Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Gov’t of Botswana is fixated with money

At the height of Botswana’s prolonged economic boom, the government of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) introduced an extensive range of welfare programs for poor and vulnerable groups. Such programs included provision of food for destitute persons, provision of food at schools, countless subsidies for the agricultural sector and so forth.

At the time, it would seem that the government believed that they could achieve more by providing people with what they (people) need and want without necessarily giving them the responsibility or freedom of choice.

Whereas it is noted with some measure of gratitude that these one-night performance schemes have ensured that no person die from poverty, it is equally noted that the schemes significantly masked the true picture of the quality of life for many rural dwellers. It concealed the fact that many of our people lead undignified lives.

More importantly the schemes cultivated a mindset of absolute dependence on government thereby crippling traditional copying skills and accelerating poverty.

As a result, the agricultural sector, in particular subsistence production collapsed as people preferred free gifts from the government. Amartya Sen has cautioned that benefits meant for the poor often end up being poor benefits.

Nearly four decades later, the same government now realizes that the development model adopted was not only unsustainable but crucially breeding unintended negative consequences.
As a result, the government tells us that they believe by addressing head-on the issue of mindset change, which has been a development hindrance to some people, more of our people could aspire to achieve wealth.

Among others, the government intends to use the country’s purchasing power, estimated at over P20 billion per annum to support growth of small, medium and micro enterprises. It should be noted that poor people are in fact poor in mind and this poverty mindset has been manufactured by the government and has helped to keep people poorer much longer. People no longer want to do anything for themselves.

The government wants to make farming fulltime and call it time for what they call weekend farmers. Their prescription include among others, Young Farmers Fund which has already disbursed over P142 million; ISPAAD which is estimated to have disbursed countless millions to casual farmers; The Livestock Management and Infrastructure Development (LIMID) which to date has spent over P36 million on resource poor farmers.

Whereas it is true that there are numerous factors pertinent to persisting high levels of poverty in Botswana, it is noted that a negative mindset premised on entrenched absolute dependence of government is notoriously problematic for it ensures a daily and generational reproduction and maintenance of social structures and patterns that effectively breed people with a poor sense of life. Of course poor people want a better life but they want it to be given to them by the government.

Thus, it makes me happy that my government has rightly identified this cancerous social problem of our people and has resolved to tackle it head-on. However, it is painful and embarrassing to note that my government intends to confront our development challenges using the very same methods that created the current problems. Current policies and programs designed to address our needs and problems seem to advocate more of the same.

They have a basis in a culture of philanthropy. As I indicated in the opening paragraph, the economic boom occasioned by mineral revenues allowed the government to throw money around in a bid to solve problems. Of course money is a necessity but is not a sufficient condition for development. Again common sense dictates that when you have money, often you simply elect to stand back and let it do the magic.

Thus, rather than solving our problems the government actually used money to cover up the problems and soothe the pain occasioned by poverty. Unfortunately, when revenues dwindled the problems that were masked resurfaced, this time uglier. In other words the government used plastic surgery to conceal pimples and wrinkles in poor people without treating them.

It was given that at some point in time the mask will wear off and reveal the hidden stuff. The government has used money to invent every problem that money can invent and is now using the same scheme to deal with problems and challenges created by money.

The focus is on spending more money to solve the nation’s problems as if money has a midas touch that turns poverty into abundance.

After considerable soul searching, the government correctly realizes that people centered development is the way to go.

This philosophical posture is fascinating and enthralling but as they say, the devil is in the detail. The ‘hows’ of facilitating a people-centered development are a non starter, hence the lame approaches that provides a fascinating insight into the thinking of the helicopter owners. They expose this strategic vision as just the usual rhetoric and mundane platitudes.

Admittedly, the government has a sound goal but unfortunately have no idea about getting the desired results without turning to the magic of money ÔÇô the evil that has caused a majority of the current social problems.

However, meaningful development predicated on a participatory mode is far more than just a fixation with money. Too much fixation with money often delays genuine and necessary reforms. Money trumps rationality and perspective and makes planners lack foresight. It is written; ‘of what use is money in the hand of a fool since he has no desire to get wisdom’ (Proverbs 17: 16).

Former US president Ronald Reagan once commented that ‘the best brains are not in government’ otherwise our esteemed planners would have used the global financial crisis as an opportunity to use their minds more than our money.

An addiction to spend (what is sometimes referred to as spending problem) retards creativity, imagination and foresight. It distorts reality and gives the impression that the problem of lack of development is a result of lack of money.

It brainwashes the poor into believing that the solutions to their problem of underdevelopment are to be found in the government treasury; that money automatically makes the world go around; that no money, no go. Thus, government is the number one cause of poverty through its parasitic policies and programs and there is no how it can be a savior at the same time. It is a tragic case of a rapist nursing his victim.

I can bet with my last donkey. Give the government more and more money and trust me, they will buy many more gigantic fridges and titanic-size caravans because they have cultivated a culture of reckless spending. There is a saying that expenses rise to meet income. Yet authentic development requires a combination of productive use of money and brilliant minds. It requires planners to engage their minds and implement real solutions rather than stand back and hope for money to do wonders.

It requires planners to show their determination to offer sustainable interventions even if they have to do so over the protests of entrenched interests.


Read this week's paper