Thursday, September 24, 2020

Poverty eradication in Botswana: old wine in an old bottle?

Two or three months ago, Vice President Lt. Gen. Mompati Merafhe, together with the Assistant Minister in the Office of the President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, addressed senior government officials and members of the press at the mass media complex about the government’s intention to eradicate poverty in Botswana.

I only watched the last fifteen minutes of the press conference and could not comment confidently on the things that were discussed. But after watching Matlho-a-Phage on BTv about three or four weeks ago and listening to Hon Masisi on Yarona FM last week Monday talking about the same issue, I think I can now participate in the discussion because I strongly believe that our political masters are playing to the gallery rather than being sincere about the problem at hand.

I think that it is in order for the government to be applauded for having introduced numerous policies and schemes geared towards reducing or minimizing the negative effects of poverty on citizens. Some of the programmes have yielded positive results as evidenced by the fact that the percentage of people living below the poverty datum line has declined during the last two decades.
However, the percentage decline of people classified as poor should not be viewed as an indication that we can eradicate poverty. Just like other developing countries, we have a small economy that is heavily dependent on one commodity: diamonds.

We have limited resources at our disposal and I think it is unfair for our political masters to talk about goals that they know are not realistic and achievable. They should be talking about poverty reduction rather than poverty eradication because the latter means total elimination of poverty or having a society that is free from poverty. How many countries with better economies than ours have achieved this goal?

The developed nations have failed to eradicate poverty and are still failing. These are countries with very big economies, high GDP per capita income, advanced technology, good infrastructure, vibrant private sectors, highly competitive political parties, good social security programmes etc. If developed countries with all the resources at their disposal are still grappling with the problem of poverty, what makes us think that we can eradicate it?

Our government cannot achieve the goal of poverty eradication because nothing new has been proposed or presented to the citizens by the Khama administration.

I got frustrated when I heard Hon Masisi saying that poverty in Botswana is going to be eradicated through programmes such as Ipelegeng, constituency league football, RADP, SHHA, ISPAAD, distribution of ARVs, primary school feeding programmes, Young Farmers Fund administered by CEDA etc. What is new about all these programmes?

Some of them were introduced when I was still at primary school and yet they are presented as if they bring something new and different to the citizens. The Assistant Minister’s failure to enlighten citizens on what the current administration is doing differently from the past administrations in an endeavor to eradicate poverty tempts me to conclude that we still have what Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae gave us during their tenure. They gave us all the above-mentioned programmes save for constituency league football.

That is why I am of the view that nothing has changed because the wine that they gave us is the same as the one that we are getting under President Khama. Even the shape and size of the bottle is still the same.
It is an insult to our intelligence to be told that Ipelegeng can be used to move people out of the poverty trap. This is one of the programmes that contribute directly to the impoverishment of citizens.

It is very unfortunate that it has been given so much attention and publicity simply because it is said to be one of the initiatives of President Khama. How do you move people out of poverty by giving them slashers to cut grass or brooms to sweep the roads, pay them P360.00 at the end of the month and then dump them?

There are no survival skills developed, no element of empowerment and yet our political masters want us to believe that it is one of the best programmes to be introduced since we attained our political independence.

The manner in which Ipelegeng is glorified reminds me of the statement made by the German Minister of Propaganda between 1933 and 1945, Joseph Goebbels, when he said that, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

How many times have we heard that 40 000 people are employed under the programme and yet the same number is not moving out of the poverty trap?

When listening to the VP and Assistant Minister talking about poverty in Botswana, one can be forgiven for thinking that it is a new problem that has just been identified and brought to the attention of the powers that be. They talk about poverty as if new solutions or strategies have been formulated and implemented to address it.

They always try very hard to portray their political master in good light by telling us that he is doing everything in his power to eradicate poverty. They have even gone to the extent of telling citizens that President Khama is busy travelling to different areas around the country to personally assess the situation.
I agree with the MP for Lobatse, Nehemiah Modubule, that it is very unfortunate for the President to be learning about the poverty situation in Botswana now.

It clearly indicates that there are many problems facing Batswana that he does not know despite having been a politician for twelve years and having spent nine years as the coordinator of government programmes and projects, some of which deal directly with poverty.

Instead of abusing the state media and manipulating information to mislead the unsuspecting citizens, our politicians must learn to be honest and admit that we can never have a poverty free society just like we can never have a society free from crime.

Some of the problems we face as human beings are irresolvable and poverty is one of them. We can only reduce the number of poor people because we have limited mental capacities to deal with the problem of poverty.

And this is compounded by the fact that we have limited resources at our disposal that we also have to use to address other pressing needs in different sectors of the economy.

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