Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Botswana’s economic difficulties fast becoming the country’s existential threats

It’s increasingly clear that the current Government does not care much about the key issues facing the country.

It would seem like top of their concerns and now driving their entire agenda is staying in power.

Botswana’s biggest problems, unfortunately do not include among them who is in power.

Rather such problems have to do with high unemployment, corruption, low growth, low productivity and of course the unsustainably high public spending.

Unless and until we get our priorities right, as a country we stand no chance of resolving our immediate economic challenges.

Owing to long stretched periods of neglect and under-spending, the public infrastructure is in a state of ruin and disrepair.

The recent rains exposed the fragility of our infrastructure.

Officially, unemployment hovers somewhere in the region of 19 percent.

In real terms it could easily be more than double that figure.

Statistics in Botswana have terribly low integrity thresholds.

A long running complaint against statistics in Botswana is that they are outdated and too often sanitized for political purposes.

That is almost certainly true with unemployment statistics quoted above.

Among the youth, who constitute the majority of the population, and over half of who are out of work, throwing out such statistics means nothing to them.

The current president came to power in 2008. He is due to leave office next year.

In economic terms ÔÇô at least based on hard statistical evidence, his ten years in power have been a lost decade for Botswana. Recouping that lost decade will be an insurmountable task.

A decade that started with a ruthless assault by the global meltdown now ends up with a myriad of self-inflicted difficulties, top of which is a reckless president’s insatiable greed that threatens to bring the country on its knees as key economic assets are  being systematically stripped and divided among his family and friends.

We are now in the immediate Russia territory post the Soviet collapse that spawned an army of oligarchs all with ties to the Kremlin.

President Ian Khama’s decade in power that started on a high note hope. As it slowly closes to an end, even some of those that had proved infernal optimists are becoming more and more exasperated ÔÇô and publicly so.

Critics might be thankful that the current president is finally about to leave. But we have sufficient reason to believe it will not get better any time soon.

Those who have so far raised hands as potential successors offer competing visions of loyalty to the departing leader’s fealty.

In fact based on their public attitudes, other than continued looting there does not appear to be any incentive for those that will stay behind to take a divergent economic route.

Pretenders to the throne might use varying languages. But it’s all semantics.

The common thread among them is that they are happy to make themselves subservient to the country’s intelligences services that have controlled and ultimately ruined the current leader’s chances.

Public debt has not yet reached the legal limits. But it is already too high when looked against projections for future ability to repay international institutions like the World Bank and the African development Bank.

Missed economic opportunities as well the extent to which such borrowed money has been wasted ÔÇô either on corruption but also as a result of sheer failure to oversee project implementation only serve to increase repayment costs.

Morupule B power plant remains a case in point.

For Botswana the situation has not been helped by sheer political recklessness.

The BCL mine closure will forever remain a glaring example of how unchecked executive power can ultimately turn even against its own interests.

BCL was closed on a lie. And from the look of things, if the mine is ever sold, will also be disposed on a lie.

If Botswana Government cares about the thousands lives ruined by that closures, it does not as yet show it.

All it cares about, at least for now is to avert and circumvent its obligations to the companies from which it bout the BCL stake.

There is growing evidence to suggest that long before the BCL saga, Botswana’s international stature was already beginning to erode and ebb away.

African countries that used to look up to Botswana as a doyen of democracy that had for years evaded them, have not only surpassed us in key rankings, they are also increasingly viewing us as the continent’s latest patient to dock inside the economic intensive care wards.

Those hoping for a miracle better take a look at the numbers again.

The number of out of job young people is so high that for there to be any discernible dent on such unemployment levels the country will have to register double digit growths for a continuous period of no less than twenty years.

Under the current world scenario, that is impossible.

In fact even during the boom years of high diamond sales of the 1980s and 1990s, defeating today’s kind of high unemployment levels would still be as far-fetched as to be unrealistic.

Unemployment is not something new to Botswana.

But on account of today’s dangerously high levels, there is no doubting that we are sailing through uncharted waters.

From the look of things we are a country trapped in hopelessness.

The country’s security is under risk.

Unless something is done to give hope to the thousands of young people whose level of hopelessness is now reaching boiling point this country will simply implode.

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