Botswana conferences have a reputation of being a gathering of those who want take a break from offices, eat three meals a day and sleep in nice hotels.
After wining at a closing day ceremony, the next morning they have forgotten about what was discussed at the conference and this is said because it comes at the expense of a taxpayer.
We are keeping our fingers crossed that next week, a diversification conference billed for the normally quiet town of Selebi Phikwe will not be like others before it.
Ann Adams Park will host the much anticipated National Conference on the Diversification of Selebi Phikwe, which forms part of a recommendation by EU study on economic diversification of Selebi Phikwe and Strategic Plan adopted by government in 2007.
The expectation is that the gathering of over 250 representatives from the public and private sphere around the country will be different and come up with recommendations that can save Phikwe and the country at large.
Every week conferences take place in Gaborone that fail to take the country forward with no commitments, no targets nor action plans.
The message for those who will take part at the conference is that their deliberations are important and the lives of people of Phikwe area are dependent on them.
It will also test government’s commitment to turning Phikwe area around after it was deprived a second university with the decision to take BIUST to a different location.
The participants should be alerted that after BCL, Phikwe will have nothing with which to feed over 80, 000 mouths that are dependent on the mine.
That is why we urge the conference to be different from others.
We propose that there be Action Plans of executing agreements that will be made at the conference while simultaneously suggesting that it should select committees that will take the plans forward.
Equally, the action plans should have a financial backing like being allocated a budget and have a timetable with targets set to look at the mine life which we learn is expected to end by 2013.
As SPEDU suggests, diversification of Phikwe should no longer be reliant on the mine life forecasts, but rather on the long term sustainability of the area.
We expect the conference to deliberate on the problems those industries in Selibe Phikwe face.
Things like the land tenure should be reviewed if places like Selibe Phikwe are to attract meaningful investments.
At the moment the land tenure system in Botswana still does not allow someone with ambitions to go commercial because they are allocated small pieces of land.
SPEDU through the support of the EU has conducted studies that will need the support of government departments.
For example, there is a study on the potential of horticulture in the region and agro processing and a regional tourism study that identifies the potential of enhancing the region as a tourism transit.
All these ideas will need the support of relevant government ministries because they will need infrastructure if they are to come off the ground. There will be a need for road access, land and water for irrigation among other things.
The industry especially retail should be supported because horticulture production will need them to procure from them rather than buying from South Africa as it is the case now.
Botswana spends billions of Pulas annually buying food from across the country while it is endowed with land that can lead to self sufficiency in food.
With sectors like tourism, agro business and manufacturing being suggested as possible replacements for mining in the area, the belief is that banks will be able to help viable business ideas.
But still the government for all its pressure to save Phikwe should be careful not to fall into pitfalls that were so much a character of the textile industry in that in the past.
Phikwe seems to be unlucky itself; a number of initiatives were tried out before with very little to show for it.
There has been the Selebi Phikwe Regional Development Programme (1985), the SP Regional Development Unit (1987) and the Financial Assistance Policy (FAP) and Special Incentive Package.
One wonders why Phikwe, which has one of the best smelters in the world, would not have been given a chance to be a centre of excellence in mining let alone centre of diamond beneficiation.
In other countries, cities have different specialisation with some dedicated to government; parliament while others are allocated to be centres of industries.
Maybe Selebi Phikwe could have been a mining centre with down stream industries including all De Beers’ sightholders setting up in Phikwe under one roof; that would have created 3, 000 jobs for the town.
The expectation is that there will be less talk and more action after the Phikwe declaration is adopted.