Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Redefining Botswana’s Economy Post COVID-19

Our country is a facing a crisis that has affected every country in the world. Of course we are less at it because the government and the public have played a crucial role in preventing the spread of the Corona virus. We look at some countries where we find frustrated governments whose citizens have not had a buy in on the whole thing. Equally, we find certain countries where there national leaders act like there is nothing happening and its business as usual with bars and beaches open every day.

Listening to the president’s speech this week, one can only read into the future speeches that will follow. All we can tell and say is that change is here with us as a nation. COVID-19 is certainly here to redefine the economy and our way of life. But in short one sees great prospects for this country with is small population and yet with a vast amount of natural resources.

One of the things he mentioned in his address is the use of bicycles as an alternative source of transport. When Gaborone was established as a capital in the 1960s, most of its labour was coming from the periphery from places like Gabane, Metsimotlhabe, Mmopane and Tlokweng. The small capital could not cope with providing accommodation for this labour force. So men were commuting every morning from these villages using bicycles.

The use of the bicycle was not only a trendy or fashionable thing, it was a way of life as there were very few cars in this country at the time. They served our economy in a great way and once we were lifted out of poverty we neglected them in a bad way.

China is one country that has a very long history in the use of bicycles. This mode of transport has been transformed along with a growing economy. In fact getting to the streets of Schengen which is their premier technology city, one finds all generations of bicycles in use. From the huge framed ones used for the transportation of goods to the modern electric bicycle.

Botswana does not only need to reflect on going back to the use of bicycles just to address this passing crisis. It may seem like they are most needed to address the problem of fuel. But with vision, this goes a long way as one of the mechanical items that can help fix our economy, environment and more particularly our health system. Over the years, the voices of those advocating for the creation of safe cycling lanes alongside our roads have been drowned in the silence of our urban planners who do not see the need for this mode of transport. The lack of such infrastructure has become a serious turn off for the young who still find the bicycles as something intriguing to use.

Where such lanes have been provided, motorists find this to be a convenient place for illegal parking and unfortunately the police never find anything wrong with this behaviour. For instance, the Western By-Pass has a pedestrian/cycling provision which has more often been taken from walkers and cyclists by truckers who have made it a habit to straddle these paths with their vehicles overnight.

Our economy was built by the bicycle and it can still play a crucial role in saving it from collapse. Back in the days, it was mandatory for every household to have at least one of their sons working in the mines. It was predictable what they would bring when they returned for their first end of contract leave. The bicycle was at the top of the list followed by a trunk (metal suit case).

In those days, the entire population was very healthy as walking and cycling was a way of life. Obesity was very rare and it was associated with affluence. As soon as the country came out of the woods in as far as poverty is concerned, motorised transportation almost totally displaced the bicycle. This machine has come to be associated with poverty and this is very unfortunate.

A large portion of China’s economy is driven by bicycles. The electric bicycle has topped the charts in that country. The bicycle has become a symbol of health conscientiousness and come with great convenience when taking vehicle traffic into account. They are maneuvererable and do not take up a lot of parking space.

The electric bicycle has a rechargeable battery that can last as long as fifty kilometres in most cases. Businesses and government facilities in China do provide charging ports for the electric bicycle and therefore no one gets stuck trying to get home. In any case, the alternative on these machines is that the human effort can also help the battery to go so much further. The bicycle will come to turn our economy around.

Citizens are already having meaningful discussions among themselves on how they can re-invent the economy. One of the subjects that have preoccupied the discussions goes around the issue of food security. It is amazing how many people are seeing a great opportunity in this area and are willing to retire and get into productive farming.

In fact the government must create incentives for those aspiring to till the land to take an early exit. For instance, if government provides a fifty percent subsidy for tractors and implements for retiring civil servants, imagine what we will have. Everyone within the retirement age will be scrambling for the exits.

In any case, the generation born between the 1960 and 1970 were raised by agriculturalists who have themselves retired from the business. It is for the next generation to go and fill up the huge gap left by these old men and women who were so dedicated to tilling the land and tending to the flocks. In their day, the bicycle and the donkey cart were the backbone of the agricultural economy.

By the time the vaccine comes to our shores in 2021 it will find a healthy population cycling to work and to the fields. In the meantime the nation must be engaged in discussions on how we can emerge a better people out of this crisis.

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Sunday Standard August 2 – 8

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of August 2 - 8, 2020.