Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Thank you, Coronavirus!

This past week the US President – Donald Trump attempted to calm Americans’ nerves over the worsening coronavirus crisis by telling them: “Be calm, it’s really working out. A lot of good things are going to happen”

Back at home, on Thursday night President Mokgweetsi Masisi also faced the nation through state owned – Botswana Television to address the same – the deadly COVID – 19 birthed in China. 

While Masisi spent almost the entire time talking about Coronavirus and what the government that he leads is doing to prepare the nation for a possible outbreak of coronavirus in the country, there was also message I picked that he possibly didn’t intend to communicate with the nation. We are a nation that is still heavily reliant on other nations on almost everything whose citizenry has not accumulated as much wealth as it should have. 

That is why I do not think that it would sound crazy if anyone was to ask us to spare a moment and “Thank” Coronavirus – deadly as it is may be. From where I stand, coronavirus or COVID-19, just like other global pandemics that came before it is serving as a silent but vital reminder about our relatively underdeveloped public healthcare sector, porous borders and level of inequalities. 

Of course, the coronavirus has killed more than 4,600 people around the world, rattled investors and put global capital markets in a tailspin. In our shores the hospitality sector is already suffering right now because of the virus. As the number of cases grows and uncertainty spreads, things are only going to get worse over the next few weeks, if not months. 

And yet, one cannot help but think of the reasons why all of this could be good news in the long term for Batswana/Botswana. At some point coronavirus, like Sars or SwineFlu would be history. Things will probably get back to “our” normal. If we care about the future we will not just get back to “our” normal but we should start working on a transformative program that will ensure that we are self-sufficient, atleast on basics such as food, household consumables and mini industrial products. We cannot hope to win against the likes of coronavirus in the future if we do not have citizen owned companies that can produce consumables such as sanitisers. We cannot only be talking, as we have been lately, about the fourth industrial revolution and ignoring the fact that we have skipped some stages of development as a country.  Infact we should “Thank” Coronavirus because even if we were to focus on fourth industrial revolution, the pandemic has reminded us of the need to embrace other things such as remote working. Remote working as a new concept under the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been identified as a productive and viable way to manage workforce. When pandemics such as coronavirus strike and force workers to stay at home, it serves as a reminder of why remote working should be normalized for some professions. Both government and private sector in Botswana should consider, remote working given our economic challenges brought upon partially by poor infrastructure even in the capital city – Gaborone. For a country which has more than half of its fresh graduates enrolling in social programmes such as Internship, if we allowed such youthful workforce to remote work we could help them catch up with the rest of everyone who could be doing full time well paid jobs. They could be able to freelance for a number of organisations without necessarily being obliged to spend 8 hours at one employer who pays them a paltry P1400 per month. 

Coronavirus has come to remind us amongst other things the need to ensure that our technology infrastructure is mature. When the infrastructure is mature, basic things such as the internet will not just be easily accessible but will also be cheap and fast enough to serve the sole purpose of disseminating information and empowering the locals. We did not need coronavirus to remind us this, but we should let it do just that. 

By now the coronavirus must have taught us another valuable lesson: Economically empowering citizens is critical for any country that seeks long term success. That is why some nations/countries can could easily close their borders, restrict travel and impose all sorts of ban they deemed appropriate in a bid to close coronavirus outside their borders. Botswana cannot dare do that. She knows that she does not produce even simple household consumable such as toothpick or let alone cannot build a factory that produces tinned fish despite being home to one of the biggest rivers – Chobe and Okavango that has a lot of fish. 

Despite singing the song for so many decades, Botswana has not been able to diversify her revenue away from the minerals sector. This put us at high economic risk of sliding into recession when pandemics such coronavirus strike in leading economies like China and US. 

One has no option but to pause again and “Thank” Coronavirus for the kind reminder to Botswana and other mineral led economies of the dangers of failure to diversify. Surely diversification is critical if we hope to reach the high-income status that we target by 2036. From where I stand, we can only classify our country as having moved to higher income bracket when it’s not only the state that has billions of Pulas but rather the indigenous citizens as well. This transformation cannot help when a majority of citizens are not in control of the primary factor of production – land, unless our mission is to relegate them to modern slavery in this capitalist’s world. 

“Thanks” also to coronavirus for helping us save a lot of money that was going to be wasted through various international talk-shops that were to be sponsored by the government. One can only pray and hope that some of them are not just postponed but totally cancelled as this would save us thousands, if not millions of Pulas that could be diverted to other vital socio-economic programmes. 

It is with great “Thanks” to coronavirus that events such as Forbes 30 under 30 Summit which by nature should have its bill paid by private pockets, more especially who got quick riches from public coffers have been postponed to later this year. One can only hope that the organisers who do it under the Presidential Initiative umbrella will use the coronavirus grace period to mobilise resources from the private sector to minimize costs for the government. We have been informed that the government will pay more than two million Pula as part of the license Fee to Forbes. Four days after staying in town, Forbes will pack the cash made here and go. Meanwhile our youth who have been in that space of organising summits or workshops for fellow youth, will stay back here at home with bills to pay on their own in consecutive years.

These are some of the things that coronavirus was able to remind us of and that we need to reconsider. We for instance need to think about the immediate impact (which is what we need) that P10 million paid to Forbes could make if it was used to fund atleast 20 start-up youth companies across the country. When all thigs have been said and done, we surely should not take coronavirus lightly. It has killed many and is likely to kill more. More economic hardships seem to be coming our way but the #Bottom-line is that we should be grateful to coronavirus for a few kind reminders pertaining to our economic status both at national and individual levels. In the meantime, lets wash those hands and avoid unnecessary contact.

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