When the clock strikes 12 midnight on December 31st, Botswana will sigh with relief that a “sh#ty year has gone by. A Sh#ty year: That is how one bubbly young girl who counted landing a job during the year as her only blessing summed up 2013. She was speaking for thousands of motorists who found themselves stuck in rush hour traffic at the mercy of police officers in orange florescent vests standing in for traffic lights that had stopped working; thousands of families who have had to huddle together from the night shadows of a country groping its way through the darkness of load shedding; thousands of workers who were convinced they had baked the national cake only to be told there is no cake to share; thousands of Gaborone residents who have had to wake up at the break of dawn to beat the Water Utilities man before he switches off the water supply and thousands of investors who spent the year asking, money, where’s the money?
2013 was the year Batswana who had been sold on to the glowing image of the shining example of Africa finally woke up to the reality that our luster is not as bright as we had been made to believe. “It was the year that exposed the chinks in our amour”, noted one up and coming investor. 2013, should not have come as a complete surprise to Botswana. The Minister of Finance and Development planning, Kenneth Matambo’s budget speech was a clear warning: Turn out the lights, the party’s over. He did not say it in so many words. He cautioned that,”Botswana’s economy grew by 8% in 2011, continuing the recovery that had begun in 2010 after the global economic downturn of 2009 and had been aided by improved global demand for diamonds, the country’s major export commodity.
Estimates for 2012, however, indicate that the recovery has been difficult to sustain, with the growth rate declining to 5.8%. Deceleration in real gross domestic product (GDP) was due mainly to the mining sector, which declined by 8.0% while the non-mining sectors grew by 9.7%. Projections in the medium term indicate moderate economic growth of around 6% per annum through to 2014, predicated on gloomy global prospects and the associated slow recovery of the mining sector.
In addition to these slack prospects, the country continues to face challenges related to its overdependence on the mining sector. Amongst other major challenges confronting the government are the national unemployment rate of 17.5% and a poverty rate higher than 20%, combined with high income inequality.”
This was officialese for, “expect 2013 to be a sh#ty year.” Matambo’s warning was however, lost in the hangover from the heady years of high economic growth rates and public big spending; and the optimism of a country rubbing its hands gleefully in anticipation of the windfall from its biggest investment ever, the Morupule B project. The project bombed. Darkness fell over Botswana, and the country unleashed the night of the long knives. It was the year Botswana lost its head and surrendered to base instincts as everyone looked for a scapegoat to blame for the faltering economy. Foreigners, especially Chinese became the lightning rod of controversy. They were blamed for everything that went wrong with the country, from construction projects that could not be completed on time to Botswana Power Corporation’s load shedding. Even the country’s foreign policy was shaped in the anvil of anger, fear and loathing that attended the spluttering economy. A major shift in the country’s foreign policy from the east to the west preceded a vitriolic press interview by President Khama where he blamed the Chinese for the country’s power crisis. The government enclave even went on record announcing that it would start vetting Chinese building contractors.
Newspaper editors thought nothing of running stories that stoked the fires of anti-Chinese xenophobia. The ministry of Home Affairs pulled the welcome mat from under the feet of foreigners, by instituting a stringent immigration point based system that denied hundreds of foreigners work and resident permits. There seemed to be an official attempt to pacify citizens by antagonizing foreigners. The burgeoning sense of xenophobia was not helped by the collapse of the Palapye glass project. The Chinese who were contracted to build the project became fall guys and easy fodder for the anti-foreigner propaganda machinery.
Even the happy-go-lucky youths who enjoy music torture and seem to find joy in torment stuck out an index finger at 2003 as “whack”, which is slang synonym for sh#ty. With beer prices going up and shebeens closing down by their dozens, a smiling youthful reveler is as rare as a cheap beer. In politics Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) politicians known for their spirited defence of government are turning on their party. That is hardly surprising. 2013 was also the year the lights were turned off on our democracy as the BDP prepared for the 2014 general elections. BDP candidates who lost the party primary elections thought nothing of airing the party’s dirty linen in public. Reports of how the BDP had fabricated a petition to stop the Francistown bye elections reverberated from the BDP caucus right up to the parliament floor. Office of the president was caught out in a web of lies in an attempt to cover up the president’s excesses during the construction of an air field next to his holiday retreat in Mosu.
The ink had not even dried on the reports about the Mosu air strip when the president announced a plan to silence government critics by sponsoring defamation law suits by cabinet ministers and senior civil servants.
All in all, it was a sh#ty year for everyone.