Saturday, January 23, 2021

Black Friday as a reminder of the economic disparity in Botswana

BY VICTOR BAATWENG

The comment was specifically meant to remind the nation of the need to address the gap between the rich and the poor citizens of this country. This gap, as we all know continues to grow wider each and every passing day.
Apart from the commentary we made recently, another recent sour reminder of the economic disparity and high income inequality in this country was the now popular BLACK Friday.
The black Friday concept originates from the United States of America and it’s a name given to the shopping day after Thanksgiving Day.
Thanks to an economic phase called globalisation BLACK Friday is now popular in both big cities like London, Paris, Berlin, New Delhi and even our tiny Gaborone.
In Botswana, the day has come to symbolise the biggest day of the shopping calendar for middle and low income earners.
As expected low and middle income households flogged malls as early as Thursday night to take advantage of the perceived price reductions. Their items of interest as usual were home appliances; a refrigerator, a washing machine, a flat screen television and any other item that an indigenous and average Botswana family would not be able to afford on a typical day.

It is also worth noting that this year’s black Friday spree comes on the heels of the formal employment survey report published by the national statistics agency ÔÇô Statistics Botswana. The survey, just like the ones carried in previous recent years gives a picture of how the locals have been turned into economic spectators in their own yard. The disparity in wages between citizens and their non-citizens counterparts tells a story of why there is a strong feeling that the domestic economy works well and better for the rich and their companies. These very deep fissures can no longer go on unattended. At the same time while hundreds of Batswana shoppers who were “sjamboked” by the Police on Thursday night at Game City mall because of “BLACK FRIDAY” are easy target for sarcastic sniping in the social media, they are also evidence of a far larger failure of our economy. For the hundreds that flocked Game City Mall Thursday night and thousands others who envied them – mostly low-income & middle-class families, the BLACK FRIDAY’s deals are a necessity not a luxury. One wonders where the rich ones were that night. The rich and their riches aside, the cost of keeping a roof over the heads of the poor members of our society continue to accelerate significantly with rent for instance taking up over 30 percent of the disposable income. This should explain why such a big number had to stay out all night for a 50Thebe price reduction. It’s a fact that some went there to buy luxurious goods but we strongly believe that it is the price that called them. Whichever way one looks at it, Botswana has one of the most unequal societies on earth and that is the issue that the powers that be need to address sooner than later.

Ordinarily this should be a concern for all of us, yet we live in a society where those glaring inequalities have now come to be accepted as normal. Our so called high society’s dual obsession with BLACK FRIDAY ÔÇö mocking its participants on the one hand, hanging on every useless statistic about it on the other hand ÔÇö serves no one well. As we all might be aware, wages in Botswana have been stagnate for working families since the turn of the century, producing a lost decade for worker’s quality of life. This should explain why consumers ÔÇô low and middle income earners would jump for any cut in prices even if it means sleeping out waiting for the retailers to open their doors.

While days like BLACK FRIDAY exposes the failure of economy, it also shows our lack of planning. We have not learnt even from other nations that came way before us. Even in the holy book ÔÇô Bible, which most Batswana rely on for upliftment, there are many stories of success or how to avoid failure. Who remembers the story of Joseph & the Egyptian famine? For the sake of those who never read the Bible, Joseph began his tenure as Egypt’s Chief Operations Officer (COO) touring the country to assess the state of the nation. At the time the harvest was plentiful.

One cannot help but imagine how ÔÇô at the time, Joseph probably then surveyed the Egyptian territory, noted population levels and needs, monitored crops and grain production and considered storage alternatives. He probably thereafter established a goal: To help Egypt survive the seven years of famine that lay ahead.

At the time, we read from the Bible that Egypt was destined for 7 years of agricultural abundance and followed by 7 years of severe famine. After his appointment as COO by King Pharaoh, Joseph recommended a plan for storing food during the good years so the nation could survive the lean.

Joseph’s approach parallels the strategy we can employ for our economic future as a nation. Question is, who have we appointed to be our CEO, COO and line managers? How proactive are they? Are they able to and do they care enough to assess the current situation..? During our seven years of abundance (when diamonds were selling like fat cakes, what did they/we do?) Do we have something in store that we can use during this economic tough period…our own 7 years of struggle where jobs are created at a slower rate and less diamonds are being sold? All these are rhetoric questions but the #Bottomline remains – we need imaginative leaders because without strong, imaginative and inspiring leadership, our people will continue eating crumb of bread whilst the gap between the Have’s and ‘Have-not’ grow wider.

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