There may be no jobs to go back to for some Batswana when, post-lockdown, life goes back to normal. A young woman who was working as a check-in clerk at a hotel may learn that her employer is replacing her with a mobile app that enables guests to skip the front desk and gain access to their rooms. She may also learn that waiting staff is being replaced by mobile-based request menus that allow guests to order food and drinks using an iPhone. That has not happened and may not happen but we use that example from the hospitality establishment to expand another that the President of the Alliance for Progressives, Ndaba Gaolathe, gives.
In explaining how the coronavirus pandemic will re-order Botswana’s business environment, Gaolathe says that in future, investors and managers will be more inclined to deploy technological alternatives that reduce dependence on human resources. “The corona pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of those companies with a significant wage bill,” he says. “For instance, hotels and other labour-intensive industries have wage and salary obligations even as their personnel is not at work.”He also sees a future in which companies “will also be less willing to recruit staff/personnel in large numbers, and will look for ways to deploy technology and make the best out of every single worker.”
Indeed, automated technology is remaking the hotel industry and in late 2018, nearly 8000 Marriott International employees marched outside hotels for two months asking for protection against such technology.Gaolathe asserts that the pandemic has introduced a newer understanding to entrepreneurial risk and that resultantly, Botswana will see a new way of doing things, a recalibration of the sectors in which investors prefer to invest and major changes in business models. “Businesses will be more careful about borrowing, and it will take some time until the economic gathers momentum again,” says the former Gaborone Bonnington South MP, adding that the loss of diamond and customs revenue for the country in general and the government in particular will choke aggregate demand in the economy and dampen both investor and consumer demand.
“We face a real danger of not just a recession, but possibly a prolonged one and a prolonged period of economic hardship for a majority of the Botswana population.”