On Friday morning I was privileged to join three other panelists – Zia Choudhury, Pato Kelesitse and Bradley Fortuin on a ‘dialogue’ organised by the United Nations (Botswana chapter) as part of their 75th anniversary. The moderator – Lorato Modongo asked what I consider a very critical question to us: What would your ideal world look like in 25 years? Today I want to pass the same question to Botswana – What kind of nation are we going to be 25 years from now (2045)?
We are in 2020 – a year that in our Tswana tradition and norm could easily be referred to as the ‘Covid-19’ pandemic year. While Covid-19 is barely new in our shores, there is something that has been with us for as long as we have existed as a nation. It is called inequality. The most prevalent form is the income inequality and it is the same that has led to us being ranked amongst the top three unequal nations in the world. Botswana as a member of the United Nations, will in 2045 join other members states to celebrate 100 years of the UN existence. The question is, what is our ideal nation like in 2045 when UN turns 100? Are we still going to be part of the top three unequal nations or maybe, and just maybe part of the most prosperous nations of that time?
If today one is asked to describe the nation of Botswana, the shortest description would be – ‘Posh but Poor’ or ‘rich state, poor citizens’. These are possibly the shortest yet precise descriptions of the perils of Botswana’s impoverished citizens particularly the so called middle-class. Past and recent global reports on wealth and equity distribution have documented the growing rates of impoverishment of people of this land. Is this our ideal nation? The answer is surely no. So, questions could be asked, what do we need to do to close the gap between the rich and the poor of this country? How do we ensure that by the year 2045 when other member states of the UN celebrate 100 years of the existence of this noble global organisation, we too join the celebrations without a feeling of guilt?
What sort of policies and possibly even laws or even action do we need to take as a nation to ensure that half of the country’s population which is either living in poverty or damn near close to it graduate to a higher socio-economic class? How do we ensure that going forward this cohort does not find itself squeezed between rising living expenses, stagnant wages, and thin work benefits as is the case now?
The answers to these questions in my view lies in citizens capacity building. The lack of capacity – be it financially, knowledge or otherwise tends to not just block the people of the land’s best potential pathway to the so-called upper class but also hampers our nation’s broad-based economic growth. Much has changed since the days that we used to sell a large chunk of diamonds to the world and in turn earn huge revenues. Those were the times that we could have serviced a lot of land and allocated it to the indigenous citizens as part of a strategy to develop sustainable citizen owned enterprises.
Even before we think about UN’s 100 anniversary, we need to ask ourselves whether our country’s current state of Social Justice is leading us towards stability or instability. It is a well-known fact that Botswana has been classified as a peaceful nation for so many years. This – to a larger extend is due to the people who, despite being discriminated by the system chose to ‘play by the rules.’ The question is whether these people can afford to continue playing by the rules when it is no longer a rewarding undertaking. Can they continue to play by the rules when a battle line between the have-s and the have-nots has already been drawn?
These questions if we ask, and answer them with honesty should draw us towards putting up a plan that will help us build capacity of the people of the land. As the controversial rapper – ATI once said, “The people of the land need to be prioritised”. This priority needs to start NOW if at all the Botswana nation is to proudly join other UN member states in 25 years’ time to celebrate some of the global key humanity achievements. Our fate will be determined by how we walk the tightrope between populism and pragmatism, and our ability as a nation to adequately share a common vision and implement it. Without further delay the nation of Botswana must we must open a new chapter of citizen-building. It is during this chapter that our people will be provided with the required skills to gather, understand and analyse evidence about the contexts and institutions that affect their lives – particularly their economical lives. The #Bottomline is that the people of the land need knowledge, support, services and opportunities in order to thrive economically now and in the year 2045 when the United Nations clocks 100.