There is an anti-Indian discourse being peddled through social media. It is fuelled by the belief that Indians have taken all the local businesses. They dominate the poultry industry – precisely the chicken industry. They dominate the retail industry. They are into the fuel and petroleum distribution industry. They are predominantly Muslim etc. Now here is the challenge. Batswana call Indian-looking people makula – a term considered general unflattering, offensive and at worst, a racist slur. The term makula is derived from coolie meaning a labourer. I use the expression “Indian-looking” because Batswana in general call Indians, Pakistanis, Malaysians, Bangladeshi, and Arabs simply Indians. They can rarely differentiate between many of them. It is like calling Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thai, simply Chinese. Now the anti-Indian discourse is hinged on a feeling of helplessness because of poverty and unemployment. There are many local people who feel that wealth is in the hands of expatriates – OK let’s say it: foreigners. Those whose parents have built this republic find themselves trapped in the dungeons of unimaginable poverty in the midst of huge material wealth which lies in the hands of people who don’t look like them.
To narrow the issue to Indians though is to miss the mark. Yes, there are Indians who are insanely rich in Botswana. A Forbes article titled: “5 multi-millionaires from Botswana you should know” lists Abdul Satar Dada, Gulaam Husain Abdoola, Chandrakanth D. Chauhan, Ramachandran Ottapathu, and Farouk Essop Ismail. None of these men is Mosimanegape Kgosietsile. They are Indian-looking men. But they are not the only rich men in Botswana. There are many expatriates in mining, retail, real estate and tourism who control much of Botswana’s wealth. Now, let us get things clear. We need more Batswana to participate not just in sharing in the wealth of the country, but in creating such wealth. We cannot proceed with much of the national wealth in foreign hands. That is just obscene. Having said that, some of these wealthy men may not look like you and I, but they are not foreigners. They were born and raised here in our country. For instance, Satar Dada’s story must be written – how his family built its wealth over the years in Kanye, Moshupa and how he made it big in Gaborone. However, to resolve these imbalances, we need to be careful not to stoop low to bigotry and racism. We cannot resort to hate speech and incite people to violence against the Indian-looking persons. We need to have a frank discussion on how we can empower our people so that they can participate meaningfully in the tourism industry, in the farming business, in the mining sector, in the retail business, in the IT business, in real estate etc. How can we economically empower our citizens? How can we move them from being subsistence farmers to become high powered commercial farmers?
That is a discussion we must have. I believe the current Citizen Economic Empowerment law is aimed at addressing this matter. Enlightened citizens must not run to social media to spew vile. While I believe their discontent comes from a good space of concern for the status quo, they are however misdirecting their energies to a platform which while it shows them in good light achieves very little in the long run. We cannot have rumbling lightning and thunder without the rain. It must rain. We must all engage with the proposed law to ensure that it is crafted in a manner that will empower all citizens. We must remove all loopholes which may render the law powerless against powerful businesses. We must lobby – but lobby effectively and intelligently to ensure that lasting wealth is created, maintained, and spent in Botswana. We have a unique opportunity, under the current government, to develop strategies of empowering current and coming generations of Batswana. We must build a national transport system that is efficient and economically viable owned and run by Batswana. We must plant our own crops and process them and get a fair pay for our produce. Batswana farmers must be protected from exploitation. We must own the telephone industry and be players in the banking sector. Hard work must pay.
Corruption cannot be allowed to reign supreme and make a mockery of due process. Tourism is a multi-million business in Botswana. Batswana must be assisted to venture into this lucrative sector. Pork is big business. Batswana must be funded to go into this sector. The country produces less than 10% of its milk and dairy needs. Batswana must be key players in this field. We must fight to ensure that locals are key players in all manner of businesses. To do this efficiently, we must not drink from the cup of bitterness and racism. Yes, we must unapologetically demand our share of national wealth. We, however, must not do so through bigotry. We must demand of our government to put in place measures and programs which will pull us out from the gutters of poverty. We must accept that there will be foreigners, yes, who will be large owners of businesses in Botswana. We cannot demand to chase foreigners from our own country. Xenophobia must have no place in this republic. Let us demand for place at the table alongside expatriates. They cannot be exclusive owners of national wealth. We must reserve certain sectors exclusively for Batswana. It is a truism that many of us lack capital – start-up capital. That is why we cannot compete. Therefore consortiums and assistance from both government and banks will be inevitable. Let us have an open discussion on how to empower our people, but let us beware of anti-Indian racism.