Friday, September 25, 2020

May events of the last two years be a wake up call!

By any measure, the last two years have been particularly difficult for Botswana, most notably on the economic front.

The impact of the disruptions caused by events of the last two years will reverberate well into the next twenty years or so.

It all started when early last year the nation was given a rude awakening by a severe shortage of electricity that led to a collapse of many firms and a cancellation of some other projects that had been earmarked to kick-start the economy to new heights.

We all know how before the energy crisis started to hit, the City of Francistown had fast turned into a busy and economically lively mining hub.
Not only had many jobs been created in and around Francistown, for the first time the national economy was drawing significant revenue from minerals other than diamonds.

With the international commodity prices on an upward spiral, many economic commentators were predicting that a rebirth of Francistown into an international mining hub in a scale that could not be predicted only a few years earlier was in the offing.
But thanks to an uncertain power supply, that dream seems to be dissipating right before our very eyes. And Francistown is once again slipping into a sleepy, little ghost town it used to be.

Official statistics, which by all accounts are conservative, indicate that Botswana imports close to 80 percent of her electricity supply. Most of those imports are from South Africa.
These horribly skewed imbalances are not only an economic danger but could in other jurisdictions easily be interpreted as a national security risk.
For many years it was known that power needs in Botswana and across the region were fast outstripping supply.
The Botswana authorities in particular were privy to the contents of an agreement between this country and South Africa in as far as it related to a relationship of supply between the power utility companies in these two countries.

We now know that the agreement between Botswana Power Corporation and Eskom will come to an end in a few years time.
Eskom has explicitly stated that, given that they too are hard pressed, it might not be possible to extend the relationship.

Yet to our dismay no contingent preparations, at least not to public knowledge, are advanced by Botswana authorities to take care of our national needs even as the period of exposure fast advances.

This is irresponsible, reckless and unpardonable to say the least.
In many other countries heads would have rolled.

Given the emergency of the situation which, as we put it, amounted to a crisis, the Head of State would have taken it upon himself to see to it that not only does his government come up with faster projects to fill the void and mitigate the harm, he would also have moved such national efforts fall under his direct supervision.
But not so in Botswana!

Instead, eighteen months later the nation is nowhere closer to the promises made that self-sufficiency in electricity supply will be implemented.
Government has closed itself into a cocoon hoping that the problem will either go away or resolve itself. But it won’t. What will happen is that at some stage in the not too distant future the problem of energy supply will resurface. When it does that, it will be much fiercer, more protracted and much more damaging than it was when it first hit our shores.

This is the reality we have to live with as a people.

While the Government wants to inculcate and cultivate a false feel good mentality, we must, as people, continue asking these probing questions. Falling into the trap laid by a government that does not want to face reality would make us look just as delusional.

Another problem that has been allowed to reach our doorstep without any warning signs from the authorities even as they had all the facts at their fingertips is that one that pertains to diamond sales and the economic performance of the country in general.
Against all reason, Government officials together with their lackeys in the private sector insisted that Botswana would not be affected by the economic firestorm that started to hit the shores of America and other parts of the developed world almost two years ago.

Instead of being warned of the approaching danger, we were sung a silly lullaby and told not to worry as Botswana was immune.

Today, thousands of Debswana Diamond Company employees, a one-time blue chip that was Botswana’s breadbasket, are in the lurch, uncertain of what will happen to them the next morning.
It would be wishful thinking to hope that the worst is behind us.

The little information that has started flowing from government and its associates indicates that there is no way Botswana was ever immune.
That information further shows that diamond sales have plummeted to an all time low; not at all surprising given that the economy of the United States, which alone consumes well over half of the produce, has now been in a recession for close to two years.

The very people who used to buy Botswana diamonds are themselves walking the streets of New York ÔÇô unemployed, hopeless and defeated.
How on earth can it be that Botswana could weather the storm when we know the structure of our economy is such that it predominantly government driven and that close to 80 percent of government revenues are extracted from one commodity the buyers of which have since lost their jobs.

We catalogue these events not because we rejoice in blaming the government, but simply because we hope these are lessons from which a lot can be learnt.
We catalogue these lapses because we think it is high time Botswana came up with working plan to be self-sufficient when it comes to energy needs.
We catalogue these events because we think it is high time Botswana reduced its economically insane over dependence on just one commodity.

Which is why we are saying may events of the last two years be a wake up call!


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