Friday, April 10, 2020

Fighting poverty offers Botswana an uphill battle

While Botswana has over the years experienced tremendous economic growth primarily due to the success of the mining industry, statistics show that the poor have become increasingly impoverished and marginalized as the margin between the rich and the poor has become more defined.

This was revealed by Dr Tebogo Seleka of the Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis in his report on how Botswana has fared in its poverty reduction efforts. Statistics indicate that Botswana has over the years experienced a steady decline in instances of poverty. The 1985 poverty index showed that poverty stood at 59 percent and it has steadily gone down to 47 percent in 1993, and eventually 30 percent in 2003.

At the same time, Botswana has experienced a tremendous increase in economic growth primarily due to the success of the mining industry spearheaded by the diamond industry. This growth has enabled government to push some of its poverty reduction initiatives with programs like the destitute program, agriculture support programs, the orphan care programs and the support of small micro and medium enterprisers, the objective being to empower citizens and diversify the economy.

But Seleka has revealed that while indicators point to a steady decline in poverty instances a disturbing trend has been observed in Botswana in which income inequality has risen over the same period which lends credit to the thinking that Botswana’s economic growth has only benefited the chosen few while the poor majority sinks deeper into the quagmire of poverty.

” Therefore the trickle down effect hypothesis which is based on the assumption that all citizens will benefit, through employment and other factors, from industrialization and economic growth has not necessarily been applicable in Botswana” said Seleka. Effectively, said the report, the non poor have captured the benefits of economic growth while the poor have benefited very little from it.

The report also explains that this situation arises mainly from the fact that Botswana’s economic growth has been driven mainly by mining and efforts to diversify the economy have not necessarily borne fruit. But mining is by its nature a capital intensive industry that is heavily dependent on the use of machinery at the expense of labour. At the same time government’s efforts to diversify the economy into more labour intensive industries have not borne fruit. The resultant scenario, therefore, is the present situation in which the country’s economic growth has failed to match the demand for jobs, such that unemployment remains a pressing issue.

The report also states that the poor generally have only their labour capability to their credit because they are unskilled and uneducated. “They can only perform labour intensive jobs and, therefore, it is important that employment is created to capitalize on that labour” said Seleka.

But Botswana’s case is unique in its disastrous nature because its growth, fuelled by the capital intensive mining industry, has consistently failed to create a parallel number of jobs to absorb the unemployed masses.

At the same time, because the mining industry requires skilled labour, it has not been able to absorb the unskilled poor who populate this country. “Therefore the mining industry has not done much in terms of employment creation and poverty reduction,” says the report.

Meanwhile, the agricultural sector has over the years dwindled to insignificance and shown very minimal if any growth. The rural poor are especially heavily dependent on agriculture for sustenance but the major droughts that have been crippling this country have created a lot of destitute, forcing government to intensify its agriculture support systems on one hand and its destitute support programs on the other.

The report has also revealed that Botswana’s rosy poverty reduction statistics may not be a true reflection of the stark reality of poverty in the country as research has unraveled disturbing inconsistencies.

It has emerged that there are a lot of short falls in the mode of conducting surveys to the extent that indicators while accurate to some extent might not be a true reflection of the poverty situation in Botswana.

A typical example is the present situation where poverty indicators in Botswana are aggregated, ignoring the fact that conditions are not the same throughout the country.” It is important to disaggregate existing indicators because poverty problems are regionally specific such that the level of poverty that exists in the central district would be different from that in the Kgalagadi” said Dr Seleka’s report.

Statistics have pointed to the fact that the incidence of poverty in more widespread among rural dwellers, female headed households, the unemployed and the youth which lends credit to the contention that there is need to disaggregate poverty measurements to accommodate issues of place of abode and gender.

Seleka added that because of the present situation where poverty measurements are aggregated the 30% poverty indicator that is quoted for Botswana might not necessarily be a true reflection because the reality is that there is some place in the country where the incidence of poverty is higher. He added that issues of age and gender have repeatedly been ignored when measuring poverty incidences.

Though the definition of poverty has been modified to accommodate factors like participation and participation in decision making, Botswana’s poverty indicators continue to concentrate on income and access to social services.” While NGO’s continue to assist in encouraging participation by the poor it is important to establish a clear strategy that will ensure that the poor also participate in decision making processes as they are the ones who are directly affected by poverty” he said.

But in the face of all these developments government continues to establish social safety net structures that are meant to reduce poverty. Such initiatives include government’s agriculture programs, destitute programs, old age pension schemes and orphan care programs. Statistics show that social service nets do reduce poverty and removing them from house hold income increases poverty by about 10 percentage points.

It has also emerged that there is an administration problem in the provision of such services such that there is a lot of program overlap.” You find that one person might be benefiting from 5 to 6 programs at the same time which actually amounts to a waste” said the report. At the same time there is also a problem of poor targeting which result in non destitute persons for example benefiting from destitute programs. Social safety nets are also prone to abuse, corruption and favoritism and there is a need for government to overhaul the system to ensure efficiency in poverty eradication.

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