The Chinese Ambassador to Botswana, Zheg Zhuquiang does not see skills development in the country being realised without an abundance of factories as its launching pad.
Speaking at the 44th meeting of Business Botswana’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) recently, Zhuquiang proposed that the country should emulate China and embark on the right policies for skills transfer, if it is to establish a robust industrial base. “If you don’t have a big industry it means you don’t have many places to train,” he said.
In that regard he enlightened on the path China took to come to be known today as an industrial powerhouse, which Botswana could reflect on and possibly follow. He said that prior to its industrial boom, China was plagued with the same problem that Botswana is currently experiencing – a shortage of skilled workers.
Zhuquiang highlighted the importance of training in schools which he said encouraged the transfer of skills but said but was not sufficient to promote the growth of an industrial base. “The best training is to train on the spot not from a training centre. It’s not the school that trains, it is the company that trains,” he said. He urged Botswana to develop industry fields so as to assist workers gain skills and become more competitive.
The relevance of China in providing a guiding blueprint regarding industrial development is aptly captured by decades of economic reforms and openness, which Zhuquiang said had diversified the economic structure of his country, once believed to only have an edge in the textile and clothing industry. To date the textile and clothing industry remains important to China, according to a published paper by Larry D. Qiu.
Zhuquiang said, however, that though China had the biggest textile industry it decided to diversify the economy on the realisation that the country would later need skilled workers across various skills base.
“We must diversify,” he said when fitting China’s context to Botswana. A 2009 working paper by Clem Tisdell titled Economic Reform and Openness in China: China’s Development Policies in the Last 30 Years cites that in 1978 the Communist Party of China (CCP) showed an increasing support for the reformist agenda in which it was argued that changes began in Agriculture. According to the paper, in 1984, “the CCP decided that the economic reforms commenced in agriculture should be extended to the whole economy. An end to the privileged position of state enterprises is signalled. Increasing emphasis occurs on greater economic openness as an instrument of development policy”.
As a result of this openness, Zhuquiang observes that China in its early days of reforms attracted foreign investors and asked them to help train workers and offered as a stimulus a lot of incentives for them to transfer their skills.
He explained that the idea was that following the skills transfer, the workers would in turn train their countrymen. “Today China doesn’t need foreign investors for training,” he said. The result of this, he said, is that today China has the biggest group of skilled workers in the world owing to the good circulation of skills transfer and alluded to the fact that presently the first person a company in his country wants to hire is a skilled worker.
“So I think Botswana could make more stimulation policies to make investment in Botswana easier; the foreign enterprise would bring more technology, make transformation happen in Botswana,” he said.
To derive from the benefits of openness, Zhuquiang appealed to the government of Botswana to “relax” its visa and work permits application conditions to bring foreign skills into the country. Zhuquiang’s request alludes to a thorny issue that has been hotly debated and identified by proponents of foreign direct investment policy as a deterrent to bringing investors into the country.
In fact local economist Keith Jefferies warned in the 2016 second quarter economic review that the inhibiting conditions to regional and global integration will curb Botswana from graduating to high income status. “The fundamental approach must be outward looking, embracing global integration, vigorously promoting and supporting firms that export goods and services, attracting inward foreign investment, welcoming foreign firms and individuals who wish to invest in Botswana, work in Botswana, and trade with Botswana,” he proposed.