Monday, October 25, 2021

Sweden’s footprint in Botswana’s 50-year-old journey

With 50 years of Botswana’s birthday comes rich tales of how things used to be, how they began and where they stand now. The commonly told story is that of how diamonds transformed the country into dazzling prosperity from poverty.

A recently published book titled 50 years of partnership: Botswana-Sweden 1966-2016 details how bilateral cooperation between the two countries paved the way for the development that assisted the country to be where it is today.

Its compilation is due to the efforts of an editorial team of five which includes Julia Majaha-Jartby, formerly deputy governor at the Bank of Botswana, also married to a Swedish co-author Pat Jartby, a former lecturer at the University of Botswana.

The book specifies that the partnership between the two countries dates back to the end of the 1960s at a time when Botswana was counted among the 10 poorest countries in the world and therefore competed with other countries for aid.

Later in 1971 the first cooperation agreement was negotiated based on the development requests that Botswana had drafted a year earlier. According to the book, priority was given to water reticulation in rural areas, education and development.

Two former presidents, Sir Ketumile Masire and Dr. Festus Mogae highlight in the book a distinguishing factor of the Swedish aid to which they assert had no strings attached.

An excerpt from Masire reads: “However, Sweden had very strict requirements for monitoring donated funds. This did not create any problems as this reinforced Botswana’s own prudence in managing its financial resources.”

This, according to Mogae, resulted in the country assuming ownership of the projects, which as recalled by Masire, benefitted Botswana.

The contribution of the bilateral agreement on infrastructural development particularly on water supply is extensively documented in the book. Improved water supply as is cited by the book was a top priority because its acute shortage plagued the country, an undertaking which involved exploiting groundwater resources.

In 1984, a comprehensive evaluation of the programme was done, citing the installation of functioning water supply systems to 202 villages, which four years later had increased to 290 villages. The founding technical and financial assistance offered by Sweden underpins the sufficiency of water supply observed today.

Another important area of development that the partnership funded was in education. Mogae recounts in the book that Botswana only had 40 university graduates at the time of independence. Sweden as the initial sole funder of Botswana Polytechnic provided educational training to Batswana. The training centre’s origins are traced to 1962, then called the National Centre for Vocational Training, before it came to be known as Botswana Polytechnic.

By 1896 the number of students was around 900 which had increased from 120 in 1979 and the Polytechnic had eight Swedish experts teaching craft training and skills upgrade. The Polytechnic, according to the book, was absorbed into the University of Botswana in 1996 as the Faculty of Engineering and Technology.

Seabelo Tlhaselo, an astute businessman with a wide transport network also attests his business growth to Swedish links which began as a trade mission in 1988. Through his interaction with a Swede, Gosta Harryson, Tlhaselo learned the importance of organised book-keeping for the benefit of presenting his business idea to banks for funding. To date his transport fleet is of a Sweden make, by a company called Scania. Prior to that he had used Volvo, also from Sweden.

The book also notes Sweden’s contribution to diversification efforts by Botswana through the establishment of Swedish companies in the country. The list of Swedish companies with offices in Botswana include but are not limited to Scania, Atlas Copco, Ericsson and Eltel.

The 224-page book captures the diverse landscape spanning between 1966 to 2016 on which Botswana and Sweden have worked together on, which while extending to socio-economic development, also depicts the cultural, social, diplomatic and donor support exchanges.

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