With the Selebi Phikwe Economic Bailout and Diversification Support Fund Bill that he plans to table, the Gaborone Bonnington South MP, Ndaba Gaolathe, says that he studied models that were successfully implemented around the world to revive comatose industries. One was the United States’ bailout of the motor industry in 2009 that was championed by the newly-elected President Barack Obama.
When Obama came into office, the US motor industry was laying off workers by the hundreds of thousands with the possibility of at least 1 million more working losing their jobs if General Motors and Chrysler were liquidated. The US president pumped money into the industry to save jobs. Two years later, the industry was restored to good health. Importantly, Obama had given the money on condition that the industry should build more fuel-efficient cars. With the latter as an inspiration, Gaolathe’s motion says that one of the objectives of the Fund he is proposing will be to provide for the efficient operation and capacity enhancement of the government’s copper and nickel mining industry and its operations.
If Botswana is to borrow the US example to save its copper/nickel industry, that would force a comparison between Obama and President Ian Khama. Before and after the motor industry bailout, the former visited the affected areas. Guess which Botswana president did something similar way before? In 1995, Sir Ketumile Masire went up to Ngamiland to personally deliver devastating news. Some cattle had been infected with lung disease and the solution the government settled upon was to kill all 320 000 cattle in the district. Masire didn’t send his vice president, Festus Mogae, to address a kgotla meeting in Maun but went there personally. Both Masire and Obama understood that visibility is a powerful expression of leadership and that it gives those affected the assurance that the highest office in the land is with them in both mind and body.
An unconventional leader, President Khama has dealt with the BCL crisis in an unhelpfully unconventional way. News about a mine that is lifeblood of a whole region came not from him personally and he has not maintained any kind of visibility at the epicentre of the crisis. Khama visited Selebi Phikwe a month before the mine closed but didn’t go back to break news about a crisis much bigger than the killing of cattle in Ngamiland.
Gaolathe’s Bill proposes that the day-to-day operations of the Special Fund be carried out and administered by a Fund Manager who shall be designated by the president.