money spent on education was a wasteful expenditure because it did not match the requirements of the country’s labour market needs.

 Ours has been an extended honeymoon.

And because we are used to being praised by the outside world, we are reluctant to accept that things are for us no longer as rosy as they used to be.

Yet still we cannot have enough of those praises from outside world.

We use those accolades not to make ourselves better but rather to bury our heads in the sands against those that might try to point out to us that the bubble has long burst.

Looking back, the much celebrated achievements that have consistently been proudly referred to as “exceptionalism” many actually have been grossly exaggerated.

For the greater part, what has been achieved on the economic sphere owed not so much to prudency which has also been wantonly bandied about, but rather to high returns of revenue that flowed from diamond sales.

For many years these revenues were so high that they were able to conceal the otherwise shamefully low levels of productivity, economic imagination and general mismanagement.

In many ways diamonds have been to Botswana exactly what oil has been to many of the gulf monarchs.

In a different way, which has no violence as part of its variables, we too are a victim of what economists like to call “Resource Curse.”

The group that demonstrated on Monday outside Parliament is a stark reminder of the gross social and economic inequality that has become such a glaring feature of our country as we prepare to celebrate the 50 years of independence.

That demonstration, even as it was dismissed by authorities is also a reminder of the need to reform our economy and also our attitude towards wealth sharing.

Mid week the country held low key celebrations to mark 50 days towards 50th Independence Day celebrations.

A cursory glance at it all shows that not many Batswana are following these festivities.

The simpler reason for it is not a lack of patriotism.

Rather it is because many Batswana are hurting.

Their priorities have moved so far away from celebrating a day that has with time grown less and less significant to their daily lives.

Rather than celebrating Independence Day, many Batswana are busy trying to make a living.

With unsustainably high unemployment levels, growing poverty and all the ensuing despondency, many of them cannot be sure of where their next meal is going to make ends meet.

The situation is made all the worse by perceptions that our top leadership does not seem to care about the hardships that many of our people are going through.

All we ask from our leaders is to show that they care.

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