In terms of a global standard that ascribes credit or discredit to a national leader, Presidents Festus Mogae and Ian Khama should be able to claim credit for reducing extreme poverty levels in Botswana between 2000 and 2009.
“Extreme poverty generally fell in Southern Africa between 2000 and 2019. The poverty headcount ratio generally fell as well, though some countries experienced a reversal after the global financial crisis. Using this measure, poverty dropped consistently since 2000 in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, and eSwatini,” says an African Development Bank report on the Southern African economic outlook.
For its part, the World Bank has stated that since the early 2000s, the poverty headcount fell by about 49 in Botswana.
The credit would have to go to Mogae, a former Governor of the Bank of Botswana and finance minister, who was president between 1998 and 2008. Khama, who was Mogae’s vice president, would himself ascend the presidency in 2008 and step down in 2018. In line with a tradition established by Vice President Ketumile Masire at independence in 1966, Khama briefly served as finance minister but soon left the position. The official explanation was that he would supervise national development plan projects but it was also rumoured that he detested being peppered with supplementary questions by MPs, often on complex financial matters that he knew nothing about. MPs submit questions to the National Assembly secretariat in advance and the questions are forwarded to relevant ministries to provide answers that a minister reads out in parliament. MPs have the option of asking supplementary questions and often that puts ministers in an extremely difficult position if they don’t have a thorough grasp of the issues raised.
The AfDB report says that while some countries (Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia) exhibited the highest poverty rates in Southern Africa between 2011 and 2018, Botswana was among countries where poverty remained low.
On the whole, poverty remains quite high in Southern Africa when measured against national poverty lines.
“Mauritius has the smallest share of the population below the poverty line, at 10.3 percent in 2017; followed by Namibia (17.4 percent in 2015) and Botswana (19.3 percent in 2009). South Africa is perhaps most surprising, with more than 56 percent of the population falling below the national poverty line in 2014, ranking below countries such as Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.”
Covid-19 might worsen the situation. The report notes that the upper-middle-income countries in Southern Africa (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa), with larger formal labour markets and stronger social protection systems, show higher unemployment.
“These countries entered the COVID-19 era with high unemployment rates, which have since been made worse by the pandemic.”