If there were any lingering doubts about the scale of economic damage that Botswana faces, then the budget speech delivered by the Minister of Finance early in the week has confirmed everything.
Botswana faces an uphill battle.
The future looks bleak. And we are clearly entering unchartered waters and an era of economic distress.
The stark choices facing the country are big and multiple and they were succinctly enunciated by the minister.
What was however not immediately clear from the speech were the solutions.
Also not immediately clear were the implications of the declining and deteriorating economic data for the welfare of the ordinary Motswana.
As is so often the case in times like these, it is the poor and vulnerable that will suffer most.
These are the people with no fighting chance against what is coming their way.
These are also the same people that did not enjoy the country’s economic boom of the last generation.
They will once again be requested to tighten their belts and bear the heavy burden.
Those asking them to do so will themselves not be wearing any belts.
We contend that the severity of the situation is not fully captured by the minister’s details – scary as those details are.
This is because much of the data falls through the cracks on account of a failure to do thorough studying of the informal sector which is by all accounts the economy’s soft underbelly.
Food insecurity is set to rise. Poverty is also set to go up as will other evils like unemployment especially given that Botswana Government will according to the minister be retrenching.
Starvation and disease especially among children will rise.
And it will get even harder as time goes on. The pandemic has only fast-tracked what was already an economy losing grip.
All efforts at diversifying the economy have now been put paid by endless delays, lack of political will and a misplaced belief that diamonds are forever.
Botswana has wasted immense time chest-beating and seeking international accolades instead of taking concrete economic steps at home.
Countries that did what they were supposed to do, chiefly Mauritius are now far ahead in the contest to become Africa’s economic powerhouses; a contest that Botswana has effectively lost.
It is difficult to attract foreign investment when national debt is rising and foreign reserves are on a downward spiral.
Even more difficult, we need to keep reminding ourselves, is to resuscitate a dead economy as the situation of our neighbour to the east will attest.
For some time, the international monetary fund has been advising Botswana Government that the public service wage bill was unsustainable.
The problem observed the IMF was the size of the civil service which remains bloated.
President after president turned a blind eye because they lacked political will to cut the civil service.
The footnote to all such advice from IMF was that if no action was taken voluntarily to cut the size of the public service there would come a time when circumstances against which government had no power would force that the size of civil service be reduced.
That time has now come.
Botswana is now entering the clutches that saw the decline of Zambia and also Ghana when IMF forced Structural Adjustment Programme.