As the country marks its 49th Independence this coming week perhaps it is the appropriate time to again reflect also whether our years of ‘independence’ has also been financially fruitful to our people.
They say, ‘numbers tells a story better’ and perhaps that explains why we are keeping record of the years that we have been independent as a country. But as we keep record of this close to five years decades of independence we should also reflect on whether our people are financially independent? How many of our people can lose their jobs today but still be able to maintain their lifestyles atleast for the subsequent six months? How many of our people are debt free?
Indeed ‘numbers tells a story better’. The same numbers that show that we have been independent for the past 49 years also do show that our country still record high unemployment rate and high level of poverty. Botswana rank among the few African countries with the highest per capita income.
There is no single doubt that the root cause of poverty and unemployment among indigenous Batswana is undoubtedly a result of the many misguided and unsustainable citizen economic empowerment programmes that our government has pursued over the years. These programmes of course include the notorious ‘Ipelegeng’, YES, and lately ‘Tirelo Sechaba’.
It is however worth noting the government cannot be blamed solely on this matter. Over these several years that we have been independent there have been concerns raised that local companies were not doing enough to appoint Batswana to senior management positions. This came about as a result that there was a point in time when expatriates occupied almost all management positions in the private sector and even in government.
The salary disparities between local managers (and to some extend ordinary employees) and their expatriate counterparts were shameful….or maybe they still are. Perhaps that explains the poverty level of Batswana despite a few of them having jobs. Nonetheless, over the past few years, government in partnership with entities such as Business Botswana (formerly BOCCIM) has done very well to ensure that this disgraceful trend is being reversed.
We are tempted to state that to date the government has not initiated and implemented any well thought out citizen economic empowerment schemes geared towards improving the livelihoods of Batswana hence the majority of our people are still poor in a relatively small and rich country. (Minerals resources rich nation to be precise)
Despite being this rich, it is a sobering fact that there is unequal distribution of income despite government’s strategies to spread the benefits of development as widely as possible as set out in the National Development Plans.
One does not need to travel more than 10 km away from the outskirts of the Capital Gaborone to realise that a sizeable number of citizens of this country continue to have a highly unequal distribution of income, with a sizeable proportion of the population living in poverty. If you are in doubt and want to see the worst visit Ngamiland, Kgalagadi and Boteti districts.
We do appreciate the government’s latest efforts to eradicate poverty and encourage citizen participation in business and employment creation but we all ought to agree that most of our people still survive from government handouts despite 49 years of independence.
This believe is actually validated by a collaborative research paper conducted by three international partners, the African Development Bank (AFDB), the OECD Development Centre and the United Nations Development Program, which listed Botswana amongst countries whose distribution of wealth and level of development amongst citizens is unequal.
The report is supported by recent available data drawn from several sources: national statistics offices, ministries, multilateral development institutions, investors, civil society and the media.
As such we all ought to agree to disagree that while our government has a reputation for prudent management of mining revenues, and also boasts of a good governance record and stable democracy, its formula of sharing wealth leaves a lot to be desired.
As we celebrate these 49 years of independence we challenge the government, to consider citizen-building. Citizen-building involves providing people with the required skills to gather, understand and analyse evidence about the contexts and institutions that affect their lives ÔÇô particularly their economical lives. Our people need knowledge, support, services and opportunities in order to thrive financially.
The government should be seen to be providing programmes that have the potential to expand the industrial base which are key to sustained overall economic development as well as the human development of our country.
Together with the private sector, our government should continue to push for the leveraging of our diverse and abundant resources through the beneficiation and value-addition of our resources.
The Bottom-line though is that financial independence, political stability and sustainable development in our country can best be achieved through genuine and committed support for the ownership of means of production that favour the poor, who are in the majority. These include land. Give Batswana their land and though shall become financially independent.