Saturday, October 24, 2020

Are we comfortable with “Rich state; Poor citizens” tag?

As Botswana prepares to celebrate its 50th independence, perhaps one of the areas to carefully consider re-visiting is its social development policy which guides wealth distribution amongst the citizenry.

As we all might be aware, from 1966 when Botswana attained independence to 2008 (global recession), our country maintained strong economic growth in excess of eight percent per annum. Through fiscal discipline and sound management, Botswana has managed to transform itself from one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita GDP of US$70 to an upper-middle income country with a per capita GDP of US$8,533 in 2011.

This data is however not telling the whole economic story of Botswana, atleast about the wealth of the citizenry of this country. There is a sobering fact that we cannot afford to turn a blind eye on when we talk about Botswana’s so called economic prosperity. We don’t know whether such is part of the prosperity but what we know is that our country continues to have a highly unequal distribution of income. A sizeable proportion of the population is still living in poverty despite government’s strategies to spread the benefits of development as widely as possible as set out in the National Development Plans.

We therefore strongly believe that, without spoiling the party, this year’s independence should not only be used for celebrations but also to introspect on a number of issues that affect our people.

The #Bots50 as we have come to call the celebrations should provide a meaningful guide to the country’ economic planners at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in terms of what to do for those that have been left behind ÔÇô economically. This is task that we should give to politicians. They would do what they have done in the past 50 years ÔÇô that is enriching themselves and forgetting about the masses.

Botswana government’s efforts to eradicate poverty and encourage citizen participation in business and employment creation are well-documented. A collaborative research paper conducted by three international partners, the African Development Bank (AFDB), the OECD Development Centre and the United Nations Development Program in 2015 listed Botswana amongst countries whose distribution of wealth and level of development amongst citizens unequal. 

The report pointed out that while the government of Botswana has a reputation for prudent management of mining revenues, and also boasts of a good governance record and stable democracy, its formula of sharing wealth leaves a lot to be desired.

Another hard hitting report, the 2011 CIA World Fact book, ranked Botswana as the ranks fourth-worst in the world on the measure of inequality in wealth distribution, with a lower Gini coefficient than Sierra Leone, Haiti, and the Central African Republic. 

With a Gini coefficient of 0.61, Botswana portrays a relatively unequal distribution of wealth. The key question therefore is, going forward, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, what are we going to do to correct this unfortunate set up? Are we comfortable with rich state, poor citizens’ kind of state?

A quick and good example is a region or rather sub district called Boteti. Dwellers of this area have nothing to sure when it comes to wealth accomplishment in the last 50 years or atleast from the time when diamonds were discovered in their soil. For many social and economic commentators, the fact that Boteti-an area that is home to Botswana’s most precious resources, diamonds-has largely remained undeveloped and impoverished is a shameful blight on Botswana’s illuminating reputation as a poster child of ‘diamonds for development.’

The same could be said about Okavango and Ngamiland (Sub) districts ÔÇô areas well known for beautiful sites such as Okavango Delta and Qwihaba caves. People who reside forms the larger part of the population that rely on social protection programmes.

In November 2015, a row over distribution of diamond revenue in Botswana erupted after mining giant De Beers, released a report highlighting the socio-economic contribution to Botswana of its longstanding partnership with government.

President of Women in Business Association for Botswana, Tumi Mbaakanyi remarked or rather questioned the return for marginalised groups such as women and youth from the De Beers ÔÇô government partnership at the launch of the said report.

No one was able to dispute Mbaakanyi’s remarks that women, especially those who reside in mining towns, are still grappling with challenges of limited access to finance, and despite the much talked about economic success of diamond mining.

On the same footing, in the past two years or so, government embarked on poverty eradication workshops across the country with the sole purpose of educating beneficiaries on skills that could help pull them out of the ravaging effects of poverty.

It however remains worrisome that there is no available statistical data to show whether any meaningful progress has been achieved or the workshops were just another waste of public funds. The #Bottomline though is that at 50, Botswana should strive to shift the economic divide. We need to have rich citizens not just a rich state that waste natural resources that God has blessed us with.

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