The Global Competitiveness Report paints a gloomy picture of citizen economic empowerment in Botswana.
Published by the World Economic Forum, the report shows that the country has a very high prevalence of foreign ownership of business. On a list of 148 countries that has such problem, Botswana is ranked 28th. The problem extends to “control of international distribution”, an indicator that measures the extent to which domestic companies own and control international distribution and marketing. Again Botswana scores very low, coming in at position 122.
This will come as no surprise to those who have been closely monitoring the issue of citizen empowerment. Going back to 1923, the British colonial government introduced the Credit Sales to Natives Proclamation whose net effect was to put Batswana traders out of business. To a large extent, the success of businesses (especially small ones) depends on their ability to obtain credit but in terms of this proclamation, natives could not get credit. The result has been that decades later, whites and Asians have a head-start on indigenous Batswana in the business realm.
In the run-up to independence, the colonial government constituted a committee to investigate racism and one of its members was Seretse Khama, the future founding president of present-day Botswana. Khama could not contain his revulsion when the Registrar of Deeds, a Mr. Myers, testified about how Tati Company and the British South Africa Company (BSAC) had imposed discriminatory conditions in title deeds.
“A typical example of these conditions is as follows,” Myers said before quoting from a copy of a title deed he had with him: “The land is sold subject to the conditions that the registered owner undertakes not to transfer the land or any part thereof to Asiatics or other Non-Europeans without the previous consent in writing of the company.”
He proceeded to tell the committee that although what he had read out was the typical condition found, there were many variations in wording in different title deeds relating to lands which are owned by or have been owned by Tati or BSAC but that import was basically the same.
“I have not come across a deed yet in which there has not been a provision of this nature,” Myers said.
Khama asked him if it was correct that a clause of this nature could not be easily removed from the title deed. In response, Myers said that once a condition is inserted into a title deed and the land held by such title is subsequently transferred, that condition automatically goes forward into the new title deed and only the person who imposed the condition is able to cancel it.
“Does not the government consider such a condition to be obnoxious?” Khama asked rhetorically.
However, even with Khama at the helm, the new nation of Botswana did not get it right when it came into being in 1966 because it neglected to enact legislation that protects the economic rights of its citizens. This is the point that High Court judge and legal scholar, Dr. Key Dingake, makes in his book, “Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law in Botswana.” He suggests that some form of protection should be provided for global citizens through the United Nations system.
Addressing Botswana’s specifically, Dingake laments the absence of socio-economic rights in the country’s constitution.
“This does not mean they are not rights. It only means that in the context of Botswana they may not be justiciable (capable of enforcement) because they are not constitutionally entrenched,” he writes in the book.
A parliamentary committee that is investigating the Botswana Meat Commission has revealed the extent to which citizens (including former president, Sir Ketumile Masire) are systemically disempowered. This prompted Professor Monageng Mogalakwe at the University of Botswana to hint at the possibility of the country’s beef industry being in the clutches of “an Anglo-Boer mafia.” A colleague of his, Dr. Oupa Tsheko, who is an economist, has estimated that about 80 percent of Botswana’s national wealth is in the hands of 20 percent of the citizen population. He estimates that roughly 2 percent in the 20 percent bracket is made up of indigenous Batswana. In the past, politicians like the former Shoshong MP, Duke Lefhoko, have called on the government to narrow down its broad citizen economic empowerment programme to indigenous Batswana because of their peculiar situation.