Sunday, September 20, 2020

Personal debt is Botswana’s ticking time bomb

The level of debt among Batswana is now fast approaching a crescendo.

Botswana’s economy has been in a mess since before the global economic down turn that officially started in 2008.

Of course global events have since then played a part, especially the collapse in commodity demand by China, which has laid to waste a number of mines in the north of Botswana, including BCL and its subsidiary, Tati Nickel.

Many people have had to be laid off their work.

These are people who were already committed on things like mortgage and other forms of credit.

As a result for many of them, because they have gone on and on without finding new employment, life has been extremely tough as they have had to face bank foreclosures.

Having said that there is no doubt that the indebtedness crisis submerging many households has its origins in the pervasive consumerism that has been so much a feature of Batswana’s lifestyle. Uncontrolled, Microlenders charging runaway interest rates have led many families to financial ruin.

For many Batswana who have been victims of these sharks a strong law, but more importantly a fully empowered regulatory framework regulating Microlenders beyond what Non Banking Financial Regulatory Authority is doing cannot come soon enough.

That level of indebtedness is nowhere clearer than among some of our elected officials, especially councilors who by the way are some of the lowliest paid in the sub-region.

Media reports indicate that the situation is so bad so much that some of them literally take nothing home after deductions in their income have been made.

The upshot of all the above is poverty which is now an endemic feature.

With poverty has come all sorts of social ills, chief among which is crime.

With all these problems it has become glaringly clear just how as a country we missed the boat.

There are many things that we could have done but failed to do when money was not so much an issue.

That was the time of continuous boom when Botswana was for many years the fastest developing country in the world, at annual growth rate averaging 9%.

It is clear that too many of our people have been left behind.

And unless something dramatic happens they are unlikely to catch up.

This exclusion is at the centre of public discontent and disillusionment that is fast morphing into despondency ÔÇô especially among the youth.

These are the people who feel they did not share the spoils born by a boom of economic growth and opportunity, but who are now being asked to shoulder the greatest burden at a time when the economy is on its knees.

These are economic realities that were failing to grasp, but which if left unattended for too long could easily degenerate into political fallouts that cannot be contained.

Worrying as the aforementioned events, more disturbing is an assumption among our leadership that what we are going through is just a natural economic slump that will be corrected by rising diamond sales.

This is wrong and dangerous.

Diamonds will for a long time remain very important to Botswana, but they shall alone never be able to shoulder and sustain growth in the manner that was the case over the preceding thirty years.

There has to be a change of focus.

And that change means accepting that productivity shall be the new engine of growth.

If there is going to be any sustainable economic growth it has to come from enhanced productivity.

As the legendary American investor Carl Icahn once put it, productivity is the only way out if we are to survive.

Time is gone when we looked up to increased diamond sales to put more fuel on growth.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.