Saturday, July 2, 2022

Matambo’s budget: Some lessons from the Bible

Reading Prof. Roman Grynberg’s articles always gives me great pleasure because they are simple, informative and refreshing in nature. I was particularly impressed by the article “Matambo’s budget: some lessons from the bible” (Mmegi 08/02/13) wherein Grynberg drew some lessons from Joseph’s interpretation of Pharoah’s dreams about the economic recession/crisis that was┬á about to happen to Egypt.┬á I have always believed the greatest economist of all times is God and the greatest economics textbook is the Bible but unfortunately the most ignored.

However one gets solace from Grynberg and more importantly the 2012 State of the Nation Address where His Excellency Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama said┬á in paragraph 189: “Finally, as we come together to meet the challenges ahead, let us also once more seek the blessings and guidance of the Lord in all of our endeavours. Ever mindful that it is, “Not by might, nor by power, but by God’s Spirit”, (Zechariah 4:6), we can succeed in our endeavours.┬á God bless Botswana.”┬á
 
In Genesis 41, God and Joseph show up after Pharoah, his magicians (Inyangas and Sangomas) and wise men (all experts from development institutions IMF/World Banks etc) failed to  assist Pharoah. In other words when all else fails to provide solutions to economic problems, as its happening now, it is time we turn to God and his economics textbook.

What comes out clear is that development planning for nations is God’s idea in that out of the interpretation of the dream came a Fourteen-year development plan which had regional and global impact in that Genesis 41:37 states “The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials.”

The Egyptian National Development Plan which I believe should be a model of development planning was a full package which not only identified problems but offered solutions. The challenge facing Egypt was that an economic crisis in the form of food shortages due to famine was looming. There was going to be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of lack.

To survive the coming crisis Genesis 41:35-36 introduces the concept of reserves.

“They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food.┬áThis food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”
 
Reserves were in grains not financial which tells us that money is not the only way to keep reserves and not necessarily the best. They were also domestic as such Joseph had control over them. May be consideration should given to having domestic reserves.

 It also appears Joseph had a technology that preserved the grain without deteriorating or being eaten by insects for 14 years. This tells us that foreign exchange reserves which have time and again been eaten by exchange rate fluctuations among others things, can be kept in forms that can be fail-safe.

The reserves not only sustained Egypt seven years (import cover) but all the world, as Genesis 41:57 states “┬áAnd all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world.”

Genesis 41:48 records that “Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it.”
 
A further learning pick up, is that the way cities should be built is such that they have fields around them to provide food. Gaborone, Francistown, Lobatse, were built originally built along this model but unfortunately the fields around this cities no longer provided food as the pressure for housing is eating up the land around.
 
In addition proper record-keeping is initiated to improve accountability on how national resources are used as shown by Genesis 41:49 in which “Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.”
As nations struggle with how to diversify their revenue base we learn that the reserves that were held domestically opened up different streams of revenues in that they were sold to bring money, animals (cattle, goats, sheep, donkeys) and land for the government of Egypt.

Genesis 47:13-19 nicely sums up this thought and I would let it speak for itself:

There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace. 15┬áWhen the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is used up.”

“Then bring your livestock,” said Joseph. “I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone.” 17┬áSo they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock.

When that year was over, they came to him the following year and said, “We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. Why should we perish before your eyesÔÇöwe and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.”

In conclusion I would argue that the interpretation of Pharaohs dreams by Joseph gave us more than Kuznets cycle but a whole theory of how to carry out development planning, manage reserves and more importantly that agriculture is the foundation of the economy as it has the capacity to reproduce itself. The impact of plan lasted not 14 years but 450 years, which is the number of years the Israelites spent in Egypt
 
Is it too much to suggest that may be it is time ISPAAD produce is taxed at 20 % and kept as national grain reserves. It is scaring for a country to get sorghum from as far as Australia.
 
(The views in the article belong to Mmereki and not those of the employer)

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