Monday, March 30, 2020

Economic take-off will heavily rely on infrastructure renewal

There is still a real chance that Botswana can lift itself, using the bootstraps to become a higher income developing country.The first call would be to get some basics correct.Botswana has a checkered history when it comes to implementation, management and commissioning of large-scale infrastructure projects.Yet the state of the economy is such that the country cannot go around building new infrastructure, be it dams, power generation, bridges, roads and telecommunications.

For example, the Francistown – Nata road that is used to take tourists to the northern enclaves is in a state of disrepair.When the president came back from a State visit in China last year that had coincided with the FOICAC meeting an expectation was created that this road will be one of the immediate beneficiaries of that visit.Months later the money from China has still not been released.This road is a real hazard to its users.As a country we invite tourists to come here and then put their lives in a real danger by using such a road.This is irresponsible, to say the least.

For Botswana, tourism is not just money. The sector is already the second largest earner after mining.But more crucially, if reformed, at least as promised by Government, the sector holds of out the biggest potential for the strongest and most inclusive sector accessible sector that is within reach for a majority of citizens.We use this major road only as an example to illustrate the fact that the nation is facing challenges for an upgrade of its key infrastructure.Many of the infrastructure problems are part of the legacy issues that Mokgweetsi Masisi has to deal with.

Resolving them will not be easy. But rewards await anybody who has the wherewithal, especially stamina to resolve them.We need to ask ourselves just what the right mix of funding the country might need in order to fully finance its huge public infrastructure efforts.Certainly, we cannot hope to finance such ambitious infrastructural developments solely through the kindness from China.Aid remains important for Botswana as is the case with grants from developmental partners. But such aid and grants take too long to come on stream, and crucially come with too many conditions attached that could be counterproductive.The country should fast-track its negotiations for loans to fund economically critical infrastructure.Public schools across the country are in a state of disrepair; Shoshong Senior, which this newspaper visited a while ago being among the worst hit.Without sufficient infrastructure that is usable, kickstarting the economy will remain only a dream.For example, it is hard, or even impossible to achieve a steady stream of tourists when they know that the roads here are not user friendly.

Botswana’s full potential remains largely unexploited.For that potential to be fully harnessed, more citizens need to be involved in the running of the economy.Government needs to demonstrate ambition in its affairs.Prevaricating and vacillating between policies can hardly be good given the extent to which the country is pressed for time and also the need at hand.Competition among states has become fierce.Botswana has to significantly invest in digital infrastructure.It is a big economic omission that in this day, many government schools are not wired to the internet.This means that our education remains analogue in a digital area.That is hardly a big achievement for a country already rooting to go the path of a knowledge-based economy.Rwanda for example is far ahead in its telecoms ambitions.Botswana long embarked on a process to liberalise its telecommunications sector.Yet swathes of the country remain un-connected, especially with internet.

RELATED STORIES