On Wednesday, 30 September 2020, Botswana goes 54. It was on this day – 30 September, some 54 years ago that our country stopped being a British protectorate. Today we live and breathe in a free country that gives us an identity and freedom to do everything except the things that oversteps others’ rights and freedom.
While Batswana for many years have had political and social freedoms, what has been in doubt, over the years, is whether they have ever gained financial freedom. There are few questions that we need to answer in order to determine whether we are financially independent or not. We need to ask ourselves how many workers in Botswana have enough money or provisions to take care of their expenses in case they lose their income temporarily? Put differently, how many Batswana as the country goes 54 have a contingency Fund to take care of their expenses for one to five years. Does the growing number of former senior government officials who return to the government enclave on contract basis after retirement an indication that they were never and/or are not financially independent even after decades of earning salaries? In short, how many of our people can lose or leave their jobs today but still be able to maintain their lifestyles atleast for the subsequent six months? At 54 years of politically independence, how many Batswana are not part of the hand to mouth curse that we see happening mainly in urban areas of the country? These are just rhetoric questions that can help us weigh how independent financially we are as people of the land.
The recent vent by the people of the land also sheds light on our level of financial independence. Many Batswana have recently taken their grievances to social media, more especially Facebook and Twitter to share their frustrations regarding what they see as economic exclusion. This speaks directly to the financial independence of many if not all of them.
In the face of the trouble financial woes that our country is facing partly due to the Covid 19 pandemic, there is an attempt by the authorities to steer our economic ship through choppy waters. This volatility is hard enough to manage without the underlying socio-political divisions deepening. The divisions between the few financially independent Batswana and a majority (who are jobless, landless and moneyless) are complex, yet stark. With the arrival of Covid 19 in our shores early this year, the ground has started to shift so fast and a huge storm seems to be building up on the horizon as poverty, unemployment and income inequalities continues to grapple our people. This trio – lack of land, jobs and money to fund businesses by the people of the land is clear indication that we are not financially independent and possibly have never been. To become independent in all aspects, in my view, we will need a combination of few things from both the citizens and the ruling elites. My assessment of our current socio-economic situation is subject to scrutiny but what should not be in doubt is the need to end and heal the divisions in our nation. Our power to find solutions to current socio-economic problems lies in ending and healing the divisions despite our political ideological differences. Our country is divided not just on political ideology but also on financial independence hence things need to change for the better. We expect social democratic thinkers to pay more attention to community cohesion and identity as well as economic inequality that we see in modern day Botswana. Our power is in unity not division. This takes me to the second point of what we need to do to gain our financial independence. Even amid Covid 19, we are at a point where we can no longer afford to do things in isolation. We need to crowd fund, crowd save and join hands and great minds to win against those who have taken what belongs to Caesar. We are at a point where no one is willing to give Caesar what belongs Caesar, so Caesar will have to go for what belongs to him. To pull together we will need skills of listening to each other. This does not mean taking away independence of mind. It means that those in power should be willing to make ethical judgement even in cases where they stand to benefit personally. A recent example of ethical decision that our leader President Mokgweetsi Masisi had to make relate to the controversial Banyana Farms. We all know what happened there and we are of the view that things could have been done differently. An ethical decision should have been taken which would have been a study case on what the ‘led’ expects of their ‘leaders’. Ethics aside, there is no single doubt that the root cause of joblessness, landlessness and moneyless among indigenous Batswana is a result of the many misguided and unsustainable citizen economic empowerment programmes that our government has pursued over the years. Therefore, we cannot expect the same programmes to be the sole help to the people of the land to gain financial independence. The other help that we now seek from government and her development partners is on citizen building. Citizen building involves providing people with the required skills to gather, understand and analyse evidence about the contexts and institutions that affect their lives – particularly their economical lives. The people of the land need knowledge, support, services and opportunities in order to thrive financially. Our all-time view is that the government should be seen to be providing programmes that have the potential to expand the industrial base which are key to sustained overall economic development as well as the human development of our country.
Together with the private sector, our government should continue to push for the leveraging of our diverse and abundant human resource and indigenous knowledge. On the other end, the people of the land also need to pull their resources together and do away with the mentality of “me first”, and be encouraged to work together as a team. The people of the land need to reunite with that spirit of unity that helped our fore-fathers build institutions like the University of Botswana. The people of the land need to understand scattered efforts will not take us anywhere as a nation but rather crowdfunding could.
At the end of the day the #Bottomline is that while the government brought the political independence in 1966, only the people can fasten the arrival of their financial independence. This is possible only, and only if they work together like they did in the early years of gaining political independence.