Sunday, October 25, 2020

Complacency has been one of Botswana’s biggest economic evils

The too often exalted miracle that is Botswana’s economy has a soft underbelly that many of us like to conveniently overlook.

For all the successes, Botswana’s economy remains fragile, un-diversified and exclusive.

Too much of it is in the hands of too few.

It will not take a lot of shaking for the whole edifice to collapse.

A notion of exceptionalism that Botswana is still an economic miracle is today not only miles off the mark but when wantonly thrown about, as we so often like to do in our chest-beating moment of  bragging, it also is treasonously irresponsible.

First such a notion delays implementation of much needed economic reforms. Secondly it plays into the hands of the elite who have been trumpeting exceptionalism to deny existence of endemic corruption that now threatens to reverse if not altogether undo the gains of decades of hard work backed by prudence and austerity.

Now it is a totally new era, a new ball game and judging from the behavior of our leaders, as a country we are still learning the rules. And it will be a while before we are conversant with those rules.

For all the much vaunted economic growth, Botswana’s economy has produced one of the world’s unequal societies.

While some countries often bemoan the existence of two economies in one, for Botswana the inequalities are so stark as to possibly beget three such economies in one.

In his budget speech this week the minister of finance talked of social inclusion.

No serious-minded citizen should hold their breath.

For Botswana the inequalities are not only social and economic, they are also geographic.

The country has literally been divided into two economic zones; the west and the east.

Of the two, the west, which stretches from the southern tip of the Kgalagadi to the northern tip of the Okavango is glaringly different in its abject poverty and squalor from the east that is relatively wealthier and which also is the area from where a majority of the country’s political and economic elite can be found.

The divisions also  play out in power dynamics.

Citizens from the eastern side are the most disenfranchised.

In quite a literal way they are treated as second class citizens in their own country.

The inequalities as they manifest themselves in multiples forms are a result of complacent political leadership that which instead of implementing policies sought to play to the international gallery where they received accolades, many of them running in total contrast to the situation on the ground.

For example, Botswana has for over a decade now been ranked the least corrupt country.

This accolade while in many ways totally alien to citizens who on a daily basis see acts of corruption by their leaders has been turned into a mantra by the same leaders as it provided them with the much needed cover.

While the economic inequalities reveal the leadership failures, they also are a genuine explanation behind a groundswell of anger and public disdain towards politicians ÔÇô of all shades and stripes, ruling and opposition.

The truth is that it will now be much harder to correct all the above than any time in the past when the economy was more dynamic.

Because the economy now lacks the past dynamism, diversifying it will not be an easy task.

Because it lacks such dynamism, making all-inclusive will remain a wild goose chase.

All those are a result of complacency.

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