Sunday, May 9, 2021

Are Batswana an ideal people to invest in?

“If as a foreigner, you happen to go into Choppies and somebody persists in addressing you in Setswana, it is not for lack of education; it is sheer, uncalled for Tswana vanity, one of our most glaring shortcomings as a people,” comments former Cabinet Minister David Magang in his latest book, Delusions of Grandeur Vol. 2. 

Many countries have adopted a deliberate focus on their people to champion campaigns for foreign direct investment. Singapore, an island city state off southern Malaysia, promotes its people as the main reason why multinationals must invest in it, citing among other things their culture of hard work. e27, Asia’s largest tech media platform quotes Singapore’s Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Teo Ser Luck in relation to government’s vision for start-ups in the city-nation saying, “For me investing in people who can groom others, who can be at the right place at the right time, pick up the right kind of employees, bring in the right kind of passion, is more important.” Luck’s approach of placing people as the centre of attention is a reflection of the island’s high regard for its people.  Back home, Magang’s observation of Batswana as a self absorbed people compels one to investigate how the country could succeed in selling its citizens as deserving of foreign direct investment.

In short, are Batswana as a people worthy to invest in? This also raises questions on how Botswana can attractively incorporate its people as a selling point in its international campaign strategy.         

Econsult, a local economic think tank asserts in its recent economic review that Botswana’s investment policy has not generated the results it was expected to produce, even with the considerable amount of government intervention and support. Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) is an entity tasked with selling Botswana as an attractive and ideal country to set up businesses in. BITC advances in its website that investors should choose Botswana because it has developed a reputation as Africa’s leading destination that offers a predictable and secure environment for investment and business.   

Steven Lewis, Jr. a former economic consultant to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning for the government of Botswana between 1975 and 1988 recognizes the tradition of consultation and seeking consensus as deeply important in Tswana society. He credits this trait as a cornerstone in the progressive leadership that was adopted in the years before independence.

“The tradition of openness and consultation was used in developing virtually every major policy initiative,” highlights Lewis. Pre-independence leadership nurtured founding principles such as self reliance, a trait that was predominantly reflected in the livestock and farming activities. As a people, Batswana’s adoption of this trait cultivated and bolstered their development. This trait makes Batswana attractive to work with. However, the current overbearing role of government in the country’s development activities is alleged to be one of the causes of the declining self reliant nature. In terms of effectiveness and efficiency of Batswana in the production process and sale of goods and services, referred to as labour productivity, a less desirable depiction is given. According to the 2015 Botswana productivity statistics report a growth of only 0.01 percent of output per worker was realized within a period of 10 years (2003-2013). Although the report cites that this figure is two folds higher than unit labour cost, a measure of the cost of labour relative to the value of goods and services produces, the level of productivity is disapprovingly low. The report captures an unenviable trait which reveals that the country’s productivity growth has tapered off in the last decade compared to previous decades. In that sense, Batswana demonstrate a deficiency in their effectiveness and efficiency.

In his book, Magang highlights the tremendous strides made by Batswana in learning how to read and write as well as in speaking English. “Today, even house maids boast a smattering of the Queen’s language, young and old alike.” The lack of communication with foreigners, as observed by Magang, is now very much a thing of the past. This demonstrates the high literacy rate that Batswana have accomplished, a trait that makes them employable.

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