The Botswana government’s delays in the liberalization and re-aligning telecommunication charges has seen thousands of jobs which could have been created through BPO and call centers moving to South Africa.
In 2004, the government through the IFSC commissioned a study by AccentureÔÇöan international consultancy firm ÔÇô which recommended the liberalization of the telecommunication industry and lowering telecommunication charges for BPO and Call centers for the country to be internationally competitive. The move, if it could have been fast tracked, would have created 17,000 much needed jobs within the first two years.
However, government stalled on the recommendations until last year when it announced a phased liberalization of the telecommunication industry and at the moment IFSC is still negotiating with Botswana Telecommunication for preferential charges for near and off-shoring calls.
“The most critical issues have been that telecommunication cost is not competitive in Botswana.
“We took a lot of time briefing cabinet in a bid to find a consensus. The liberalization of telecommunication was critical in moving forward,” Chief Executive Officer of IFSC, Alan Between, told The Sunday Standard in an exclusive interview.
Botswana was the first country in mainland southern Africa to come with a plan for BPO and Call centers, however, South Africa, which came a distant second, was able to ram through the recommendations of its consultants to have a head start. Presently, BPO and Call centers in South Africa employ 25,000 people with a view of increasing the number to 100,000. But in Botswana the industry employs about 400 peopleÔÇöall spread among 10 active companies.
Both Botswana and South Africa had a chance of servicing the United Kingdom and North America because of English languages and acceptable accents. This came at a time when the English speaking countries are relocating their BPO and Call Centers out of India and the Philippines because of their accents.
“It took long for government to liberalise telecommunications and we were there before South Africa, but they took advantage of the situation,” Boswaen said.
Boshwaen concurred with some analysts who told Sunday Standard that by the time when the liberalization was announced the “window” for wooing investors and creation of jobs was “already closed.”
“The negotiations with BTC also took a while but our hope is to conclude them by early next year.
“I think we have missed the first boat and we have to wait for the next one,” he added.
Although there is a renewed interest to re-locate BPO and Call centers to Africa, Botswana is now expected to meet tough competition as a number of countries in the continent are now gearing towards that. Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and RwandaÔÇöa country just emerging out of a bitter civil war in 1994 are already advanced in preparation for hosting the next generation of BPO and Call centers.
“All what we need is to be within the cost range with our competitors,” he said.
As part of the long term plan IFSC has grouped the existing call centers under an umbrella body called Outsource Botswana and have entered into negotiation with the Ministry of Education to sponsor a specialized course for close to 250 students starting early next year at the Botswana Accountancy College. IFSC, BAC have entered into an agreement with Ed Excell- a United KingdomÔÇôbased institution to offer specialized courses up to degree level.
“We are doing this because analysts are pointing to the growth of the sector,” he said.
Internationally, BPO and Call Centre are a cash-cow generating over US $ 57 billion per annum.