Thursday, August 6, 2020

There cannot be peace for the wealthy in the midst of such abject poverty for the masses

Botswana with its elaborate vagaries of inner-built democracy was always going to struggle with accepting as truthful the fact that a significant majority of citizens live like they are second class in their own country.

A majority of Batswana are straining to make any plausible case that this is their country.

Across the globe there is a clear movement towards relaxing all the social and economic injustices against black people.

For Batswana it feels like those shackles are tightening up.

Indigenous Batswana are absolutely right to feel they are a forgotten lot.

Too many of them have been left behind.

And for far too long they have been groping in the dark for a hero that never arrived to help them fulfill their dreams of economic justice.

The economic divide between the indigenous Batswana and the settler merchants cum industrialists – or whatever they prefer to be called – now risks becoming a source of societal unrest.

Increasingly young Batswana have to come to terms with a harsh reality that like their parents they too have no meaningful role they can play in the economy of their country. They are spectators.

The inequality as exemplified by disparities in wealth between indigenous Batswana and their guests are too stark to ignore.

Like a rickety old truss the system is inherently unsustainable.

Anybody who speaks out against these injustices attracts labels of xenophobia, intolerant and even racist.

A majority of indigenous Batswana are not xenophobic. They are not intolerant. And certainly not racist.

Otherwise they would not have allowed to stay under the economic jackboot for this long.

Now they are saying enough is enough. 

A system that survives on exclusionism cannot stay like that forever.

With a little effort from outside it will inevitably collapse on its own seeds of instability.

The solution to Botswana’s economic problems lies in removing the veneer of pretense.

And in different ways indigenous Batswana are on their own pushing for that.

They are knocking at the door agitating to be allowed inside.

Tokenism as in other similar calls is not the answer.

What is needed is a clear game plan outlining how to give the country back to its true owners.

The unravelling of our systems on the back of Covid-19 is a resounding lesson on truth-telling.

Our systems have never been subjected to stress-tests even as we endlessly talked them up.

That unravelling also demonstrates how hard it will be to rebuild post-Corona.

Indigenous Batswana have been economically disadvantaged as a collective black african race.

There is thus a case for economic reforms that unashamedly discriminate in favour of indigenous Batswana.

Only deliberate discrimination can correct the current race induced imbalances.

A more coherent economic strategy to make Batswana feel hopeful is long overdue.

Indigenous Batswana look into the future and all they see is a thick cloud of destitution and mass unemployment coming their way. Ordinarily people look for scapegoats when confronted with such situations.

And in this instance the natural targets are wealthy people especially those that do not look like indigenous people.

It is a moment of reckoning.

This is not unique to Botswana.

It happens everywhere during times like these. 

In fact there is nothing xenophobic about the current wave of anger against naturalized citizens.

It was a big mistake from the beginning to deliberately, forcefully and actively exclude Batswana from the wealth of their country at such a massive industrial scale.

Now we are trying to play catch-up. And time is not on our side. Indigenous elite cannot be exonerated from the mess. They collaborated with incomers.

Botswana’s current problems can very easily be traced to a culture of self-congratulation.

We are a nation accustomed to a shiny side of life – however fake. That is also clear among our leaders who are so hopelessly wedded to short-term public soft-soaping.

They are driven by a yearning for popular affection instead of doing what is right.

They like to be bearers of only the good news.

Some people mistake this as infernal optimism, but it really is a sickening inability to confront the truth. 

The paradox of exuberance and consumerism showcased to the outside world that is unmatched by material conditions of the populace in the inside is too palpable to miss.

Unvarnished truths that rattle people out of comfort zones are invariably looked at with suspicion and even askance.

The upshot of it all is that we refuse to introspect and are forever closing our eyes to any signs of the bad news coming our way.

That is how we got here.

Some are already imploring indigenous Batswana to boycott poultry products from non-indigenous Batswana.

In a well-argued case for economic reforms on Mmegi Newspaper, Kgosi Ngakaagae writes; “To be sure, the poultry sector is not the only sector in critical need of reform. The problem is widespread. But it is important to focus on one problem at a time. More must come, and more, surely will.” 

There have in the past been cases of selling out. That will not stop. But the demographics are truly on the side of indigenous Batswana today; they are most young, educated, restless, impatient and forceful. It cannot be business as usual. 

Much of the 1980s and a significant part of the 1990s were spent doing nothing except to boast how fast the economy of Botswana was growing. And also how well off the people were. This was when non-indigenous Batswana were fast accumulating.

Not much was expended on creating a strong middle class, thus in its place we have a rented merchant settler class calling the shots including controlling our political class.

That time was spent basking on empty complements coming from global bodies like Transparency International. 

Botswana is developing country.

What differentiates Botswana from other poor countries in its class is extravagant hubris and self-absorption, plus a misguided notion among political elites to separate political independence from economic independence.

Other than hubris, it is difficult to account for this attitude because the country still has a living memory of abject poverty having attained independence in 1966 when there was nothing but countrywide destitution.

As economic success set in after independence, there arrived also rapacious settler merchant class from Asia that had a more sophisticated knowledge of running business.

From then on indigenous Batswana had no chance as their ruling elite literally sided with the Asians to the exclusion of indigenous majority.

If parity can only be achieved by boycott of certain products from this class so be it.

As Ngakaagae puts it, Batswana have been bullied. 

And that should be brought to an end.

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