Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A COVID-19 free Botswana will be a big gain to our tourism sector

At the time of writing this commentary Botswana was still corona FREE. That is to say, we had no registered positive cases of the COVID-19 virus despite the growing number of cases in the global village particularly in neighbouring countries – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia. With the current trend, I bet one can safely say, so far so good for tiny Botswana. The containment of the virus outside our borders is a clear indication that as a nation, we have been, what one can call – good students. As I pointed out in this space some two or so weeks back, the aftermath of coronavirus will not be entirely bad. There are many positive things that countries like ours can benefit from it. However, in recognizing that fact, it does not mean that we are celebrating or ignorant of the damage it has caused in other countries or to other fellow human beings across the globe. 

The virus, as we already know by now, has rattled investors and put global capital markets in a tailspin, killed thousands of people around the world. In our country the tourism/hospitality sector is already suffering and some citizens have lost jobs because of the same virus. So as the number of cases grows and uncertainty spreads, things are only going to get worse over the next few weeks, if not months. And yet, once again one cannot help but think of more reasons why coronavirus could be good news in the long term for countries such as ours, more especially its tourism sector. 

The expectation is that at some point COVID – 19, just like its predecessors – like Sars, SwineFlu would be history. Things will probably get back to normal in both the global space and our country. It would be of great benefit to our tourism sector if when normality finally comes back our country is listed amongst those that have registered zero cases of coronavirus. A corona FREE Botswana would make it easier for tourists to choose our country as a destination as compared to others which already have registered cases. This would give Botswana the status of being few amongst many Safari countries that have come in contact with the deadly virus. (Yes, many tourists are that selective and sensitive).

If this does not work in our favour then it would be an act of sabotage or failure on our side to market our country. This is why it is important for us to join hands (not literally) and fight to keep this virus outside our borders. If we do it, and win against this pandemic, our economic recovery will be faster than predicted now. We will not only have more visitors but we will also have many stories to tell to the world as to how “the cradle of humankind” managed to beat the coronavirus. 

The Truth is, even when we been told repeatedly how our diamond are not selling well, it’s not like our economic engine has lost its ability to run. We can still look at other sectors, more especially tourism to create wealth for our people. The gap between the rich and the poor in this country tells a story of how we neglected citizen economic empowerment as part of our development agenda. Even before the arrival of the coronavirus, it was becoming clear every passing day that inequalities in our country are apparent not just in income but in a variety of other variables that reflect standards of living. Coronavirus has come to remind us that, in Botswana, life remains particularly harsh at the bottom of the income hierarchy. If we join hands together to keep coronavirus away, we will be showing some form of empathy towards the poor people of this country. The economy of this country can never be referred to as successful as long as we have many of the indigenous citizens maintaining their current standard of living. It is my view that the success of any economy can be or should be assessed only by looking at what is happening to the living standards of most of its citizens over a sustained period of time. Our has been a sad economic story over the past two or so decades atleast as far as the accumulation of wealth for the citizens is concerned.  We have for long time maintained a Rich-State, Poor-Citizens scenario. But of late we have now slowly moved to a Broke-State, Poor-Citizens. That is why we can no longer ignore our country’s growing inequality and it’s grave economic, political and social consequences. I am of the view that If we are to undertake what to do about it, we have to also understand the economic, political and social forces that continue to give rise to growing inequalities. For example, as the per the government announcement on Thursday, a COVID 19 Relief Fund has been set. Key amongst the things that was not clear when the announcement was made was how the government will ensure that Batswana who are expected to face the consequences of coronavirus directly benefit from it. One can only hope that in its bid to cushion the business sector the government does not sideline Batswana and pump the money into wrong hands. We are where we are now, economically, as the people of this country partially because of the approach of the government chose in the past. It is high time that we change tactics, more especially now when we are about to re-distribute the COVID 19 Relief Fund monies. We should consider a bottom-up approach which would see our people directly benefiting as opposed to giving money to big corporations who care-less about the man on the street. This, I say in recognising that Inequality has become the number one enemy not just for Botswana but the world at large. In our country, this monster is multi-faceted and reinforcing because of our lack of tact towards fighting it. Coronavirus gets into our shores it will likely fight on the inequality corner but as a united and caring nation we can help those at the far bottom and close the gap. As we noted in this space even before the arrival of COVID 19, the bitter pill that we all need to swallow is that to truly unleash our country’s potential, we need to tackle the concentration of ownership, control and market dominance by foreigners in the domestic economy. When all have been said, the #Bottomline remains – a country like ours which is struggling to address income inequality and poverty cannot afford to have coronavirus in its shores. So, in the meantime let’s keep COVID 19 away by social distancing and washing hands.

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The Telegraph October 21

Digital edition of The Telegraph, October 21, 2020.