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UDC Urges Swedish MPs to block Gripen deal

Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) president, Duma Boko has written a petition to the Swedish Government titled Botswana Arms race in the midst of poverty, massive unemployment and social inequality. The petition protests Botswana government’s ongoing and planned military spending.

Boko states that their plea as representatives of Botswana's political parties and civil society is for the Swedish Parliament not to approve the sale of these fighter jets to the government of the Republic of Botswana as it is not in the national interest to do so.

“Our position is that military spending must be kept to the barest minimum, and Botswana's meagre resources should be used to build better infrastructure, such as water and electricity supply, in order attract foreign investment, reduce poverty, unemployment, social inequality and reword labour productivity, especially in the public sector,” he writes.

The UDC leaders observes that since 2008, with the arrival of General lan Khama as Botswana's president, the country's national security' expenditure has been on the increase. He cites the Stockholm International Peace Research (SlPRl), which records that Botswana's military expenditure jumped from US$ 292 million in 1998 to US$ 377 in 2OO8 to US$ 436 in 2015 (at constant 2014 prices and exchanges rates).

“According to the more recent National Development Plan (April 2017-March 2023), Botswana is planning to spend about fifteen (15) percent of its GDP on what is labeled 'Territorial integrity'. lt is estimated thot about half of this will go towards the acquisition of the ultra-modern Swedish mode Gripen JAS 39 fighter aircraft, manufactured by SAAB.”  

Boko informs the Swedish Parliament that Botswana intends to acquire between eight and 12 of these aircraft. He explains that the Gripen JAS 39 aircraft is on ultra-modern and very advanced fighter, even by European standards that military aviation experts say the BDF neither needs nor can afford.


He shares that critics have questioned the wisdom of this intended military aircraft, especially fighter jets such as the Gripen, pointing to the BDF's immediate needs in anti-poaching, border security patrols and peace keeping operations on the continent. While nobody's is against BDF modernization, various experts argue for o multi-role lighter aircraft rather than the Gripen or even the T-50.

“But it is also important to note thot not only the BDF in general, but the soldiers in particular, have much more relevant and even desperate needs. lt is common cause that in many cases BDF men and women lock such basic supplies as new boots and socks, let alone decent accommodation, and live permanently in tents,” observes Boko.

ECONOMY LOOKS REALLY GLOOMY

In the petition, Boko observes that Botswana's economic situation now looks really gloomy. Whilst in 2009 foreign debt stood at 6.3% of the GDP, ii hos now increased to about 16% of GDP, fueled partly by lan Khama military spending spree, official figures pu1 unemployment at 19%, but the accelerating closure of mines and factories is likely to push the figure higher. Youth unemployment now exceeds 4O7", and a fifth of the country's two million people live on less than $2 a day; across the country the ranks of young and embittered are swelling.

According to the UDC leader the impending revision of the SACU revenue-sharing formula will see Botswana's shore-its second largest revenue source after diamonds – decline significantly. Boko says diamond sales – which contribute o third of the country's GDP – have lost their sparkle, declining by up to 30% in market value over two years, according to S&P report published in December 20,l5. Last year, he says, Debswana, a 50/50 venture between Botswana government and De Beers, closed its Damtshaa diamond mine, adding woes to on industry thot hos shed up to 30,000 jobs.

“The Australian copper junior miner Discovery Metals Limited filed for bankruptcy lost year, leaving 450 workers near the Okavango Delta out in the cold, while African Copper closed its operations at Mowana and Thakadu in central Botswana. On August 31 2016, the state-owned BCL – Botswana's biggest copper and nickel mine -collapsed into bankruptcy after enduring three decodes of losses, throwing about 6,000 miners out of work and dealing o heavy blow to the Francistown/Selibe-Phikwe regional economy.


ln a society where the average size of the family is four, the 6000 lob losses mean about 24,000 people have been impacted directly or indirectly by the mine closures. The commercial banking sector, considered more resilient thon others, is seen by the country's central bank as "weakening" because of the general decline of the economy. The financial services sector contributes I 1% of GDP. Ln December 2015, when commodity prices slump began to bite.”  

Boko further blasts Khama for withdrawing P3.5 billion from the Pula Fund, a stabllization reserve created with diamond revenues, to finance a populist Economic Stimulus Package (ESP). He directs the Swedish Parliament to the international rating agency, S&P, which warned in January of this year that Botswana faces a "deteriorating outlook" in 2O17, suggesting a downgrade from A-/A-2 sovereign credit rating could be on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Boko adds that since 2011 lan Khama has tried by all means to emasculate, marginalize and sideline a legally established Public Sector Bargaining Council, throwing the country's industrial relations, especially in the public sector, into disarray. Using the old and discredited tactics of divide and rule.

The UDC president says Khama has abused his executive powers to award salary increment outside the bargaining council. “We believe that lan Khama is doing this in order to a the questions thot might be raised at the PSBC concerning unjustified military spending in view of the claim thot the government has no money to pay public sector employees decent wages and salaries.

The foregoing account of Botswana's economic and fiscal position puts into stork relief the flowed spending priorities by the current government, specifically its military spending spree. Botswana is not in a position to engage in this misplaced defense spending.”

WAY FORWARD

Boko says it is clear that Botswana as a country cannot afford this kind of military spending because; Botswana faces serious challenges of unemployment, poverty and extremely poor social and physical infrastructure and poor services delivery. There is an urgent need to address the issue of ever rising unemployment, and in particular youth unemployment, which will go a long way towards reducing Botswana notorious high levels of poverty and social inequality, says Boko. He cites that none of these challenges can be solved by the current military shopping spree.

According to Boko, Botswana is not facing any direct external threat and the cost of purchasing and maintaining a fleet of high tech and advanced jet fighters is prohibitive as evidenced by the experience of South African Defence Force. He points out that this will be on ill-advised spending in the face of more compelling national priorities. What is more, this is not even o priority for the Botswana Defence Force, but something driven by the selfish interest of the current Botswana president, who stands to reap a handsome commission through his family company, Seleka Springs, he reasons.

The UDC leader is of the view that this purchase is also unjustified in the sense that it starts on arms race in the region, which is the delight of Khama family; will create o vicious circle of arms race, as some countries want to outperform others, and still, Khama family will be the winner.

KHAMA FAMILY AND THE WEAPONS TRADE

Boko further writes that it is also important to note that Ian Khama's military spending spree is not even indicative of his 'patriotic' or even 'altruistic' credentials. He says it is all about his unbridled selfishness and policy of self-aggrandizement. The President's family has deep roots in the weapons trade.

“President lan Khama and his brothers have, through their military supplier company, Seleka Springs, dominated BDF tenders for decodes, especially during the time when he was Commander of the BDF,” he writes. Boko shares the Minisier of Defence, Justice and Security once revealed in an answer to a parliamentary question, thot Seleka Springs, has acted as agents for several European companies for the supply of specialized military equipment, ammunition and spares.

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Travel ban unfair and unjustified – Masisi

7th December 2021
President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi

For the past two years, the world has been at combat with various COVID-19 variants. A new variant of concern which is considered to have a combination of the greatest hits (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta) has sent alarm bells around the world.

Botswana’s COVID-19 genomic surveillance, which actively monitors COVID-19 variants in Botswana, picked four samples that were concerning and discovered a completely new variant. In accordance with international obligations, as a responsible member state under the International Health Regulations of 2005, Botswana submitted the suspected new variant for the entire global scientific community to respond to this early finding. Shortly after, the Republic of South Africa, also submitted a similar concerning variant.

The new variant, ‘Omicron’ is named after the 15th letter of the Greek Alphabet to avoid public confusion and stigma.
The news spread like wild fire which resulted in European Union member states, the United Arab Emirates and United States of America imposing travel bans on Botswana and other sister SADC nations, resulting in drawing a wedge between nations.

In his address on the occasion of an update on Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has shunned the response by some countries to Botswana’s detection of the Omicron variant stating that it is unfortunate as it appears to have caused unnecessary panic amongst the public across the world. He considers it defeating the spirit of multilateral cooperation in dealing with this global pandemic.

“The decision to ban our citizens from travelling to certain countries was hastily made and is not only unfair but is also unjustified while remain confident that reason and logic will prevail, the harshness of the decision has the effect of our shaking our belief in the sincerity of declared friendship and commitment of equality and economic prosperity for us,” he said.

President Masisi has appealed to the nations that have imposed travel restrictions on Botswana to reflect and review their travel restrictions stance against the Southern African region.

African leaders and heads of state are in agreement on a matter. Some stating that the travel bans are ‘uncalled for, afro phobic, unscientific, strict, unfair and unjustified’. They have come out to bash the unilateral travel bans and request immediate upliftment of the restrictions imposed on SADC member states by European Union member states, the United Arab Emirates and United States of America.

While Batswana are banned from international travel, locally as at 26th November 2021, a total of 195 068 COVID19 cases and 2 418 deaths had been reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We have been steadily witnessing a decrease in the number of new cases and deaths in the last three months. We are currently reporting an average of less 10 infections per 100 000 people compared to 648 cases per 100 000 people at the peak of the third wave. We have also observed a gradual decline in hospitalizations across the country with an average of less than 10 patients at a time at Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital (SKMTH) and our other health facilities countrywide,” pointed out President Masisi.

Masisi encouraged Batswana not to despair as to date, all the nations’ key indicators remain stable. “This is comforting although it still does not warrant any complacency on our part in terms of behaviour and other attitudinal patterns towards this dreadful disease. We are actively monitoring the evolving situation in view new variant of concern,’’ he sternly advised.

Government through the different Ministries leading the different sectors, has been working tirelessly to prepare for potential outbreaks and a fourth (4th) wave. This will be achieved through; installing oxygen generating plants and increasing skilled human capacity.

With regards to the vaccination programme; as of 29th November 2021, an estimated One Million and Fifty Three Thousand Three Hundred and Sixty One (1 053 361) people translating to 75.7% of the target Batswana citizens and residents over the age of 18 years have received at least 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccines. A total of Nine Hundred and Fifty Thousand Nine Hundred and Seventy Three (950 973) people translating to 68.4% have been fully vaccinated. This number exceeds the 64% target Botswana has set to achieve by end of December 2021.

Masisi enthusiastically revealed that; “We are one of the three countries in Africa that have achieved the World Health Organisation target of vaccinating at least 40% of the entire population by December 2021. We are committed to ensure that all is done to reduce the transmission of the virus in the country.

More vaccines are being procured to ensure availability for those who have not yet received any dose. Government is also considering booster doses for those who may be identified as qualifying for them.”

President Masisi urged Batswana to continue observing the COVID-19 health protocols of social distancing, washing hands or sanitizing and wearing masks and avoid unnecessary travelling.

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China pledges a billion vaccines to Africa

7th December 2021

As COVID-19 pandemic continues to shake the world, China has promised to donate a billion coronavirus vaccines, advance billions of dollars for African trade and infrastructure, and write off interest-free loans to African countries to help the continent recover from the coronavirus pandemic. All these promises emerged at the Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Senegal at the end of November 2021.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China will provide one billion doses of vaccines to Africa when delivering keynote speech at the Eighth Ministerial FOCAC via video link on 29th November. Of those, 600 million would be via donations and the rest would be produced jointly by African countries and Chinese companies. In addition, China would send medical teams to help the continent deal with the pandemic.

President Xi also announced nine programmes that China will work closely with African countries in the next three years. He mentioned the medical and health program, the poverty reduction and agricultural development program, the trade promotion program, the investment promotion program, the digital innovation program, the green development program, the capacity building program, the cultural and people-to-people exchange program, the peace and security program. President Xi hailed China-Africa relations as a shining example for building a new type of international relations.

Furthermore, Xi said Beijing would pump US$10 billion into African financial institutions for onward lending to small and medium enterprises. He promised to extend another US$10 billion of its International Monetary Fund allocation of special drawing rights, which would help stabilise foreign exchange reserves. In addition, China will write-off interest-free loans due this year, to help the economies that had been ravaged by the pandemic. Last year, China also promised to write off interest-free loans due at the end of 2020.

Beijing pledged US$60 billion to finance Africa’s infrastructure at the forum in Johannesburg in 2015, and a similar amount when the gathering was held in the Chinese capital in 2018. But in the past few years, Chinese lenders, including the policy banks – Exim Bank of China and China Development Bank – have become more cautious and are now demanding bankable feasibility studies amid debt distress in the continent.

Besides seeking more money for projects, Xi said China would encourage more imports of African agricultural products, and increase the range of zero-tariff goods, aiming for US$300 billion of total imports from Africa in the next three years.

China would also advance US$10 billion of trade financing to support African exports into China. He said the country would also advance another US$10 billion to promote agriculture in Africa, send 500 experts and establish China-Africa joint agro-technology centres and demonstration villages. African countries are pushing to grow exports of agricultural products into China. At the moment, Beijing maintains an enormous trade surplus over the continent. African imports from China include machinery, electronics, construction equipment, textiles and footwear.

Meanwhile, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi summarized FOCAC achievements when meeting with journalists ahead the 8th FOCAC Ministerial Conference. Wang said that the FOCAC is a crucial platform for collective dialogue between China and Africa and an effective mechanism for practical cooperation.

He said since the inception of the FOCAC 21 years ago, Chinese enterprises have built over 10,000 kilometers of railways, nearly 100,000 kilometers of roads, nearly 1,000 bridges, nearly 100 ports, and over 80 large-scale power facilities in Africa.

In addition, they have assisted Africa in building over 130 medical facilities, 45 gymnasiums and more than 170 schools, and training over 160,000 professionals in various fields. Chinese medical teams have provided medical service to an accumulated number of 230 million, and China’s network service has covered around 700 million user terminals.

Yi said that the Eighth FOCAC Ministerial Conference was a great success. According to Yi, the success of the conference confirmed the strong will of China and Africa to work together to overcome difficulties and seek common development, and showed the huge potential and bright prospects of China-Africa cooperation.

Wang summarized the most important consensus reached at the conference as following: 1) both sides will promote the spirit of China-Africa friendship and cooperation; 2) China and Africa will work together to defeat the pandemic; 3) both sides will work to enrich China-Africa cooperation in the new era; 4) the two sides will work together to practice true multilateralism; 5) China and Africa will jointly build a China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era.

FOCAC, is one of the developments that came as a major shift in the dynamics of the China-Africa relationships came about in the 1980s when China embarked upon its “Opening up and Reform Policy” –a wide-ranging policy that gave birth to the new China. Economic and geo-strategic interests rather than the desire to export a specific political philosophy drive China’s current relationship with Africa.

For Africa though, the key problem is that our economies are weak in value creation. 
As argued by one economist, what workers and factories produce is produced more efficiently, with better quality and at lower cost, by other economies. “In such circumstances, making money is easier through rent than through value creation.

African governments should be capable of guiding their private sector towards value creation, a key factor for achieving a sustainable competitive edge in the global market. Furthermore, partnerships that Africa forges should be targeted to enhance such an environment”. The question remains as to whether China’s intervention in Africa will help address this challenge.

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COVID-19 has pushed cost of living up – report

7th December 2021

A report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) has given its outlook for the rise and fall of living costs around the world.

The report is based on current and past trends impacting the cost of living, including currency swings, local inflation and commodity shocks. In addition, it compares more than 400 individual prices across over 200 products and services in 173 cities.

The Worldwide Cost of Living (WCOL) rankings continue to be sensitive to shifts brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which have pushed up the cost of living across the world’s major cities. Although most economies are now recovering as covid-19 vaccines are rolled out, the world’s major cities still experience frequent surges in cases, prompting renewed social restrictions. In many cities this has disrupted the supply of goods, leading to shortages and higher prices.

The report highlights that “the inflation rate of the prices tracked in the EIU’s WCOL across cities is the fastest recorded over the past five years. It has accelerated beyond the pre-pandemic rate, rising by 3.5% year on year in local-currency terms in 2021, compared with an increase of just 1.9% in 2020 and 2.8% in 2019.”

However; supply-chain problems, as well as exchange-rate shifts and changing consumer demand, have led to rising prices for commodities and other goods. The most rapid increases in the WCOL index were for transport, with the price of a litre of petrol up by 21% on average.

Tel Aviv, a city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast tops the WCOL rankings for the first time ever, making it the most expensive city in the world to live in. The Israeli city climbed from fifth place last year, pushing Paris down to joint second place with Singapore. Tel Aviv’s rise mainly reflects its soaring currency and price increases for around one-tenth of goods in the city, led by groceries and transport, in local-currency terms. Property prices (not included in the index calculation), have also risen, especially in residential areas.

The cheapest cities are mainly in the Middle East and Africa, or in the poorer parts of Asia. Damascus has easily retained its place as the cheapest city in the world to live in. It was ranked the lowest in seven of the ten pricing categories, and was among the lowest in the remaining three. While prices elsewhere have generally firmed up, in Damascus they have fallen as Syria’s war-torn economy has struggled. Tripoli, which also faces political and economic challenges, is ranked second from the bottom in our rankings, and is particularly cheap for food, clothing and transport.

“Over the coming year, we expect to see the cost of living rise further in many cities. Inflationary expectations are also likely to feed into wage rises, further fuelling price rises. However, as central banks cautiously raise interest rates to stem inflation, price increases should moderate from this year’s level. We forecast that global consumer price inflation will average 4.3% in 2022, down from 5.1% in 2021 but still substantially higher than in recent years. If supply-chain disruptions die down and lockdowns ease as expected, then the situation should improve towards the end of 2022, stabilising the cost of living in most major cities.”

“The survey has been designed to enable human resources and finance managers to calculate cost-of-living allowances and build compensation packages for expatriates and business travellers. It can also be used by consumer-goods firms and other companies to map pricing trends and determine optimum prices for their products across cities. In addition, the data can be used to understand the relative expense of a city to formulate policy guidelines,” highlights the report.

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