BY VICTOR BAATWENG
As the year 2018 comes to an end this coming week, this also marks our last edition of the year. One cannot help but use this last commentary to remind us of where we are and where we could be – economically. From where we stand we watched our economy failing to deliver ÔÇô atleast to what is usually referred to as the ordinary man on the street. In other words – we can only say the economy did well in 2018 if it had benefitted “The People” not “The Vultures”. The basic cause for concern during the year is as usual the growing gap between the poor and the rich. Inequality ÔÇô the number one enemy not just for Botswana but the world at large is stark. The monster is multi-faceted and reinforcing because of our lack of tact towards fighting it. We seem to have left it to the nature to take its cause. As data from Stats Botswana would show, even in 2018 real earnings for citizens of this country remained below their pre-crisis peak ÔÇô that is just the obvious isn’t?
Other than that, still in 2018 for the handful Batswana who are lucky enough to have jobs they still remained insecure. The quality of some of the work they do remained of poor quality. As job creation numbers would attest, investment remained low in our country throughout the year. If that was not the case then most of our people would be having jobs.
In terms of trade, our net trading performance continues to disappoint. The latest trade statistics from the government agency shows that in October 2018 we recorded a trade deficit of P3.9 billion – the largest trade deficit this year. All these figures are in part reflective of our lack of international competitiveness.
One needs to state that these aren’t passing problems but the outcomes of longstanding structural weaknesses in how we organise our economy and for whom. For every long time the people of this country were made to watch the economy. A few were active participants in the day to day running of the economy while the rest were turned into economic spectators.
Our number one mission should be to build a more equal society through sustained inclusive growth.
One thing for sure – we cannot change the structure of our economy without a massive increase in the number of Batswana who have sustainable jobs. Even a first year economics university student knows that job creation remains the most effective driver of inclusive growth, the most direct route out of poverty, and the best way to address the high inequality that we are experiencing as a country.
As we noted in this space before, the bitter pill that we all need to swallow – is that to truly unleash our country’s potential, we need to tackle the concentration of ownership, control and market dominance by foreigners in the domestic economy. Until recently, there were so many foreign owned shops that have closed their doors to good quality products just because they were produced locally. We cannot continue like this. We do recognise the efforts made by the Trade and Investment Ministry to #PushaLocal. The banning of the importation of bottled still water for example was a good move. For it to work for us we now need to ensure that the local companies are capacitated to be able to meet the market demand. The companies owned by locals also should not be stingy and settle for using the same number of heads counts to double or even triple their productions. This could lead to what we already see in the market where now buying bottled water is as hard as getting a job.
In the face of an underperforming economy like ours, and the challenges to come – our future will depend on amongst other things the capacity of Batswana owned companies. Our ability to rethink and reshape how we produce and distribute not just wealth but goods and services will determine how our 2019 and beyond will be. There is surely much work to do going forward. We need to use the levers of government procurement more effectively to affirm Batswana-owned companies. We have been successful to a less extent, and as such need to do more to ensure that government’s substantial procurement budget opens up opportunities for emerging local businesses. As we always say we cannot take away credit from government for its prudent management of mining revenues, stable democracy and good governance record over the past decades. But the same government dismally failed to equitably share wealth from diamond mining among its citizens – including even in recent years. This is what should always be on the head of President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his newly reshuffled cabinet. This is what should drive Masisi’s service to the people of this country.
Dear reader, as I say ÔÇô “Merry Christmas and Happy new year” to you and your family, the #Bottomline remains – every leader can harness the energy of his people either towards constructive work to generate optimism and hope or towards tensions and unrest by failing to provide the basics such as land, jobs and business opportunities. The economy will never be successful until the people, not the vultures are successful.