For many social and economic commentators, the fact that Boteti-an area that is home to Botswana’s most precious resources, diamonds-has largely remained undeveloped and impoverished is a shameful blight on Botswana’s illuminating reputation as a poster child of ‘diamonds for development.’
Boteti Member of Parliament, Setlhomo Lelatisitswe believes diamond mining has left the people of Boteti impoverished as they have nothing to show for it. The youthful legislator forced a premature end to parliamentary session on Friday when he walked out in protest against the unfair treatment being meted out to his constituents. Before the walk out, Lelatisitswe had tried to correct a statement by Presidential Affairs Minister, Dikgang Makgalemele to the effect that, “The vesting of mineral rights and other natural resources in the state has allowed government to spread services and development across the country. Our resources are thus shared.”
However, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Kagiso Molatlhegi refused to allow him to talk. He then walked out in protest as he did not agree with Makgalemele’s statement that Botswana’s resources are shared equally.
“There is no truth in what the minister said; that our income is distributed equally,” he later told Sunday Standard on the sides of parliament.
He insisted that the issue of poverty in Boteti needs to be addressed urgently as the extraction of diamonds has impoverished residents of Boteti while enriching other areas of the country.
“These issues affect our constituents….for many years this country has benefited from revenue generated from extraction of diamonds in our area, yet our people are neglected,” he said.
He gave an example of Letlhakane, saying the area is still without electricity even though it is home to four diamonds mines.
“People are devastated; they raise these concerns everyday at Kgotla meetings. We can no longer afford to keep quiet about these things,” he said.
Boteti is home to four diamond mines, among them the Karowe mine where a multimillion Dollar 1,111 carat diamond was recently discovered. Lelatisitswe further called on government to deliberately channel developments towards Boteti so as to ensure its sustainability even after diamonds are depleted. He said the 2009 global economic recession clearly showed that Boteti will suffer once diamond mining stops.
The row over distribution of diamond revenue in Botswana erupted hardly a week after mining giant De Beers released a report highlighting the socio-economic contribution to Botswana of its longstanding partnership with government. Speaking at the same conference, President of Women in Business Association for Botswana, Tumi Mbaakanyi also questioned the return for marginalised groups such as women and youth from the De Beers ÔÇô government partnership.
“Have the youth and women of this country benefitted from the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth that is being associated to diamond mining?” she asked.
She added that women in Botswana, especially those who reside in mining towns, are still grappling with challenges of limited access to finance, despite the much talked about economic success of diamond mining.
However, Makgalemele on Friday said the government of Botswana has never claimed that is has achieved absolute equality.
“What we are saying is that diamond revenues from Jwaneng, Orapa and elsewhere have been and will continue to be used for the development of the country as a whole,” he said.
A collaborative research paper produced by the African Development Bank (AFDB), OECD Development Centre and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has listed Botswana amongst countries with the high levels of unequal distribution of wealth and development amongst citizens. While it commended Botswana for prudent management of mining revenue and good governance, the report said the country’s formula of sharing wealth leaves a lot to be desired. The report also showed that incidence of poverty is also high, with 18.4 percent of the population living below the poverty line. Other challenges include a high unemployment rate of 17.8 percent, and relatively low Human Development Index (HDI) ranking and score mainly due to the high HIV/AIDS prevalence of 23.4 percent that drags down life expectancy. This report was in sync with the 2011 CIA World Fact book, which ranked Botswana as fourth-worst in the world on the measure of inequality in wealth distribution.