At a time when we are being told that the big brother down South is still bull-dozing other members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), we ought to ask ourselves a few questions that include on how we intend to turn the tables as citizens and consumers in Botswana.
This commentary follows the SACU council of Ministers that was held in Windhoek, Namibia last week. We have been reliably informed of the stalemate on quite a number of issues that are of interest to Botswana and the region. A pressing matter, we have been told, is the current tariff setting architecture, which is certainly not efficient. From what we hear the big brother down south views tariffs as an instrument of industrial policy ÔÇô while other governments such as ours rely on tariffs as a source of revenue. The other key deliverable that has been on the table for a long time is the revenue sharing formula amongst the member’s states. Like on other key issues, it seems SA is also stretching its big muscles to close the young nations out. From a selfish point of view there is really nothing wrong with SA behaving they way it is. The country is simply protecting its interests and that of its people. That is why other member states like Botswana also need to do the same. Our country needs to develop muscles to defend the interest of its people.
Botswana has traditionally been a strong economic partner of South Africa. The foundation for this relationship dates back to the establishment of SACU itself in 1910. We do not want to have this relationship, in anyhow, ruined but at the same time we should not stop to hope and advocate for economic advancement of our people.
Going forward we cannot afford to continue with business as usual where SA retailers continue to “eat” a large chunk of the domestic cake. As citizens we need to re-direct our consumer pattern. The good thing is that we have the freedom to shape it with our wallets. This should then act as reminder that it matters on which products we spend our disposable income on. Imported ones or local products – does buying from one of own really matters and how far can it go in terms of helping the local economy?
It is unfortunate that for a very long time, our country led by the government avoided, either deliberately or not “talking too much” or promoting goods that are being produced by Batswana at an individual or small scale level.
This has left us in situation where now big brother neighbour feels can call the shots until the end. This has also left us with an importation bill, which stands at over P70 million. This should be a source of concern not only for local service providers and manufactures but the economy of the country as a whole. The solution is however within us. We need to come up with more initiatives that seek to reduce the number of imports by promoting the use of locally produced goods and services. This has been said countless times by trade experts at different forums.
Despite these repetitive pleas to support local products, there seems to be less progress. From where we stand, it seems like for a very long time, the government did not want to send out what we can call “protectionist signals” to our trading partners including South Africa.
We have always taken the open market phrase literally and forgot that we need to not just protect but also grow our own. The situation has been made worse by the fact that Botswana has over the years failed to diversify its economy and thus forced to import most of its inputs mostly from South Africa. This includes simple consumer items such as match-stick, toilet paper and even bottled water.
Across the border, the big brother’s local promotion program has been built around three main challenges that the country is faced with – unemployment, poverty and corruption. Is it not the same problems that we are also facing here? If the answear is yes, why do we find it to be a taboo to have our own local procurement laws?
Is it perhaps due to our misplaced self depreciating psyche that everything that is produced by fellow Batswana is of inferior quality? We do not need this commentary to remind us that Batswana have the right to dominate their own economy. For a record, there is no way that purchasing from some of these enterprises can be called citizen economic empowerment. Unless we come out and admit that we cannot make a distinction between local and indigenous citizens.
All these mishaps should instil in our people positivity regarding the outcomes of supporting each other not only when they are bereaved but also for their economic and wealth growth. There is no single doubt that buying from our own will build trust and positivity, open our minds and hearts, and makes us more independent as a nation – A more connected nation is safer, more resilient and self-reliant in times of uncertainty like the one that our country is facing now.
As it stands, the sad reality is that the propensity to procure goods and services from foreign firms is undermining government efforts including the much talked about, Economic Diversification Drive (EDD) policy. A lot of money that should be revolving and sustaining the local economy is leaving the country’s shores at alarming rates.
Be that as it may be, we should be reminded of the fact that by making conscious decisions to empower local professionals, support local merchants, food growers and service providers, we are embracing our local economies thus empowering our own people.
As our society evolves, our thoughts and actions matter now more than ever. Whether one is a consumer, entrepreneur, artist, businessperson or policy maker, each and every one of us can and should take action today. The action to make is to “Buy local”. The #Bottomline therefore is that in this era of global economic, political and social instability, buying locally matters, because it is easier to keep wealth and jobs flowing within our country.