Monday, June 1, 2020

Let’s also dare to be economically equal

By Victor Baatweng

In this week one of our columnist ÔÇô Stephanus Gentium dares Botswana to be economically successful. (See the “In defence of Free markets” column). This is a call we should all be making.

While at it, we should bear in mind that the success of any economy can be or should be assessed only by looking at what is happening to the living standards of most of its citizens over a sustained period of time.

So a quick question that could be asked in relation to this sentiment is: What do we see when we look at the living standards of Batswana over the past two decades? (Does the standard in anyway suggest that we could, in the not so distant future be able to give away the title we been holding onto of being in the top three of the most unequal nation in Africa?)

How connected or disconnected are the people of Machaneng in Tswapong, Manyana in southern district, Dikwididi in Kgatleng, Karakubis in Ghanzi, Chanoga in Ngamiland or Dagwi in North East?

There is a reason why we ask this question and why we give example with some of these villages or rural communities.

We do so because inequalities in these places is apparent not just in income but in a variety of other variables that reflect standards of living of Batswana. Life remains particularly harsh at the bottom of the income structure.

As we usually note in this space, we can no longer afford to ignore our country’s growing inequality and its grave economic, political and social consequences.

Many of our people who are at the bottom – who have since become so dependent on government benefits (social protection) are there PARTLY because the previous administrations failed in one way or the other.

The previous administrations and by extension the government has over the past five decades failed to provide the people of this country with skills that would make them productive. These skills would help them earn an adequate living.

The government has also failed to stop commercial banks and other financial institutions (more especially the so called Bo-Machonisa or micro lenders) from taking advantage of them through predatory lending. [For those who are fortunate enough to have jobs].

With the current rate of job creation, it is quite clear that the government has failed to manage the overall economy in a way that sustains adequate employment. The Truth of the matter is, if our economic system leads to so many people without jobs, or with jobs that do not pay a liveable wage, dependent on government for food, medication, etc, it means our economic system has not worked in the way it should have.

At the same time, even when we have been told repeatedly how our diamonds are not selling well, it’s not like our economic engine has lost its ability to run.  It is only that the way it has been run, over the last decade or so has given the benefits of the little growth to an increasingly small sliver at the top – the group continues to even take away some of the little that was previously accumulated by the bottom-liners.

This is a clear affirmation of the notion that a political decision or system that amplifies the voice of the wealthy provides ample opportunity for laws and regulations…and the administration of them to be designed in ways that not only fail to protect the ordinary citizens against the wealthy but also further enrich the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the society. What a shame that these are the systems that we have come to accept and learn to live with in our country.

Over the past ten years or so we have witnessed public funds misuse that later became a living proof that failures in politics and economics are related and they reinforce each other. 

This can only attest the notion that an economic system that doesn’t “deliver” for large parts of the population is a failed economic system. Delivering in our case would mean creating wealth for the indigenous citizens of this country. When we seek to deliver we should bear in mind that to create wealth also means creating people that will build it.

This involves providing the people with required skills to gather, understand and analyze evidence about the contexts and institutions that affect their lives ÔÇô particularly their economical lives.

It is common knowledge that politicians ÔÇô more especially of the ruling party often use the general elections campaign season as an opportunity to overstate their achievements and make Batswana believe that even though they are poor, hungry and unemployed, they are much better off than they were in 1966. While it is true that Batswana are much better off than they were in 1966, it is a fact that they have not benefitted directly from the immense economic growth and development experienced by their own country.

The #Bottomline is that to close the gap between the rich and the poor we need strategies that will ensure that the people of this country have access to knowledge, support, services and opportunities that is needed for them to thrive economically.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.