Botswana investment promoters are rolling their sleeves in an attempt to sell the country abroad as one way of diversifying the economy away from mining sector.
On Thursday, the ministry of Trade and Industry and IFSC led a mission to Johannesburg, the South African commercial centre, in an effort to market the country as the best destination to do business in the continent.
Trade and Industry minister, Dorcas Makgato-Malesu, told the businesses representatives from across the sectors that although Botswana has disadvantages, like the small market, it still has traits that are better than many economies in the continent.
“The businesses that come in should be strategic in Botswana’s economic diversification,” Makgato- Malesu told the seminar.
“The industry should be export oriented; it does not make sense for a business to focus on the local market. It should be targeted at the SADC region,” she added, referring to the country’s population of 2 million people, which has discouraged many companies to set up in the country, preferring South Africa instead.
Under the SADC Free Trade Area, Botswana goods can reach the region’s 277 million people and the market is expected to grow to 700 million if the discussions on COMESA-ESA- SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area bear fruit.
The Sandton meeting, which was attended by around 100 delegates from across sectors in financial services, tourism and auditing firms, was meant to create awareness amongst the South African professional service companies, key business people, and targeted investors about IFSC and the country’s investment opportunities.
Although the country has bottlenecks, including long processes in registering companies and tedious process to get a work permit, Makgato- Malesu said Botswana has the best credit rating in Africa, affirmed at AA by rating agencies recently.
“Botswana might be a small country, but we have the appetite and we have the ability to pay, not only on the goods we consume”.
Apart from financial services, Botswana is also wooing companies to invest in coal, which is seen as the country’s next top revenue earner after diamonds, power generation, new mineral discoveries and exploration.
The country is also putting more effort in deriving value from minerals through beneficiation.
IFSC Acting Chief Executive Officer, Letsebe Sejoe, told the South African businesspeople that they are ‘seeing a lot of opportunities in the region’. He said many countries in the region are now becoming democratic and urged them to use this opportunity by using the IFSC as a springboard to the region and continent.
“We have seen that SADC has economies with relatively undeveloped financial systems,” said Sejoe.
“We see opportunities for IFSC to serve as financial intermediary centre for the region.”
Makgato- Malesu and Sejoe denied the seminar was belated saying they have had ‘excursions’ with the South African businesses previously in a targeted sectoral engagements and general business meetings.
Last year, Botswana hosted a general investment promotion seminar in South Africa where 300 delegates attended. The Director of Mines also made a presentation on Botswana mining opportunities at a recent Mining Indaba in Cape Town.
“We are coming now to intensify what we have been doing,” the minister said.
She said the Sandton seminar had achieved the first level of information dissemination and said they have created interest with the next level expected to be engagement that could take a year or two years.
After the seminar, four companies, some believed to be in project engineering and banking, were expected to keep their mid night oil burning in a bid to become members of the IFSC.
“When you have a meeting one-on-one, I become excited,” said Makgato- Malesu.
“This is a signal at the extent at which the message has gone through,” added Sejoe. Although the Johannesburg seminar was meant to be a platform for the IFSC to sell itself, the ministry of Trade and Industry used the platform to sell the country’s general investment opportunities.
Botswana is also targeting platforms including a mining conference in Australia where the minister made a presentation. Makgato- Malesu is also expected to head a mission to the U.S in June or July in reciprocating the National Black Chamber of Commerce that visited the country recently. The minister will address a bigger forum in America.
Neil Armstrong, the local legal brains, said he would not see difficulties for South African companies setting up in Botswana, as the country’s business and commercial law is very similar to that of South Africa.