This past week, the President, Mokgweetsi Masisi visited his counterpart in the south, Cyril Ramaphosa ÔÇô the President of South Africa.
The state visit forms part of our new President’s official self-introduction to the region and the international community. Apart from South Africa, Masisi has so far visited Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
We hope that in their closed doors meeting, Ramaphosa and Masisi exchanged notes on how to better address the need to create wealth for indigenous people of their respective countries.
It was Ramaphosa during the build up to the African National Congress (ANC) elective congress in 2017 who said that if his country (SA) is to prosper and its people are to benefit from economic growth, then the patterns of ownership and control need to be fundamentally changed.
The same words suits Masisi as well. Our new president should be reminded from the onset that his number one mission should be to build a more equal society through sustained inclusive growth.
Surely Masisi and his new cabinet are aware that we cannot change the structure of our economy without a massive increase in the number of Batswana who have sustainable jobs. Even a first year economics university student knows that job creation remains the most effective driver of inclusive growth, the most direct route out of poverty, and the best way to address the high inequality that we are experiencing as a country.
Masisi and his administration should, as they start their noble jobs at the government enclave be reminded that the citizens of this country, precisely the indigenous ones want to look back and see the days in which foreign owned retailers who refuse to accept locally produced goods gone.
The bitter pill that we all need to swallow – starting with our new President is that to truly unleash our country’s potential, we need to tackle the concentration of ownership, control and market dominance by foreigners.
As we write this, there are many foreign owned shops that have closed their doors to good quality products just because they were produced locally. We cannot continue like this. We cannot turn a blind eye on this setup if at all our citizen economic empowerment song is to sell.
As the new President and his predecessor ÔÇô Ian Khama always said, we need to use the levers of government procurement more effectively to affirm Batswana-owned companies. We have been successful to a less extent, and as such need to do more to ensure that government’s substantial procurement budget opens up opportunities for emerging local businesses.
In his meeting with Ramaphosa on Friday, Masisi should surely have told his counterpart we do not doubt the strong economic partnership between our country and South Africa but things need to change for the better for all of us.
The foundation for our relationship with SA dates back to the establishment of the world’s oldest trade union, the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) back in 1910. We do not, in anyhow want it ruined but at the same time we should not stop to hope and advocate for economic advancement of our people.
As a so called big brother, South Africa must be willing, and Masisi should ensure that the establishment of local brand/s manufacturers and retailers who would compete fairly in the global markets happens.
We are all aware that for many years, Botswana has been described as Africa’s development success story. When it gained independence from Britain in 1966, then a small, landlocked and undeveloped country, Botswana was one of the poorest countries in Africa.
At the same time, unlike a majority of other African countries, Botswana has had a lot to celebrate over the years as far as peace is concerned. The situation is however not so glittering when one pays closer attention to the plight of the economic well being of ordinary citizens. On close scrutiny, it appears a number of citizens have little to celebrate as they have not been able to actively participate in Botswana’s economic growth.
Granted, government must be credited for its prudent management of mining revenues, stable democracy and good governance record over the years. But the same government dismally failed to equitably share wealth from diamond mining among its citizens. This is what should always be on the head of Masisi and his new cabinet. This is what should drive Masisi’s service to the people of this country.
Masisi should ask himself and answer simple questions relating to the socio and economic challenges that the people of this country face. He should provide answers, in the form of solutions, on why is has it taken government so long to prioritize poverty ‘alleviation.’ In fact why should we have poverty in such a wealthy country with a population of only two million people? Why is unemployment the bane of young adults in a country that has invested heavily in their education since 1966?
To reform is to turn the inevitability of change in the direction of progress. As such, to reform is to improve the life of every citizen of this country, more especially indigenous Batswana.
The #Bottomline is that every leader can harness the energy of his people either towards constructive work to generate optimism and hope by proving basic services efficiently or towards tensions and unrest by failing to provide the basics such as land, jobs and business opportunities. The new president will chose but in his choice he should bear in mind that no one benefits from unrests.