Wednesday, October 27, 2021

No Prince’s kiss will save us from the poison of the Demographic Disaster that awaits us

On Friday, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) shared findings about Botswana’s demographic dividend in the capital Gaborone through a report that was launched by the incoming President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

The report follows a commission of the study by the Government of Botswana through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, in collaboration with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Botswana Country Office and with support from the UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO) in 2016.

The report rightfully shows that, if sound investments do not occur in Botswana’s youth and children, the once-in-a-generation opportunity of a demographic dividend may be replaced by a demographic disaster, characterized by high unemployment.

With all signs pointing to persistent high unemployment and a continuous weak economic recovery, we have no other option but to once again use this space to remind the powers that be of the need to urgently do something about it.

As we have said in this space before, inequality is limiting Botswana’s economic progress in more ways than we think. For most of the past two decades, economic planners at the government seem to have simply assumed that economic growth on its own would reduce inequality. We can all attest that this is not necessarily the case.

History must by now have taught us that faster economic growth is a necessary but not sufficient condition to reduce the level of inequality.

Our view is that Botswana needs more directed action or deliberate action to tackle the high level of income inequality amongst the indigenous people. These direct actions, such as a law on citizen economic empowerment will ultimately result in a boost in the welfare of all the citizens of this country.

While recent official figures from the government statistics agency ÔÇô Statistics Botswana point out that both level of poverty and rate of unemployment have gone down, the reality on the ground says the contrary.

This could only mean that as a nation we need to do much more to create societies in which all citizens have the opportunity to succeed.

As reported by this newspaper before, unemployment in our country is deemed to have reached crisis proportions with 61 percent of youth aged 15 ÔÇô 29 unemployed and other statistics indicating a youth to adult unemployed ratio of three (1:3). Further pronouncements indicate that the face of unemployment in our country is youthful and female. Sad isn’t it?

Like the Bank of Botswana rightfully said in its 2016 annual report, key factors explaining Botswana high unemployment remains relatively undiversified economy, our large and unproductive public service (that may be crowding out the growth of the private sector). Another key factor that has since emerged is a labour force that is inadequately trained and has low motivation.

The Botswana Government has spent heavily towards achieving universal basic education. The key question is why are we not ripping out something from that heavy investment in the of sustainable job creation? Are we too reliant on having foreigners come to our shore to create jobs for us? We should state here that there is nothing wrong with luring foreign companies to our shores. Such moves will not only boost our economy but also help in the much needed skills exchange between foreign employees and our people. 

We also should state that we strongly believe that having been an independent state for the past 53 years our days of having to heavily rely on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) should be bearing their death-bed. 

While not so long ago countries used to put foreign investors at the very centre of national economic strategies and employment creation, recent developments signal that such a way of doing things may no longer be tenable. Not only are foreign investors hard to come by, they are also unpredictable as to be outright costly in certain instances.

The bottomline to always bear in mind in our quest to attract foreign investors as part of solution to the high unemployment crisis is that investors do not set up here because they want to help us as a country to create employment. They come here because they look around and see real chances of making good returns on their investment. That is why it is never too difficult to close shop at any given time for them. That is why it is so easy for them to repatriate all their profits to their home countries and leave not a single Thebe to reinvest in this peace loving and democratic country.

In the meantime there is need to reduce the gap between knowledge generated in the educational system and the skills demanded by employers. Such change will enhance future growth prospects thus strike down unemployment figures in the short to medium term.

The #Bottomline is that there is no foreigner who will come rescue us from our slumber of income inequality, high unemployment and landlessness. Our country needs a functioning bureaucracy, good governance of state institutions including enterprises as well as a transformed private sector that can invest in human capital.

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