Saturday, July 4, 2020

Citizen economic empowerment should be the business of every Motswana, not just Gov’t…

This week the Minister responsible for Trade and Investment Peggy Serame published the amended Industrial Development and Trade Acts. It is a job well done for the minister and her team at MITI. This is one law amongst many that we expect to see as the government pushes its agenda of citizen economic empowerment. One must state from the onset however that the law seems to have loopholes that will lead us to only partial attainment of the goal – citizen empowerment. 

Our final hope therefore now lies with the prospective Citizen Economic Empowerment to fill up the gaps left by the already existing laws such the as recently amended two Acts I referred to above. In the meantime, it would be helpful to know and understand the definition of EMPOWERMENT from the Government’s perspective. In my small world, empowerment entails providing individuals (in this case Batswana) with the ability to perform – the necessary skills, knowledge, and so on. It also entails giving a fair opportunity to perform. (this time around economically).

Just across the border, in South Africa following its establishment in September 1998, the Black Economic Empowerment Commission defined Black Economic Empowerment as: “an integrated and coherent socio-economic process, located in the context of national transformation that is aimed to redressing the imbalances of the past”. So if we were to borrow a bit from the BEEC definition (Provided we agree that there is some form of imbalance that we need to redress in Botswana), and the above definition on what empowerment is, can we say reservation of certain businesses for Batswana is the only medication that the doctor would prescribe for us? My understanding of the Business Reservation law is that it will help control the movement of new players in the “classified” businesses by a way of barring new foreign players. But how about the existing ones? Do we have an “exit plan” for them or we assume that they will not use power of their financial muscles to close out Batswana who might develop interest in their perceived space? Many Batswana who have been battling with access to funding but have the capability to successfully run some of these classified businesses will now look to CEE law to empower them to face their foreign competitors. Many Batswana run big corporations in our and they surely have passion for what they do. What we need is flexible government institutions that can take risk with them and fund them to build their own. To give another example, just under three weeks ago we had CEOs of banks in joint press conference of Covid-19. Did anyone realise that they were all, except one, we Batswana? Does our government even know that most of those banks have local Excos as demanded by the central bank. If so, how come we do not have an indigenous bank? We have professional passionate bankers, why is it that we cannot empower them to open the country’s first indigenous bank? The bank example is just one amongst many. We have many Batswana coffee baristas and chefs working in these international franchises. How come we cannot group them and help them build an indigenous franchise? 

I hope the Minister and the MITI team will agree with me that it is a good thing to reserve certain business for Batswana but we cannot ignore the fact that we have some naturalised Batswana who will do all they can to keep their indigenous counterparts out of their perceived business space. We therefore need not just a strategy but also a law that will deal with such.  In other words, if for example, I am interested in poultry business, I can get on the CIPA website, register the company and business names but without funding and proper training can I face Mr D & Mr B (dominant players in the poultry sector) in terms of market penetration and retention of customers? 

In my small world, business reservation only goes as far as opening a window for Batswana to participate in the identified sectors. The concept of economic empowerment however must go one step further than participation more especially in our context where for a very long time indigenous citizens were disempowered by neutralized citizens who command more economic power in business in the form of investment, higher technical skills and entrepreneurship. To make matters worse our formal education curriculum has not been of any use when it comes to cultivation of entrepreneurship spirit. The curriculum has made it exceedingly difficult for many Batswana to self empower more especially on issues of finance and business management. But it does not mean its impossible to do such outside the formal education system. One way of doing about is getting the naturalised who have an upper hand in business management to hold hands of their indigenous counterparts. Afterall some of them are filthy rich at the expense of the indigenous Batswana. It is not a secret nor a homophobic/racial attack.  

The Minister and the MITI team I hope would agree with me that, in the end, the story that Botswana need to share with the world is that which says her citizens have gained awareness and self-confidence. Where her citizens along the national development path realized that they can be self-reliant in pursuing their own economic dreams. This law amendments is a clear admission that there are many things (businesses) that we could not do in the past, that we can do now. Its good that we have picked some amongst those and are willing to reserve them for Batswana. 

As the MITI team concludes the CEE LAW one ca only hope that it is accompanied by a strategy on the following aspects: 1. Financial intervention (increased access to funding/credit to indigenous Batswana), 2. Enterprise development (Increased access to skills development in terms of all forms of entrepreneurship with much focus on financial management), 3. Marketing strategies (Most Batswana businesses are not well marketed which makes access to both local and international market almost non-existent) and lastly 4. Training and Education (This mostly will target other Batswana who need to be taught on the importance of consuming local services and products as opposed to those from outside. If I buy tomatoes of Producer X, she can expand her farm, employ my cousin (which cut on black tax but also increases govt revenue base in terms of increased taxpayers). In short, there are many benefits of supporting citizen entrepreneurs and businesses. The #Bottomline is that the empowerment of indigenous citizens or “Batswana ba dikgotlana” as one could refer them as is a socio-economic process through which they need to be motivated to enhance their belief in self efficacy, to improve their abilities to control own resources. This cannot be left to Government alone. Everyone else should have a hand in it including the filthy rich non-indigenous Batswana. 

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

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