Saturday, September 26, 2020

A look at Botswana’s future economic prospects – Part I

I should first of all like to express my gratitude for the invitation to address the Botswana Society.

The Society has earned a well-deserved reputation for providing forums for sound and rational discussion on many issues and subjects of public interest connected with the development of Botswana.

In a democratic society such as Botswana, with its different political parties or multi-party system, it is essential to have forums such as the Botswana Society where discussions are not tainted by partisanship or a mere espousal of narrow party views.

It is needless to state that Botswana is rightly regarded as one of the success stories in the Third World as far as economic development is concerned. Whatever I may have to say in my discussion with you tonight, must in no way be regarded as negating in any way the fact that there are many countries, both in natural and human resources that have suffered severe economic setbacks and even failures.

Whenever the development of Botswana is discussed, it is essential to appreciate the almost total absence of economic prospects with which the country began its existence as asovereign independent state.

When one reads to-day the first Three years Transitional National Development Plan with which the then Minister of Finance and Development Planning’s, His Excellency the President, Dr Masire, made every effort to interest the world in the economic development of Botswana, one cannot but wonder at the faith that enabled our Government in its endeavors in spite of the grim picture that pertained at the early part of our development stages.

The country was starting literally from scratch; rather a significant contrast with other ex-colonial countries which took over from their masters infrastructures upon which to build their own economies.

Our skeptics and cynics wondered at our decision to demand independence to determine our destiny when the country was not only poor and drought-stricken but also utterly ill equipped educationally and politically to assume the enormous responsibility of a sovereign state.

I feel that through determination and commitment to our course, we have proved skeptics and cynics wrong.

To-day we can look back at the years when we planted the first tree that now bears fruit and to consistently high rate of economic growth, and the establishment of new cities, mining industries, educational institutions, expanded world markets for our beef, construction of trunk and rural roads, health facilities, etc., etc.

The credit rating of the country is very high and we have substantial reserves. Gone are the days when our recurrent budget was meet almost totally from without the country; and in fifteen years Botswana has ceased to be rated as one of the poorest countries of the Third World.

All these should be a matter of pride to every Motswana. This is not to say that we have accomplished everything that we set ourselves to do.

I am merely trying to indicate that within the limits of our economic constraints, Botswana has done better than most African countries, thanks to the leadership of the Botswana Democratic Party.

Often when one hears criticism of the policies of the Government of Botswana from oppositions parties, one wonders what model they would have in mind that could have been more successful in the economic development of this country.

So far the country has not found any acceptable alternative policy from any one opposition party.
Even the manifestos of the opposition parties have not inspired confidence in many Batswana and the result of the various elections have demonstrated the good faith the people of Botswana have in the policies of the Botswana Democratic Party.

It must also be appreciated that the economic development of Botswana has taken place in an atmosphere of peace, stability and complete democracy.

Without being pedantic, we can say that our people have been free to speak their minds, to read what they like, to travel freely and to vote for or be elected to all institutions of state power.

The fundamental human rights of the individual have been strictly upheld in this country and we can boast of being one of the few governments in Africa, which has not gagged its opponents for political reasons.

The Botswana Democratic Party is unique amongst most political parties in the Third World in that it has carried out consistently the promises made in each of the manifestos it has published.

To read these manifestos over the years and then to see what has happened is an education in itself.
How many countries are there in which any one would be encouraged to read the manifestos that have been published with a clear conscience?

The promises have always been realistic and modest. But what is important is that these promises have been kept within the limits of economic constraints.

To this extent, it is necessary to pay tribute to our leaders, particularly the late President, Sir Seretse Khama and his successor, His Excellency the President, Dr Masire, who can rightly be regarded as the chief architects of Botswana’s economic success.

If then I express any misgivings about any aspect of economic policy or I raise any new issue or point to problems in our future economic development, this is not because I am unmindful of the solid economic foundation that has been laid.

It is only because I believe it is precisely because there have been such successes that problems are arising which must be properly analysed and solved. One of the dangers of economic success is that is blinds people to problems that can grow and eventually threaten the smooth economic progress of the country.

And sometimes economic success can produce arrogance and irritation at any criticisms that bode ill for the future the country. The stark fact is that well still have long and arduous road to travel. As His Excellency, the President, Dr Masire, said at the opening of the National Congress of the Botswana Democratic Party on 11th July 1981 at Selebi Phikwe:

We have, since our independence, worked very hard to improve the materials well-being of our people and our record speaks for itself. I must, however, caution against complacency, which could slacken the momentum of our political, social and economic development.

Is much easier to destroy than to build and yet it has taken so much sacrifice, dedication and goodwill to reach where we are. Let us therefore be vigilant and safeguard the achievements gained thus far. Let us also continue to search for a better future for our people.

Clearly we have come a long way and it is time to take a hard look at the future.

The economic philosophy of Botswana has essentially been one of free enterprise and one with a strong commitment to social justice. This has meant a minimum of Government to social justice.

This has meant a minimum of Government intervention and desire that the benefits of the development are shared by the population as whole. Unfortunately this liberal approach to economic development in a young country such as Botswana has its own grave disadvantages because a free enterprise economy is a hostile game, which does not pamper the industrially and commercially weak.

This is one of the factors that may account for the lack of active participation by Botswana in the economic development of the country compared to non-citizens who know the rules of the game. Clearly such a philosophy must relate to practical life as we see it in Botswana and our task is to find the solution.

It must be accepted that up to now, the emphasis in Government thinking has been on infrastructural development and less on the quality of such development, and on the role of Batswana in such development.

Most of the development up to now has been largely based on expertise and management from abroad, encouragement of foreign investment to provide skills and technological know-how in the country.

It is quite clear that with the great development envisaged in the field of railway, exploitation of coal and export thereof, even greater participation by expatriate expertise and management will be called for.
Unfortunately, Botswana, like most Third World countries, must concede and accept dependence on foreign skills and foreign ideas.

This makes the country extremely vulnerable in that a third-rate so-called expert can take the whole country for a ride by selling or imposing out-dated or discredited economic ideas from elsewhere.

This is very crucial to this country because experts or expatriates are here for short periods of two to three years and they make decisions, which affect Botswana for many years after they have left.

What I am trying to show is that although the number of experts in Government may be relatively small, their influence is certainly significant and this has been a cause for concern.

Thus when he opened the Botswana Democratic Party National Congress in 1979, the late president, Sir Seretse Khama, said, interalia,

..five years later we still call upon Batswana to participate actively in the making of decisions, which affect their lives.

(Delivered in 1981 to the Botswana Society in Gaborone)

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