Friday, April 3, 2020

In Botswana, “One size fits all” won’t fit…

Granted, the Botswana government of yesteryears must be credited for its prudent management of mining revenues, stable democracy and good governance record. Many citizens were and some are still are beneficiaries of, for example free education for all and free access to health services.  But the same government dismally failed to equitably share wealth acquired from diamond mining among its citizens – the indigenous citizens. 

As such it is vital that often than not, we talk about the need to roll the wheels of economic reforms that would turn the tables – in favour of the unfavoured. In short, the kind of reforms that could end the income disparity that this country is experiencing.  

Botswana’s economic story is really fascinating one. For a while, growth came fast enough that those in power then became content to ignore Batswana who were closed off from the opportunities of the new economy. They also forget the need to atleast diversify the economy – to have it generate money away from the minerals sectors. 

These failures as expected led to where we are now. The state and a few citizens (mainly naturalised ones) are filthy rich and majority of the citizens – in urban and rural alike are extremely poor. Many ordinary Batswana who think they are working are a pay-cheque away from poverty. While we all fail to acknowledge that this is the state we are in, the gap between these two socio-economic classes is growing. Caution – We can no longer afford to ignore it. We must immediately reform – economically. We must do this bearing in mind that economic growth is not a zero-sum game. In other words, all of society benefits when we build an inclusive system that harnesses the creativity of every person. History has or should have taught us that we all lose out when we allow potential to go untapped. We ultimately become losers when the poor citizens can no longer afford a loaf of bread or pint of milk. Who will buy at the rich man’s chain store? This is why we need to consider economic reforms that would ensure that money ends in the pockets of every citizens. This could be in the form of business ownership or better wages for those who chose to settle for the so called 8 – 5pm. 

But as we do this, one ought to caution that an economic reform strategy for a country like ours should and cannot just be based on income per capita levels.  It is surely inadequate way to allocate financial resources or tackle the challenges faced by so called middle class. This is important to note because figures coming out of government enclave each year shows that the cake that the government has been redistributing is getting smaller by the day. 

So, with that in mind we need to set our priorities right and then set the wheels rolling. Key amongst the contributors to growing income inequality gap has been lack of affordable housing particularly in urban areas. If there is anything, we should be more concerned about, and swiftly act on, it is the housing of our people, most of whom are struggling to get a small piece of land in their own country. A previous survey carried out by Finscope revealed that about 90 percent of Batswana earn not more than P10, 000 per month, which automatically results in a low uptake of financial services such as mortgage finance. All these will ultimate weigh heavily on the social, political and economic fabric of the country. One has admit that there is no fast cure for inequality, but we must start somewhere. 

As we do, it is also important that we shun the “One size fits all” approach which seems to be the one that has been dragging economic progress of who could have been the main beneficiaries of economic reforms. The reality on the ground is that the geography of Botswana’s poverty has shifted remarkably in the past two – three decades. Economic progress and wealth accumulation have been uneven and, if left unchecked, will be even more so over the next coming decade. It is therefore imperative to identify which amongst the citizens of the country are at most risk of being left behind in terms of poverty reduction and then prioritise them to better facilitate their economic progress and wealth creation. In my view apart from the rural folks who have always been left behind even in infrastructural developments there are also urban dwellers who have since fallen out of the ‘working-class’. This group of citizens, more especially the 6000 who lost their jobs in Selebi Phikwe in 2016 have been left insecure and impoverished. I suggest this because I believe that to reform is to turn the inevitability of change in the direction of progress. To reform is to improve the life of every citizen of this country, more especially indigenous Batswana. The call for all of us therefore is to open a new chapter of citizen-building. This would involve providing our people with the required skills to gather, understand and analyse evidence about the contexts and institutions that affect their lives. This requires attending each case as per its unique needs not the usual approach of addressing the problems of the people of Kgalagadi same way we do for those in Chobe or North East. Our level of development is not at par and as such we need to uniquely address problems of each geographic area in a different way. Villages in Boteti that falls under a constituency which has been represented by the Vice President Slumber Tsogwane for over 20 years needs special attention. In short, our incomes are not at par thus the need to have those at the lowest end accumulate more than those who are already comfortable up there. The #Bottomline is that in Botswana, “One size fit all” approach cannot fit.

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