There can be no doubt that Botswana is going to need people with meritocratic workers and business acumen to rebuild its economy on the other side of the current pandemic but there is reality that makes that an uphill task. One part of such reality is that for decades, Botswana allowed mediocrity to rise to the top while meritocracy was intentionally weighted down to the bottom. Some of Botswana’s most successful “businesspeople” are actually no more than ruling party-aligned operatives (“tenderpreneurs” they have been called) who don’t have the faintest idea of what it takes to build a successful commercial enterprise.
Ever the gentleman, Ndaba Gaolathe finds diplomatic language to describe the dire straits Botswana finds itself before it even dips its toes into the waters of an oncoming sea of recession.
“Friends and loyalists secure the most lucrative government contracts,” the Alliance for Progressives leader says. “They are also appointed to the most consequential offices of authority. Our economic environment is often hostile to most talented, diligent and honest professionals as well as to workers and entrepreneurs of the land. This translates into a nation that does not value meritocracy and missed opportunities to transform our country into a paragon of prosperity and nation building.”
He adds that all things being equal, meritocracy should be embedded in and hardwired into the nation’s political system and leadership.
“The lack of checks and balances in our constitution/system, working in concert with a resultant culture and now tradition of nepotism and patronage, conveyanced by the ruling elites, conspire to discourage meritocracy of our socio-economic system,” Gaolathe says.
Ironically, it is the most talented, diligent and honest professionals, workers and entrepreneurs whose brainpower and skillsets would have to be rapidly deployed on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic. That is what the rest of the world will be doing. Never having deployed brainpower or any substantive skillset, Batswana tycoons who amassed a fortune solely on the basis of their personal connections to power cannot be relied upon to rebuild Botswana’s economy because they know nothing about building. The question though is whether there will be recognition of the fact that Botswana will not turn its economic fortunes around if it continues to conduct business as usual.
Who has been associated with the decline in Botswana’s meritocracy is a sad footnote of Botswana’s history given what that person did for the country. While they were still at the University of Botswana, Professors Mpho Molomo and Brian Mokopakgosi wrote an academic paper in which they argued that Botswana’s meritocracy began fraying under President Sir Ketumile Masire. That was when the government rigorously enforced a jobs-for-the-boys programme that benefitted ruling party operatives. The result was that what had been one of Africa’s most meritocratic civil services under President Sir Seretse Khama began to deteriorate as mediocrity eclipsed meritocracy. The cumulative effect was that when Masire died in 2017, the labour productivity of Botswana’s civil service was, at least according to the Global Competitiveness Report, among the worst in the world. Ironically, Masire has been credited by most for having made Botswana what it became at the height of its glory – a shining example of African democracy as well as record holder for Africa’s longest-running economic boom.