China’s latest play for greater influence in Africa involves advancing $60 billion in aid and loans to African nations. Announced at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) last month in Beijing, the summit drew the attendance of more than 40 African Heads of State, including H.E President Mokgweetsi E.K Masisi – the first visit by a Motswana head of state in over 12 years.
The summit came hot on the heels of high-profile state visits to Africa by key Western leaders, including the UK’s Theresa May, Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron. For most observers, these developments are clear signals that competition for influence in Africa is intensifying. Over the past few months the continent has played host to Heads of State and senior diplomats from Brazil, Argentina, Russia, India and Turkey, to name just a few.
Botswana can leverage off this competition for her own advantage, but to truly understand Botswana’s options today, we must look beyond the East vs West dichotomy and first consider Botswana's own needs and ambitions. Like most countries on the continent, Botswana has a clear development and growth strategy but faces complex political and operational challenges in executing its plans.
What is less well understood is the array of options Botswana now has in addressing some of these challenges. Between 2010 and 2017, more than 65 countries increased their overall trade with sub-Saharan Africa, according to data from the International Trade Centre. All these countries, despite their divergent interests, seem to understand one thing: the future of their nations is linked to the partnerships they forge in Africa today.
This is a continent where 60% of the population is below 25 years of age and expected to double from 1.2 billion in 2017 to 2.4 billion in 2050 (representing a quarter of the world’s population), with 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, and which is growing robustly against the backdrop of tepid global economic growth – six of the ten fastest growing economies in 2018 are African, according to the IMF.
There are obvious challenges to overcome, which require proper policy and planning to address the urgency of job creation, climate change mitigation and adaptation and dismantling systemic inequality; but the fundamentals are compelling, particularly when viewed long term.
Amidst the surge in foreign interest in Africa, traditional partners such France and the US are finding it harder to protect and expand their spheres of influence on the continent. Aggressive nationalism within the current US administration has shaped a more inward-looking policy agenda which can appear indifferent – often even hostile – to interests outside US borders.
Meanwhile, the UK is trying to marry complex negotiations around Brexit with a concerted push to lay the foundations of stronger trade and investment ties outside Europe, including Africa, where the UK has set a goal to become the largest investor among the Group of seven most industrialized nations (G7) by 2020. The UK’s pivot away from Europe and her reinvigorated focus on partnerships with other parts of the globe – including Africa – presents good medium and long-term opportunities for nations like Botswana. It is noteworthy that President Mokgweetsi E.K Masisi will visit the UK this week.
In such a crowded landscape, competitive edge among bilateral partners will not be determined purely by capital or favourable trading terms but also by meaningful commitments to reciprocity. Nations and companies that want to succeed in Africa will need to think beyond what they want to export and access, and must seek to address the priorities of their African partners.
Botswana's long held agreement with DeBeers and the creation of Debswana remains a model which many seek to this day, For their part, foreign partners eager to gain traction in African markets should align their strategies with that of their local partners, and in so doing they will build the grounds for sustainability. They will experience less friction, build more brand equity and find doors open for constructive dialogue on operational issues, policies and regulations.
Companies’ ability to design and promote strategies that recognise the need for developmental impact and long-term commitment over quick-wins and fast-bucks will perform better. Such an approach moves relationships from transaction to transformation. Investors and senior management teams must put people, not just numbers, at the heart of decision-making and be equipped to communicate impact and create buy-in from the right stakeholders – governments, suppliers and communities. For their part, African governments must spend more time looking at long term development impact, not just short term commercial terms and outcomes.
Manufacturing holds great trans-formative potential for societies, provided the right approach is taken. In Gabon at the start of the decade, President Ali Bongo Ondimba announced the cessation of exports of raw timber. His announcement was met with a lot of criticism, but eight years later the benefits are clear for everyone to see. Manufacturers of processed wood and finished goods have emerged and new local value chains have been created for foreign investors and Gabonese SMEs, resulting in 10,000 new jobs. Gabon's shift in policy was accompanied by government interventions to equip the labour force with suitable skills for the industry.
In Botswana, economic diversification and manufacturing sector growth are being pursued with rewed vigor by this administration. They are matched by efforts to forge greater alignment between the private sector and government priorities. The last decade witnessed China becoming an increasingly active manufacturer in Africa. Western firms are following suit – their global strategies increasingly feature African nations as markets to service and export from.
Much of the appeal of African nations is being created by shifts in the economies of India and China. China’s evolution from an investment-led economy to a consumption-led economy has led to domestic wage growth, resulting in manufacturers leaving the country for other low-cost destinations. China is expected to lose between 85 million and 100 million low-cost labour-intensive manufacturing jobs by 2030, according to the World Economic Forum.
Some of the Chinese companies leaving the country are establishing operations in Africa, where the Chinese government has already rolled out infrastructure projects that make it easier for Chinese companies to do business and price their products competitively for global markets. In this vain, Zhao Yambo, the Chinese Republic's ambassador to Botswana recently encouraged Botswana to take advantage of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This multi-billion dollar plan will see Chinese companies engaging in construction work in Africa and globally, on a scale never seen before.
The quest for jobs in Botswana, where the aspirations of Batswana youth are still not catered for by the employment market, has forged a deep desire by the Botswana government to play a more active role in diversifying the nation's economy.
This is where the Chinese approach sometimes has its limits. Although China readily builds badly-needed infrastructure, they use their own financing, contractor firms, technology and even labour in some instances from end-to-end.
This deprives Batswana of meaningful stakes in projects or ownership of certain value chains and can fuel resentment and mistrust. There are many anecdotes about Chinese firms paying their employees offshore and sourcing goods and services from China. The extension of Sir Seretse Khama airport and Morupule B power station are two well-publicized examples of disaffection. While China has funded over 40 major projects in Botswana and is one of the country’s largest project contractors, Chinese companies have created 2,000 jobs in local communities- a small number given the scale of these projects.
Western companies generally have a better track record of working with local staff, including integrating them in key management positions. By being purposeful about skills, knowledge and technology transfer, and by asking African governments and companies what they need, then creating the right business models, products and services to achieve these goals, these companies will prosper. Only companies that exhibit these traits and deliver against them, should be granted access to African resources and markets, I believe.
Foreign companies wishing to succeed in African markets today must evolve their models of doing business from traditionally extractive ones, to ones that are additive. African governments that secure these terms of trade will take up their positions as a globally significant manufacturing hubs, consumer markets, talent pools and trading partners. With so much competition, it behoves African governments to establish clear visions for their economies and be selective when choosing their partners.
The stellar economic performance of Rwanda, Morocco and Ethiopia over the last decade did not happen by chance. It resulted from deliberate and concerted measures by their governments to pursue policies and strike agreements that opened new growth opportunities and export markets for their industries and their citizens.
About the authors:
Natalie Maule is a London-based Director at africapractice Group, a pan-African advisory firm headquartered in Botswana. Tigele Nlebesi is an Analyst at africapractice, based in Gaborone.
Prices for cereals or staple foods in Botswana and other Southern African countries continue to rise at a slower pace, following trends in the global markets, according to the latest November 2022 Food Price Monitoring and Analysis by Food Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
Running a digital businessMTN Business Solutions Botswana, popularly known as MTN Business is an Internet Service Provider. We are a subsidiary of MTN Group Limited, a multinational telecommunications Group headquartered in South Africa, which operates in 19 markets across Africa and the Middle East.
More and more, clients are looking for ways to keep their staff productive in a dynamically changing business environment. Whether your people are working from home, the office or abroad, there is a growing recognition that digitising your operations can offer unprecedented commercial value in flexibility, productivity and growth. This new, digital reality means that it is more important than ever to stay agile – if there is anything that can slow a business down, it is being burdened by othatld technology.
Having made substantial investments in fibre technology, high-speed terrestrial and undersea networks and new frequency spectrum across the markets wherein it operates, MTN is perfectly positioned to respond to this shift in the market.
A few years ago, MTN also made the decision to build an IP capable radio network for its mobile services, giving its core network the ability to seamlessly integrate with enterprise IP networks. The mobile towers deliver services to enterprise clients absolutely anywhere it has a network, shortening the last mile and removing complexity and cost.
Now there is increasing demand from clients to connect their remote sites in all areas, including rural and semi- rural. MTN has assisted clients with overcoming this connectivity hurdle, enabling their staff to get the job done wherever they are.
For MTN, the focus has shifted from just being a core telecommunications services provider, towards also becoming a technology solutions provider. The service offering now also includes Unified Communications, Data Hosting and Cloud Solutions, Security-As-A-Service and Managed Network Services. The scope has changed to being client and industry specific, so the requirements and service portfolio vary from one client to the next. The expectation is that a company like MTN must respond to these challenges, helping clients to get business done better as they shift from old to new technologies.
As many businesses continue to grapple with a digitally dynamic world, they face new challenges that have to be solved. This environment will benefit those that are more digitally enabled and agile. It is a brave new world that will favour online over on-site, wireless over wired and fluid over formulaic. Businesses will seek out partners and suppliers that are every bit as flexible and forward-looking as they are.
Ultimately, clients need partners like MTN Business that will invest in infrastructure, deliver the services they require, have market credibility, are financially sound and have a long-term commitment to their market presence.
Botswana Institution Of Engineers (BIE), has last week hosted a gala dinner in which they appreciated engineers who worked tirelessly and with dedication for 10 years from 1983 to steer the BIE to its current status.
The event that was held at the Phakalane Golf Estate had brought together young, experienced and veteran engineers and was held under the theme “Vitalize the dignity and eminence of all professional engineers”.
Explaining the theme, the institution’s treasurer, Thanabalasingam Raveendran said that engineers were looked upon reverentially with respect as the educated but with time it seems to have deteriorated. He indicated that there is a need to change the narrative by all means.
“The BIE exists for the welfare and the betterment of us Botswana engineers, we need to recognize specialised units within our Institution. We Engineers strongly believe in Engineers make it happen” Raveendran said.
He indicated that under the theme they appeal to all engineers to energize, to attain quality of being worthy of honour and respect and to achieve recognized superiority amongst the Society.
Raveendran stated that engineers need to ensure their end product is of good quality satisfying the end users expectations and engineers must be honest in their work.
“Approximately 8000 engineers registered with Engineering Regulatory Board (ERB) are not members of the BIE, engineers need to make every effort to recruit them to BIE” he said.
He alluded that BIE being a society, it currently needs to upgrade itself at par with professional institutions elsewhere like the UK and USA.
He further stated that BIE has to have engineering units of specialised disciplines like Civil/Mechanical/electrical etc
“As President Masisi indicated in his inaugural speech, the young people, who make 60 percent of the population of this country, are the future leaders and therefore investing in them is building the bridge to the future” said Raveendran
Kandima indicated that BIE has a memorandum of Understanding with Engineers Registration Board (ERB), where BIE is a recognised provider of CPD training, mentorship programmes and more importantly IPD undertaking to upgrade the skills and know-how of our engineers.
“For us to achieve our mandate and make worthwhile changes to engineering in Botswana, we have to be totally focused and act with intent” said Kandima.
Furthermore, Stephen Williams, past president of the BIE from 1986-1988 told the engineers that the BIE provides a fertile environment where they can meet, share ideas and grow professionally.
“The BIE is also a nesting place for graduate engineers to learn from their peers and seniors, it also cater for engineering technicians and technologists and so nobody in the technology field is left out” he said.
He further indicated that Botswana Government provides a conductive environment for growth of engineering professionals.
“It must be stated that the Botswana Government recognises the existence of BIE and it can further be stated that the government enables ERB to carry out its mandate as a regulator of engineering professionals” said Williams
He plead with engineering companies to recognize and support BIE as it is the only source of engineering personnel’s for various Industries .
Furthermore, when giving his farewell speech, Michael Pinard , a past president of the institution said how they are viewed as engineers by the general public might be due to some lack of appreciation as to exactly what role they play in the development of the country.
“The BIE slogan is aptly coined-Engineers make it happen, in other words, what man dreams engineers create” Said Pinard.