Sunday, September 20, 2020

Khama administration must resuscitate economic hubs

In his inaugural state of the nation address, titled “Empowering the nation through Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline”, President Seretse Khama Ian Khama talked of his ambition to see Botswana moving from a middle income to high income economy.

Khama assumed power at a time when Botswana was facing a lot of economic and social hardships. Previous government had dismally failed to diversify the economy and reduce dependence on diamonds, while service delivery in the public sector and project implementation were at an all time low. There was rampant poverty, unemployment and inequitable distribution of wealth, and a glaring mismatch between graduates’ skills and workplace demands. Poor health facilities and a dearth of health specialists also haunted the health sector.

To meet these challenges, Khama created 6 hubs and implemented a number of economic stimulus initiatives. These were the diamond, agriculture, education, innovation, technology and the transport hub. The ministers responsible for each of these hubs would report to the Cabinet Committee on Economy and Employment chaired by the Vice President, and also give the president monthly reports.

The diamond hub was created to turn Botswana into a major international diamond centre with a view to increasing the benefits that accrue to government. Jobs would be created and diamond industry‘s contribution to GDP increased by encouraging such downstream processes as cutting and polishing, jewellery manufacturing and local trade in rough and polished diamonds.

The transport hub would ensure that major infrastructure projects provide optimal benefits to the economy through synergy in the air, road, and rail sectors. Anticipated benefits included increased employment and revenue from tourism and hospitality, as well as transport sectors. Major projects under this hub include the Kazungula Bridge, the Dry Port at Walvis Bay and the Trans Kalahari Railway. Government would also strive to attract international air carriers, while the major airports in Francistown, Kasane, Maun, and Sir Seretse Khama International Airports are currently being upgraded and reconstructed.
The agricultural hub would encourage and support greater commercialization and sustainable diversification of the sector, as well as improve food security. Its key projects are the second phase of the National Agricultural Master Plan for Arable Agriculture and Diary Development (or NAMPAADD), the Zambezi Agro-Commercial Integrated Development Project and the Integrated Support Program for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD).

The health hub was established to identify projects and programs that will make Botswana a centre of excellence in the provision of healthcare services and bring medical care closer to rural communities, while the education hub was established to promote quality education, training and research into such fields as Science and Technology, Business Management, Mining, Hospitality and Tourism. Through such initiatives, Batswana would be able to compete favourably at the regional and global levels, thus creating business and employment opportunities. Amongst the major projects to be undertaken by the hub is the opening of the Botswana International University of Science and Technology. A holistic Human Resource Development Strategy was also formulated, as achieving high income status will require an enhanced skill base.

The innovation hub was created as a commercial nexus for knowledge creation and innovation, in recognition of the fact that we live in an era when economic growth around the world is increasingly driven by knowledge based industries.

The hub will cater for ICT and Research and Development companies serving the local and international market. It will also serve as a platform for management training and business support to industry clusters and networks that will contribute to improved productivity and employment.

President Khama’s initiative of creating the hubs is widely regarded as the ideal solution through which Botswana’s economic and service delivery problems can be tackled. It is an open secret that Botswana’s past structures and initiatives through which economic diversification and project implementation were to be boosted, left much to be desired.

But with the president’s next state of the nation address around the corner, Batswana are still wondering what happened to the economic stimulus initiatives that the president talked about when he assumed power. There has been very little, if any feedback to the nation as to what progress has been made and what challenges the initiatives are facing.

President Khama has ever since assuming power insisted on project implementation and service delivery. We would want to know what progress the nation has made in achieving the successes of the hubs. President Khama was perhaps unlucky in that his initiatives came at a time when the world economy was embroiled in a debilitating economic recession, which greatly affected the national development plans and put a dent on the national coffers.

Undoubtedly, the economic recession somehow reversed the progress that the creation of such hubs would achieve. Before these hubs could fire up, the national economy took a beating, and development plans were remodeled to cushion the nation against the effects of the global economic recession.
But the fact is that Batswana still await answers. There was a lot of optimism when Khama came up with what many considered to be the panacea to Botswana’s economic woes.

Global economic recession or not, Batswana believe that the Khama administration will live up to expectations and deliver an economy that is not dependent on diamonds and a prudent and proactive public service. Batswana wait with bated breath because they believe that the Khama administration will deliver. If he fails, god forbid, history will judge him harshly.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.