Compared to her peers in Africa, Botswana spends more than most as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) providing basic education to young people. But once in and even out of class, native Batswana now encounter an economic system that is ineffective by global standards. The level of inequality can only be compared to a few others in the continent.
Now human rights bodies are warning that an already dire situation is worsening and without radical intervention the damage will have disastrous consequences.
“The truth is that that inequality in Botswana is too extreme”, said Zia Choudhury – The Resident Coordinator of the United Nations Day at an event marking UN Day held in the capital Gaborone on Thursday.
Choudhury’s audience included Botswana’s Finance and Economic Development Minister – Peggy Serame, her counterpart at International Affairs – Lemogang Kwape as well as minister responsible for Research Douglas Letsholathebe.
Choudhury cautioned Botswana against threats posed by growing inequality over income, wealth and access to resources.
“We have long defined ourselves as the nation that went from poorest to richest. The nation that remained peaceful while others fell to conflict. The nation that invested its wealth most wisely, and with least corruption and we are rightly proud, even astonished, at these achievements. But now, our challenge is that of inequality. It has started to define us,” the United Nations leader said.
In his speech, Choudhury answered a question that many scholars and Botswana’s development partners have been asking lately: whether the quality of life of Botswana citizens is changing – for better or worse.
Given that the question cannot be answered without making reference to the level of income inequality in the country and to help the audience get a clearer picture, Choudhury gave examples of his recent encounters with inequalities.
“I met three teenagers in Ghanzi who I sat with by the dusty roadside to have a chat about their school life. I looked at their written work and it seemed to be at a level closer to that which my 9-year old in Gaborone is receiving. That was sad, but even sadder was that they were unable to express any aspiration or interest for further education of any type, because in their words “there are no jobs”. They saw no scope for social mobility. The gap is too vast”.
With a Gini coefficient of .0605, Botswana counts among the top six countries in the world with the highest income inequality. In this top inequality bracket also falls some southern African countries among them South Africa, Namibia and Zambia.
Choudhury cautioned that “Inequality can wash away our achievements, leaving behind not pride, but shame. Not joy, but despair. Not cooperation, but confrontation.”
As part of the fight against inequality, economic development minister Peggy Serame signed the Botswana-UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) 2022 to 2026.
Serame said that the Framework was formulated following a very extensive consultative process, involving key stakeholders in Government, the UN family, private sector, civil society organizations, to ensure that the developmental needs of the country are fully taken into account.
“The United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for Botswana (2022-2026), is anchored on four pillars which embrace the five “Ps” of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, namely; the People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnerships,” Serame said.
She added that through the four pillars, the new framework addresses issues related to inequality, sustainable use and management of diverse natural resources, the combating of climate change and improving food security, sustainable and equitable economic trajectory to reduce inequality, poverty and unemployment; and justice, accountability, transparency and corruption.