Saturday, July 4, 2020

Can Masisi “shake up” the business community in Botswana?

South African President – Cyril Ramaphosa’s ascension to the presidency of the neighbouring country in February 2018 was greeted with so-called “Ramaphoria”. 

The currency of that country – the Rand and government bonds surged on expectations that the new president would reform the struggling economy, crack down on corruption and replace non-performing cabinet members. 

Several months later, just as recent as last week, Ramaphosa officiated at the country’s second investment conference at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg where about R363 billion (P267 billion) in investment commitments were made by the business community. 

The investments, made by multinationals some of which also has operations in Botswana are expected to create over 400 000 jobs in the next five years. 

In 2018, at the first conference business had pledged nearly R300 billion (P220 billion) in local and international investment commitments. This means this year’s commitment by business community to the neighbouring country is 17 percent higher than last year’s. 

Of the commitments made in 2018 when he first became South African president, Ramaphosa said, atleast R238 billion had been invested in projects that had been completed while others were being implemented. 

He admitted that it was not only figures that mattered, but the difference the investment brought to the material conditions of South Africans.  

Back in Botswana, the tiny nation which is also a member of SADC and SACU like South Africa is also looking up to its newly elected President – Mokgweetsi Masisi to shake up the business community and get them to commit to the local economy. There has been a talk on the streets by the locals being “sisified”. 

While Masisi’s counterpart Ramaphosa has a business background the same cannot be said about him. This then brings the question on whether such can be a hindrance for Masisi to convince the members of the business community both local and international to make similar commitments made in South Africa. The other question could be who should look up to the other – should Masisi look up to the business community for investments growth or the businesses should look up to Masisi for reforms that could see their pockets growing even bigger? 

One thing is however certain – both the citizens and business community would be pleased should the new government come with transformations that will help improve international rankings on doing business. Masisi, just like Ramaphosa substantively takes over the presidency at the time when Botswana’s doing business rankings have not been so pleasant, while foreign direct investment has been going down, and the businesses confidence of those already in the ground been dropping as shown by the quarterly survey carried by the central bank – Bank of Botswana. 

In its latest rankings, released just a few weeks before the general elections, the World Economic Forum ranked Botswana at number 87 amongst other 190 economies. On the other hand, ease of Doing Business in the minerals rich nation averaged 64.83 from 2008 until 2019, reaching an all time high of 87 in 2019 and a record low of 39 in 2008. The question therefore is whether Masisi can be a game changer. 

Masisi’s Botswana Democratic Party in its elections manifesto made a pledge to partner with the private sector to undertake major structural reforms to make the country attractive to investors. 

The party at the time said it will do this through identifying policies, legislations and institutions requiring reform to make the environment conducive for economic transformation and cause it necessary to reform. 

The BDP manifesto also promised to relentlessly seek and encourage young local creative minds and holders of knowledge to convert such knowledge into commercial products. 

From the government enclave perspective Masisi is banking on the soon to be launched National Transformation Strategy team led by economist Moatlhodi Sebabole who also works for local banker – First National Bank Botswana. 

The key objective of Moatlhodi and his team will aid the government to unlock the tremendous potential of the country’s human and financial resources. A strategy that the team is expected to put together will also broadens and deepens the beneficial participation of citizens in all sectors of the economy.

The general understanding is that underpinning the National Transformation Strategy will be the national value system that will promote the spirit of entrepreneurship and commitment to development. 

In addition, Masisi will have to work hard to ensure that public institutions are revitalised and in turn renew their commitment to serve effectively with purpose and agility. 

The Masisi led government will also be faced with a tough task of reversing a growing trend of poor work ethic and poor service delivery in the public service. The two forms part of the main reason why Botswana found herself in the red index internationally when it comes to work ethics and productivity. As a result, as Masisi and his BDP sings the fourth industrial revolution rhythm, there could also be forced to consider automation of self services system or online services. 

In the meantime the diamond rich country continues to face problems and challenges of unemployment, poverty and corruption which are also proving to be threat to the peace and stability that the southern African nation is known for. 

At the neighbours, South Africa, while the business community opened its arms to Ramaphosa, its leaders are becoming frustrated each passing day with the pace of reforms. His cabinet choices were the first thing that the community showed displeasure with early this year. 

In Botswana, Masisi also recently named his new cabinet which the business community is yet to openly comment on. On Monday, during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) Masisi will once again face the nation from the parliament chambers to give more insight on how he and the BDP intends to help Batswana fight poverty caused by joblessness, landlessness and lack of funds to start up businesses. For him to win against this battle, just like Ramaphosa who got the SA business community the “Ramaphoria”, Masisi has got to “sissify” the business community largely of Asian origin. 

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.