Thursday, October 1, 2020

So when are we gaining Independence….economic one?

The Independence week is once again upon us. This is a period where politicians ÔÇô more especially those of the ruling party often overstate their achievements and make Batswana believe that even though they are landless, moneyless and jobless, they are much better off than they were in 1966. .While it is true that Batswana are much better off than they were in 1966, it is a fact that the situation is not so glittering when one pays closer attention to the plight of the ordinary citizens. On close scrutiny, it appears a number of citizens have little to celebrate as they have not been able to actively participate in Botswana’s economic growth. One sector that gives a clearer picture of how left behind the people of this country are is that of tourism.

We recently came across the 2014 State of the Nation Address speech issued by the former President – Ian Khama.

At pages 17 and 18 of the 40 pages document, the president talks about the tourism sector ÔÇô A vital sector to our economy which was recently on the spotlight thanks partly to the ELEPHANTS WAR.

Just within the first paragraph, of the 2014 SONA, Khama divulged that as of May 2014, 61 percent of enterprises classified under the tourism sector solely belong to the locals – which are Batswana. He further said only 16 percent of this enterprises are foreign owned while the remaining 23 percent are joint ventures.

From the surface these figures do sounds like success. They made it appear like we have finally turned the tables in favour of Batswana with interest in the tourism sector. But if we closely scrutinise these figures, the 61 percent ownership figures mean absolutely nothing if at all the firms owned by Batswana do not get the matching ‘revenue’.

Our view is that we should be at a point where when such figures are issued, they paint a true picture where the total revenue that tourism enterprises make goes towards bank accounts of Batswana owned enterprises. This is to say the 61 percent that has been mentioned as “ownership” should be translated to share of profit. Of course this would mean working hard on the side of the locals but it also takes government support. The government should ensure that for those who can, should be offered an opportunity to own land ÔÇô a primary factor of production, in prime areas where they can make more money. There is absolutely no need for us to celebrate ownership when in actual fact we know the kind of businesses that our fellow citizens own in that sector. Our suspicion, which can easily be proven right, is that the 2014 figure includes locals who own ‘unrated & underrated’ Guests Houses in and around Maun, Kasane as well as other tourism centres. The question then becomes whether such resorts can be matched with the elite owned 5 star lodges and camping sites located within the Okavango delta? Can we honestly compare all those Maun local men operating canoes at the Thamalakane River at a cost of P3 per ride to a very big international company that offers a boat cruise at about P250 per person in an 8 seater boat within the same river? How much money can we say the two enterprises make daily, monthly and annually?

Our key interest is on how much these enterprises that are said to be owned by Batswana are making on annual basis? Does it even match weekly revenue accumulated by the companies owned by foreigners? Please do not interpret this statement or rhetoric questions as xenophobic. This is a reminder of the inequality that we see when it comes to the ownership within the tourism sector. 

Until we are able to appreciate how this unfortunate set up contribute to the poverty in this country then there is absolutely nothing much to celebrate. It is unfortunate that at the time of putting up this commentary we were unable to collect data on the concerned businesses margins but we can reasonably assume that the absolute margins taken, for instance on more expensive Hotels at the Okavango Delta are higher than those owned by locals in Shakawe and therefore, holding all other factors constant, we can safely conclude that foreign-owned businesses enjoy larger margins, on average. Is this what we want for our people? In short, a comparison of some of the characteristics of locally and foreign-owned businesses can give some idea of why we believe the 61 percent given by the former President in 2014 should not cause any form of celebration as yet.

We all know that Ngamiland and Okavango districts are richly endowed in natural beauty, but at the same time, we are aware that most of its inhabitants are very poor.  The former President stated in his speech that the government is looking into finding alternative innovative ways to promote broadening of tourism product. We challenge the current President Mokgweetsi Masisi to ensure that Batswana are part and parcel of the whole reshaping. It is our view that the most direct way for the poor people of Ngamiland and Okavango or any other district to economically benefit from tourism is to own companies that provide the key services on which tourists rely. These include but not limited to accommodation as well as Safari companies. This move will also curb the current situation where Botswana is still unable to retain up to 90 percent of revenue generated by the local tourism. When all is said and done – the #Bottomline remains, ownership of tourism by Batswana means nothing when it cannot generate enough revenue for future growth of their businesses as well as provide then with an opportunity to compete with the industry giants.

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