Botswana government has admitted it is alive to the fact it has to create opportunities for the youth who represent half of the country’s population. Speaking at the Connecting Resources and Society conference at the GICC on Monday, the Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Kitso Mokaila revealed that Botswana has “a young society”, where more than 50 percent of the society is less than 35 years of age.
“The young are aggressive. And that is where suspicion is of disconnect,” Mokaila said. The minister’s comments follow concerns that young people in the country have lost hope in the current administration as seen by the low uptake of government programmes and comments of the social media.
The conference, which is organised by Chatham House, a world-leading independent policy institute, is hosted jointly by De Beers group of Companies and the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources.
Mokaila said as a result government has come up with a raft of measures including making the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) more attractive to the youth by coming up with projects that young people can associate with.
The ESP is a government programme aimed at jump starting Botswana’s declining economic fortunes, which the opposition and youth have dismissed as a ploy by the ruling party to buy votes and award millions of Pula worth of tenders to ruling party activities and loyalists.
The economic stimulus, which President Ian Khama said would be ready in “a few weeks”, will target tourism development, agricultural production, construction and manufacturing.
Botswana currently has P88 billion in foreign currency reserves, with around half held in a sovereign wealth fund. Meanwhile Khama also told BDP members that Cabinet has started working on an economic programme which will concentrate on stimulating and diversifying the economy as well as accelerated employment creation.
The announcement of the ESP comes after government slashed its 2015 growth forecast from 4.9 percent to 2.6 percent in September, saying the country will post a budget deficit this year. Diamonds account for around 75 percent of Botswana’s foreign exchange earnings and 30 percent of GDP, but gem demand has slowed since late 2014 as middlemen who buy rough stones struggle with a stronger dollar and liquidity problems. The value of rough diamond exports from Botswana’s mines fell 15 percent in the first six months of the year.
“The ESP has an element of ICT. We have to create jobs for the youth,” Mokaila told the conference. “How you address the youth is going to be a challenge,” he admitted.
Mokaila also told the two-day conference government has to invest on its own people in order to realise a return on investment on the education system that has produced able graduates. He said the people of Botswana are something that government has failed to exploit, but it is something they want to focus on.
“We have a resource of Batswana who are educated and know what they are doing,” he added. The youth are the mostly unemployed in an economy that has conflicting data on the jobless people. Official unemployment has been at 20 percent in the past few years, but independent researchers argue that the actual figures may be as high as 40 percent.
It is estimated that approximately1,350 jobs have been lost since the beginning of the year with 1,000 jobs having been lost in mining and related industries alone.
“We have to create hope for the impatient youth,” added former Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources Ponatshego Kedikilwe.