Sunday, April 2, 2023

No village is bigger than the Republic

..├│ne of the major issues we faced at independence was the ownership of mineral rights. We in the Botswana Democratic Party believed that minerals belonged to the nation, not just to one part. So mineral rights should be vested in the state’ Sir Ketumile Masire (Very Brave or Very Foolish; Memoirs of an African Democrat).

Some fortnight ago I was in Kampala as a resource person at a workshop of the East African Legislative Assembly(EALA) committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources Management. Under the topic, Harmonizing and Developing a Model Law on Extractive Industries, my passage to Uganda was facilitated by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), an American organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. In the concept note, the NDI wanted me to impart to legislators my insights on Botswana’s development model; with particular reference to the country’s success in ensuring proper governance of its natural resources. I assume as somebody who regularly trumpets our management model, the NDI thought I could be of some use. The background to the workshop is that practically all of East Africa is on the verge of a major resource boom. In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, vast deposits of gas and oil have been discovered and in some of the countries, exploitation has commenced. In anticipation of the wealth that will flow from exploitation of the resources, civil society groups are involved in a frantic process to avert the resource curse which has been the bane of many countries in the developing world. The phrase refers to a phenomenon whereby resource endowed countries are unable to achieve developmental outcomes commensurate with the wealth at their disposal. The resource curse manifests itself in a variety of ways. It can occur through corruption, mismanagement, civil strife and societal dislocation. I was therefore expected to demonstrate how Botswana managed to avoid the resource curse and register her remarkable strides in infrastructural and human development indices. What legislators in East Africa are grappling with is to craft laws and policies that will prevent the resource curse as well as ensure that wealth from their extractive industries benefit all the people and not only the elites who may have captured the state for self interest.

Researchers have always held up Botswana in the developing world, and Norway in the first world, respectively as the two countries that have come up with extractive industry codes aimed at securing the public good. Norway has designed protocols and laws aimed at providing the highest quality of life in the world from its oil and gas revenues. In my intervention I traced the genesis of our mining legislation by illustrating that right at the beginning when the first modern day mineral deposits were discovered by RST Limited in the late 1960’s in the Selibe Phikwe area, the leadership of this then extremely poor and newly independent basket case displayed great vision by mobilizing national consensus from all ethnic communities around the principle of collective ownership and sharing of any resources discovered within the territory of Botswana. In so doing, even before anyone thought the copper nickel deposits in question could be of any economic viability, it was critical to establish how any wealth found would be distributed to the nation. Participants were left incredulous when I quoted Sir Ketumile’s memoirs showing that the very president who proposed collective ownership acted beyond magnanimity by looking beyond his own territory where the deposits were located, and instead considered the national interest. The fact that Sir Seretse Khama’s community had acceded to collective ownership made the journey all the more easier when it came to canvassing the other communities, who in any case it must be noted, had no mineral deposits.

After garnering national consensus, the next stage involved drawing up legislation that conferred mineral rights in the custody of the state. My summation was that the 3 pillars of Botswana’s successful management of its natural resources for the public good remain state custody of minerals; collective ownership and redistribution as well as the 1969 joint venture deal with De Beers, culminating in mining operations commencing in Orapa two years later. Diamonds, I emphasized became the lifeblood of the Botswana economy due to this unique and still enduring partnership. Of course in a presentation which also had to respond to critical observations, I acknowledged the imperfections of our model in areas such as legislative oversight, insufficient citizen participation in mining, belated beneficiation policies and the problem of diversifying the economy from a single export commodity; otherwise known as the Dutch disease, in the most extreme cases. On the basis of my presentation, and the input of other experts who also resourced the workshop, the overriding resolution of the committee, with the support of the NDI, is to embark on a benchmarking exercise to both Botswana and Norway. They are also keen to understand how we managed to create sub Saharan Africa’s first welfare state through husbandry of national resources. The East African legislators want to get first hand appreciation of our model, which hopefully will form a template for transnational laws to govern their emergent extractive industries. There is excitement but also anxiety that they might just get it wrong and this necessitates their work shopping and impending visits to the two model countries. Alas, when I returned home I found a debate over the possible introduction of a land quota to address the acute problems of land in areas peripheral to Gaborone. This in my view has the potential to reverse what the East Africans want to copy from us. I recall that during question time in Kampala, an interlocutor wanted to know if the original inhabitants of mining areas enjoy community participation in the form of shares and royalties. My answer was that, not in Botswana. I cited the example of my grandmother who was relocated from the exact area where the BCL copper nickel mine is situated. She lives the humble life of any rural Motswana because as I stressed to them, we have refrained from giving preferential treatment to those who through accident of birth and geography find themselves living in resource rich areas. I told them that in Botswana our mining laws aim at treating citizens equally, which model in turn promotes national unity and social solidarity. That said, the issue of the land quota, if it is carried through will place Botswana at a crossroads in so far as the nation building project is concerned. The proverbial genie of African tribalism will be let out of the bottle. As we all know the moment the genie takes flight it wreaks havoc.

Subsequent to the initial mineral discoveries, other rich deposits have been found in various places in Botswana. The truth is that communities in these resource areas are no better off than others in a country trying to spread national development equitably across its vast territory. In fact some are visibly deprived and yet they sit in the midst of immense wealth.

Fortunately for us they have not taken up arms as is the case in other countries. As a result of the hard work by the founding fathers of instilling in them the binding values of one nation, something of a working balance, challenges notwithstanding, has been achieved. The pre-eminent American political thinker Francis Fukuyama writes that the challenge of post colonial African societies is to forge a common national identity, including promotion of a single national language to achieve development. Without a common national identity, Fukuyama argues, people then prioritize their ethnic ties over the nation state. In postulating his theory this great scholar compares Tanzania and Kenya, where in the latter, ethnic identities were allowed to override any sense of shared national community whereas in Tanzania they have fared better in terms of building a common national identity.

Hence in my whole life I have thought and behaved true to the tenets of a common identity as a nationalist Motswana because I know no other way of thinking about my country and fellow citizens. Now as a consequence of the land quota prospect, the nationalist in me is suffering a crisis of identity. I now find myself pondering; oh others are now thinking of their villages on the subject of a national resource like land; likewise shouldn’t I be thinking of my grandmother’s village and address her poverty through a quota from the copper nickel revenues generated from her old masimo? I am pondering the taboo question; why can’t her community be like Bafokeng in South Africa who enjoy all kinds of benefits from their minerals, to the exclusion of their fellow South Africans? I have been a critic of the Bafokeng model because to me they constitute a village that is bigger than the Republic. With the land quota, there will be others here who agitate for the Bafokeng model when it comes to their natural resources such as water, coal and diamonds. In other words, we will return to the tribal village affiliation of pre-independence Bechuanaland instead of consolidating the republic, which when intact and united presents better and more opportunities for us all. Are we prepared as a country to jettison our founding covenant of a nation united for a short term goal?

I say short term because even if the land quota comes into effect, the areas affected will in no time run out of the very same land and where will those communities go? Yesterday’s beneficiaries will then become tomorrow’s wretched. Will they expect other communities to accommodate them? I doubt any such accommodation will happen. Every community will be looking to hoard land for its future generations. The principle of collective ownership and sharing will be dealt a fatal blow as others demand their minerals, water, coal and wildlife. On the eve of our silver jubilee of independence when we should be celebrating our relative but admirable success; when we have confounded detractors who always thought we will go the way of all other Africans, our generation must handle carefully the founding values and vision that gave birth to this Republic. That national unity, management and distribution of natural resources are intertwined cannot be questioned in the case of Botswana. An analysis of this relationship was given by no less a figure than the 3rd Republican president, Festus Mogae in a seminal lecture at University of Botswana on 4th September 2007. At the Kampala workshop, I closed my presentation with this quotation, which remains relevant and must act as food for thought as we navigate the land quota question;

‘the sharing of the benefits accruing from national resources strengthens national unity and cohesion and moves the nation forward in the development continuum. If resources were to be used for the main or even exclusive benefit of people in which such resources are found; this would amount to some form of ‘separate development’ and balkanization of the nation state. In Botswana, collective ownership of our natural resources is fundamental to our national development strategy( Festus G Mogae; University of Botswana; 4 September 2007).

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