The United Nations (UN) has blasted Botswana’s socio-economic investments and human rights record citing what it calls the country’s “painful extremes.”
UN Botswana country coordinator, Zia Choudhury took the lead in voicing the criticism in a new report undertaken by the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in collaboration with the Government of Botswana, other development partners and stakeholders, that was published recently, a copy of which has been seen by Sunday Standard.
In a strongly worded foreword to the report, Choudhury explains that using it, the UN, together with diverse partners, will craft a new five-year development plan for 2022–2026, known as the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF).
“For a well-endowed country, with peaceful democracy, low levels of corruption and a high level of socio-economic investments in tackling poverty, Botswana remains a country of painful extremes,” he noted.
He said just as the CCA will develop as new challenges emerge, “we as a UN family will continue to adapt to face new challenges, and we will not be disheartened or intimidated by the task ahead. We will draw strength from our belief in human rights for all.”
Reiterating that despite economic growth and many development advances and that Botswana is one of the most unequal countries in the world, Choudhury said, “We will continue to feel urgency to act until the SDGs are achieved. We will be data driven in our analyses and humble in our openness to learn and improve, but always resolute in our defence of human dignity.”
He said, “Even as we note that rapid and phenomenal national growth has been accompanied by vast and well-intentioned development investments for the people, we must also recognize that a significant proportion of the population live in immensely challenging circumstances.
Choudhury said continued discourse is needed to get a deeper appreciation of causes and drivers of inequality also noting that there currently appears to be an imbalance with regard to the issues that are prioritized for debate.
“For example, some key issues are discussed openly, such as GBV and HIV. Others, such as climate change and urbanization, need to be brought to the fore in future updates. Some issues are deemed sensitive, such as migration, rights of minority groups, xenophobia and corporal and capital punishment. We must be bold in addressing all these issues,” he said.
He said systemic challenges such as inefficiency or lack of accountability in the public sector or lack of coordination between development agents, including the UN and NGOs, may lead to poor policies, or to policies not adopted or implemented with urgency.
Meanwhile the report says that Botswana’s current economic model is not sustainable: the country is over-reliant on mining for revenues and growth, and the COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard.
It says the government’s focus has rightly shifted toward the non-mining sector. “However, the Government’s revised budget for 2020/21 budget is 16 per cent less than originally envisioned, suggesting that the country will have to do more (including achieve the SDGs) with fewer financial resources,” the report says.
The report found that Botswana spends 4.4 per cent of GDP on social protection, 4.5 per cent on health, and 8.5 per cent on education.
“While the heavy investment in the social sectors has extended service reach and accessibility, the outcomes achieved in some areas, including poverty reduction, education and health, have fallen below expectations,” it says.
Today, the report says, Botswana faces the challenge of ensuring that all women and men, boys and girls, and future generations, fulfil their potential in dignity and equality in a healthy environment.
“The country falls into the category of one of the 10 most unequal countries in the world, creating a need for close monitoring and adjustment of strategies for inclusion,” it says.
The report found that young people are the most affected by unemployment. “Youth unemployment for Q1 of 2020 was estimated at 31.3 per cent, and the proportion of youth not in education, employment or training (NEET) increased from 36.1 per cent to 39.7 per cent between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, an increase of 3.6 percentage points,” the report notes. It says higher rates of unemployment are seen among female youth (32.2 per cent), in urban villages (52.9 per cent) and among the youth population qualified at the secondary education level (69.8 per cent).47
“This situation has implications for real-life economic dependency in Botswana, which is substantially different from the theoretical dependency ages of 0–15 years and 65+ years, with young people in fact remaining dependent up to the age of 32 years,” the report says.
It notes that the drivers of high youth unemployment include lack of specific and technical skills, low levels of education, lack of work experience, a skills mismatch and the inability of government to create jobs through a diversified economy.
The UN also did not have kind words for Government’s response to youth unemployment and outcomes which has been through policy and programme formulation, for instance, the 1996 Youth Policy, 2010 Revised Youth Policy, Out of School Youth Programme (OSYP), Young Farmers’ Fund (YFF), 2009 Youth Development Fund (YDF), 2009 Botswana National Internship Programme (BNIP), Job Creation Initiative (JCI), 2012 Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES), 2014 Botswana National Service Programme (BNSP), and 2015 Graduate Volunteer Scheme (GVS).
The report says data collection tends to be weak regarding these interventions, so the number of participants in each of these programmes and their resulting outcomes are unknown.
“Many of these policies and programmes are characterized by not being anchored in robust empirical research. They tend to be reactive, top-down derived, politically motivated, and short-term “quick fixes” which are often poorly implemented and poorly coordinated between the different implementing ministries and departments, local authorities, the private sector, and NGOs,” the report says.
It says inadequate training, mentorship and monitoring have undermined the successful implementation of several youth policies and programmes. Little attention has been paid to the sustainability of youth projects, the report says.
The report says expenditure on education (7 per cent of GDP) and health (4 per cent of GDP) are fairly high; however, despite these spending levels and a mature set of social protection programmes, poverty remains a challenge.
“The pre-pandemic poverty headcount ratio at $1.90 per day and at $3.20 per day stood at 16.1 per cent and 31.1 per cent, respectively.52 These ratios will likely increase due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In comparison, the average level of poverty (at $1.90 per day and at $3.20 per day) for all upper-middle-income countries in 2018 was 1.6 per cent and 6.4 per cent, respectively,” the report says.
Sanitation, the report says, remains the most common form of deprivation. At least seven out of every 10 children are deprived of adequate sanitation adding that children from poor, rural households have higher rates of deprivation; Social assistance benefits are paid out to individuals with no evidence on
Turning to the Covid-19 relief fund, established by the Government to mitigate the negative impact of Covid-19, the report says, it was, in essence, a crowd-funding mechanism to which everyone was encouraged to contribute.
“The success of any such measure depends on the overall transparency and efficiency of spending, the underlying trust between government and the public, as well as the results achieved,” states the report.
On capital punishment and “shoot-to-kill”, the report says prisoners are not given advance notice of execution dates, and family members of those convicted are only notified after the execution. Furthermore, the six-week timeline to prepare a clemency petition is not sufficient, and Botswana has conducted executions while clemency procedures were ongoing.
In 2013, the report says, the government of Botswana introduced a “shoot-to-kill” policy targeted at suspected poachers to reduce wildlife crime.
“This was done without the adoption of a document outlining the policy. Several people have lost their lives through the “shoot-to-kill” policy. Such killings contravene international law, since they violate the right to life and do not afford the person the right to a fair trial as required by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the report says.
It called on Botswana to review this policy in line with the General Assembly Resolution 71/198 of 2016 that demands States to “ensure that the practice of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions is brought to an end”.