For close to thirty years now, Botswana has basked in the glory of economic growth.
During that same time, the government has come to receive all sorts of accolades for good economic management and financial prudence from every international think tank that matters in the world.
Without taking anything from the BDP government, credit must be given to them for having steered the country through this route as their counterparts elsewhere in the continent and, indeed, in the sub-region embarked on all sorts of plunder.
Without doubt, Botswana is blessed not only to have had such an economic growth run, which brought about prosperity, but also with a series of leaders who comparatively put the interests of the country ahead of those of self.
But for all the achievements and international praise we have been receiving, there are serious shortcomings, which, if not attended to, could easily undo all the gains and achievements of the past three decades.
Such shortcomings could turn the accolades we have been receiving into jokes.
Poverty among the country’s poor, especially in the rural areas, remains a black spot that threatens to cause serious political instability in the country.
The helplessness and frustrations felt by those left behind and out of progress only need a small spark for it to burst into flames that would not be controlled, not even by all of the country’s security forces.
This week in his State of the Nation Address, the outgoing president, Festus Mogae, took the nation by hand as he outlined in econometrics and statistical terms the achievements of his government.
He talked at length about economic growth and relished every moment as he, in a way, showered himself with the credit. He literally repeated to the last, all praises from international bodies his government has thus far received.
But as is the case in every one of the world’s fast growing developing economies, Botswana’s successes, as demonstrated in economic indicators, conceal a plethora of other more important problems, not least the gap between the rich and the poor, deteriorating infrastructure, people’s loss of confidence in those in power and general helplessness.
We think that the extent of poverty, unemployment and helplessness in the rural areas should be a source of embarrassment for all Batswana, especially those in the rural areas who, by far, have been the greatest beneficiaries of many of the government’s skewed largesse and other patronage schemes.
We take this opportunity to ask the coming administration to come up with far reaching policies to rectify the situation.
We want to advise the incoming government under Ian Khama to make what would amount to an ideological leap by shifting away from a detrimental over emphasis in statistics data towards a real life bridging of the divide that threatens to cut our nation into two pieces (between the wealthy and the poor).
We urge the incoming government to set itself as distinct from its forerunners by seriously taking into account measures that would integrate the rural economy into that of the more affluent urban areas.
While significant strides have been made in infrastructural development, not the same can be said about social up-liftment in the rural areas.
This rural neglect we are worried about can easily metamorphose into a security crisis.
It’s not enough to only remember the rural people at election time.
There is much that can be done to improve the rural people.
So far, it would seem previous governments only cared for these people as long as they could be used as voting fodder.
We think that the grievances by people in rural areas should be addressed, not just because they hold the balance of power but because it is morally right to do that.
Given the resources at Botswana’s disposal, we want to believe we are well prepared as a nation to tackle this problem.