This Wednesday will see the final closure of Sweden’s Embassy in Gaborone. The Swiss might have trimmed political ties with the country but remain steadfast when it comes to trade relations. This was evident this past week when a contingent of high powered delegation arrived in the country to launch the Swedish Trade Council (STC) office in Gaborone. The delegation made it clear that even though there might be developmental aspects to trade between the two countries, Botswana should brace itself for head to head trade dealings.
As an upper middle income country, Botswana should no longer expect kids’ gloves treatment. Botswana was stuck off from benefiting from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) in 1998 ÔÇô when the country was elevated from poor to upper middle income category. At the time, Sweden was one of the country’s important development partners since independence in 1966. Now Sweden has identified seven strong economies in Africa that would enjoy the services of STC. Officially launching the STC, Assistant Minister of Trade and Industry, Duke Lefhoko, reminisced the developmental aid prior to 1998.
“One of the Sweden assisted projects closest to many Batswana’s hearts was the Botswana Enterprises Development Unit (BEDU). Through BEDU, which commenced in 1974, Sweden helped Botswana to establish entrepreneurship development infrastructure in the form of factory shells, common workshops and staff houses in various parts of the country,” he recollected. Through BEDU, numerous Batswana gained valuable entrepreneurship skills in various fields. Small scale businesses also benefited from the advisory and technical services component of the Unit ÔÇô which provided business management, mentoring and support services. BEDU has since transformed to Integrated Field Services before finally being changed Local Enterprise Authority. Lefhoko bemoaned the trade imbalance between Botswana and Sweden, saying despite growing business dealings between the two countries, the bulk of the trade is in favour of the Swiss.
“The figures indicate the potential for larger volumes of trade flows between the two countries. With the establishment of STC office, we should be able to facilitate increased trade flows between the two countries,” he said.
Despite over 150 years of industrial evolution to a modern economy ÔÇô diversified from reliance on natural resources to becoming an innovation and information technology hub ÔÇô the Minister is optimistic of similar transition in shortest possible time in the country. For that to happen, he implored the Swiss to play a role in the transformation.
“I gladly open the doors for the STC to come and fully exploit the world of opportunities in Botswana which they have identified, either in partnership with the local business people or as 100% Swedish investors,” he said.
Some of the opportunities available, Lefhoko said, are in the beneficiation of locally available raw materials such as soda ash for the manufacturing of glass, hides and skins for leather products, copper for wire, rods and pipes, cut and polished diamonds for jewellery manufacturing, international financial services, information technology, tourism, energy and many others.