Saturday, July 4, 2020

Non-GDP economic measure shows Batswana are really struggling

Botswana is supposed to be one of Africa’s “richest” countries but a non-GDP economic measure, the Social Progress Index, shows just how poorly the citizens of that supposedly rich country are doing.

A comprehensive measure of real quality of life, independent of economic indicators, SPI is a new way that define the success of societies. It measures 51 social and environmental indicators to create a clearer picture of what life is really like for everyday people, focussing on actual life outcomes in areas from shelter and nutrition to rights and education.

The 2019 Index says the following: “We dream of a world in which people come first. A world where families are safe, healthy and free. Economic development is important, but strong economies alone do not guarantee strong societies. If people lack the most basic human necessities, the building blocks to improve their quality of life, a healthy environment and the opportunity to reach their full potential, a society is failing regardless what the economic numbers say.”

SPI indicators are divided across three broad dimensions of social progress: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. Within each dimension, there are four components that further divide the indicators into thematic categories. Overall, Botswana is ranked 84 from a total of 149 countries. Botswana’s highest component scores for SPI 2019 are in the indicators of Personal Rights, Access to Basic Knowledge, Water and Sanitation, Personal Freedom and Choice as well as Personal Safety. Its lowest component scores are in the indicators of Access to Advanced Education, Inclusiveness, Access to Information and Communications, Health and Wellness, and Shelter.

Elements of the Social Progress Index are marked with a blue dot where the country performs comparatively well, a red dot where it performs relatively poorly, a yellow dot where its performance is average for its peer group, and a gray dot when there isn’t sufficient data to make a judgment. The country’s strengths and weaknesses are relative to 15 countries of similar GDP PPP per capita: Turkmenistan, Thailand, Montenegro, Barbados, Costa Rica, Serbia, Belarus, China, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Bulgaria, Algeria and Suriname.

Botswana performance is poorest on the Basic Human Needs dimension where it ranked 97 from a total of 149 countries. All its indicators for Nutrition and Basic Medical Care (Undernourishment, Maternal Mortality Rate, Child Mortality Rate, Child Stunting, Deaths from Infectious diseases) are marked red. Botswana is ranked 127th for Undernourishment, 120th for Deaths from Infectious Diseases, 105th for Child Mortality Rate, 104th for Child Stunting and 91st for Maternal Mortality Rate. Still under the same dimension, the country does poorly under virtually all indicators, getting a red mark for Access to at Least Basic Drinking Water (96th), Access to at Least Basic Sanitation Facilities (91st) and Rural Open Defecation (115th). Only under Access to Piped Water is the country marked yellow – for which it is ranked 62nd among participating countries.

The country is marked all red under the Shelter dimension for which it is ranked 102nd and under which are the following indicators:  Access to Electricity (117th), Quality of Electricity Supply (91st), Household Air Pollution Attributable Deaths (97) and Access to Clean Fuels and Technology for Cooking (88th).

All told, Botswana is marked red for Basic Human Needs and yellow for both Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity. In terms of dimensions, it is marked red for seven; yellow for seven and blue for one – Personal Freedom and Choice for which is ranked 41st in the group of participating countries.

The Leader of the Opposition, Dumelang Saleshando, has lamented that while Botswana is doing well at a macro-economic level, it is doing poorly at a micro-economic level.

“We have governed ourselves for 53 years fairly well,” he said last Wednesday when responding to President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s state-of-the-nation address.

The Maun West MP told parliament about how, for the better part of those years, mineral wealth had gifted the country with the financial muscle to excel in both economic and human development and about how the country ran fiscal surpluses and accumulated foreign reserves.

“Our debt to GDP ratio is only 13.2 percent, a full six percentage points lower than it was in 2012.
21. We have Africa’s best sovereign credit ratings (A- and A2 by Standard and Poors and Moody’s respectively). Our macroeconomic fundamentals have, year after year, been subject of acclaim from Bretton Woods Institutions. This, we all celebrate as a nation. However, unlike the Botswana Democratic Party, we don’t believe that the macroeconomic indicators tell a complete story. This rosy macro picture co-exists with unacceptable failure at the micro-economic level. Firms, households, workers, poor people, and the youth are having a hard time identifying with our macroeconomic stability and success. In sum, successive BDP governments have failed to turn economic growth into meaningful change in peoples’ lives. A big part of the reason for this failure is that your approach to development management prioritises economic development over human development.”

It is unclear how far the UDC wants to go in reconceptualising human development metrics but in some parts of the world, there is strong advocacy for ditching the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an economic indicator. In Bhutan, it has been replaced by the Gross National Happiness (GNH) which measure progress with reference to the happiness of citizens. While the GDP can be used to measure what people are spending, it is less valuable when a country wants to figure out levels of hunger, hopelessness, or suffering. An oft-cited example with regard to the latter is that at the precise time that the Arab Spring sprung, GDP was rising in both Tunisia and Egypt. While economists could calculate what 11 million Tunisians and 80 million Egyptians were buying and selling, they didn’t know what they were thinking and the Arab Spring revolutions in those countries came as a shock.

GDP measurement has placed Botswana in an odd category – upper-middle income – when, as Saleshando argued, “half of Botswana’s population is either poor or vulnerable to poverty.” Indeed that has been confirmed by a “Where to Invest in Africa” report from South Africa’s Rand Merchant Bank which shows that almost half of Botswana’s population (1 053 486) is “economically marginalised.” One tragic result of Botswana being categorised as an upper-middle income has been the cutting of development aid to the country.

What the SPI Index, Saleshando and Rand Merchant Bank say was aptly summed up in only seven words a couple of years ago by a boastful (and inebriated) Zimbabwean man upon observing a group of Batswana men he may have known to be career lager beggars, walk towards a bar in Gabane. He snarked: “Here come the Baswana, broke as usual.”


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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.