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Is a Private Sector led Economy Possible in Botswana?

Today I am leaving party politics to focus on business development and empowerment of the private sector to meaningfully lead the economic development of our country.

With a leadership that is open, accountable, innovative and willing to listen to genuine professional advice, we could do much better in all spheres of our developmental agenda. Those people who are ever so eager to pamper and please those in power to gain favour will never help move this country forward in any meaningful measure.

Those leaders who think they know it all will never move this country forward, in the contrary they will sadly regress the national development. True leaders are servants of the people and not masters who cannot be questioned. Those who claim to be leaders will take heed of this submission.

Today I want to talk about the lost business opportunities because of our misguided developmental priorities, simply put, because of the ineffective leadership that we have chosen to have. Privatisation has failed to take root meaningfully in our country despite many years of spending cumulatively millions if not billions of taxpayer’s money on trying to attract this illusive foreign direct investment for diversifying and growing the economy through the private sector. We have kept on doing the same things over the years and expecting different results which Einstein described a long time ago as insanity of the highest order.

I would like our government to find out what countries like Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia, Mauritius, Chile, Brazil and many other emerging economies have done to modernise and grow their economy when these countries have far less resources than we have been blessed with.

These countries have developed their economies within a relatively short period of time and can now compete with the very best internationally. What have they done that we are failing to see and do? Instead of us randomly going around the world for aimless benchmarking, we must focus on specific countries and specific interventions that will inform our own winning strategies for development.

For many years, government has repeatedly called upon the private sector to drive the economic development. They have passionately talked of the need for a private sector led economy. This has not happened, why? I will attempt to provide some workable suggestions below.

In the first place, for the private led economy to happen, government must be a true enabling partner that does not only provide sound legal framework that encourages and empowers the private sector to perform, but also provides requisite infrastructure and empowers its own people to meaningfully participate.

Infrastructure for the purposes of this submission, I mean; adequate road networks that connect the country and neigbouring countries; railway lines that facilitate movement of people and goods from our neigbouring countries and within our own country; air transport and airports of international standard that eases national and international interconnections; broadband that is fast and reliable and will connect us to the world instantly and always, systems that work always, not what we have now, ‘system down, we do not know what is wrong, we do not know when it will be fixed’, as a result having people waiting for days for service; infrastructure for provision of reliable and cost effective electricity and water including serviced land is mandatory. Without these we cannot expect the private sector to perform and let alone lead economic development.

Secondly and more importantly we need to create wealth for our people so that they can meaningfully participate in the economic development of their country. We cannot expect to have an economy that is dominated by foreigners with no significant citizen participation. This will simply not work. It will create resentment and what many people call poor work ethics and laziness by our people. I believe our people are not any different from any other people; they are motivated by the same things that motivate other people regardless of where they come from.

When people are disgruntled because they feel disadvantaged, marginalised and made to feel insignificant in their own country, they will display the negative characteristics we often observe in our people. Our people are not lazy and can be as productive as any other provided the environment is right and they have ownership and are not treated as nonentities or bo eseng mang.

An obvious question is how do we create wealth for our people and have them meaningfully participate in the economic development of their country?  Let me offer some possible solutions.

I believe that we have missed many opportunities and unless we shift our paradigm and help our people to create wealth that they can use to participate meaningfully in business, we will continue to miss opportunities for a private sector led economy. Our leaders seem to have this mistaken belief that the private sector must be foreign dominated for it to be successful.  Yes, we need some foreign input, but we must realise that we need more local input, meaningful local input; input in terms of finance and skills.

Two weeks ago, I submitted in this column that I was very excited that Botswana Oil Company was considering building a Coal Liquefaction Plant. I indicated that this was an opportunity to get Batswana to participate by floating shares and allowing Batswana to buy and be shareholders in the proposed business. I stated that most Batswana have cattle that can be turned into cash for them to buy shares.

Those with disposable income can buy shares from their income. The businesses we have in the country can plough back their profits by buying shares. The Pension Funds and Insurance Companies have billions of Batswana money invested offshore. Technical partner(S) could be roped in to not only provide technical expertise but also shareholding finance.  Government should support and invest on behalf of the nation.

Debswana is a working example where government has partnered with the private sector and allowed the private sector (De Beers) to run the business. Every one knows the impact Debswana has had and continues to have in the economy of this country.

The only thing missing is that government failed to allow Batswana as individuals and other local businesses to buy shares in Debswana at the onset. Had we done this how much wealth would we have created in Botswana for Batswana.  I am sure this wealth would have been used to grow the small and medium business enterprises that would have assisted in building the economy and creating much needed employment. We recently missed another opportunity for Batswana to buy shares when the country was offered 45 % of De Beers by the Oppenheimer family.

What would have happened to the so called failed Fengyue Glass Factory in Palapye, if government had after finalising the bankable feasibility study gone to the people of Botswana, the businesses in Botswana for funding and found a viable commercial and technical partner(s) to help with the funding as well as management of the technical aspects of the business? Had we done this I do not believe the project would have failed.

There is still a chance to find a viable formula as suggested. Government neither has the expertise nor the time to manage such projects. Such projects must be left to the private sector. This is where Business Botswana must be allowed to come in and help to facilitate such processes.

The government through LEA has recently reportedly completed a bankable feasibility study for the Lobatse Leather Park. It is said that this factory will cost about P450 million and employ over 10 000 people. This is where the government must jump out; find sound commercial and technical partner(s) as shareholder(s) and like I suggested earlier get Batswana involved in funding the project.

The technical partner(s) will do due diligence study and then carryout the project on behalf of all the shareholders. The leather park project if done professionally by employing the right expertise will never fail and will continue to grow as we will continue to ‘eat meat’ and demand for leather products will continue to increase locally and internationally.

BMC is another entity that should have been left to the private sector to manage, with government, employees and Batswana in general as shareholders. Government is for ever bailing out BMC. The sum of P300 million has recently been approved to bail out BMC from its own mismanagement.

This is not the first bail out and will not be the last one. I am sure if BMC was run by the private sector; it would be providing much more revenue and wealth for Batswana and government and not ‘eating’ from the taxpayer’s coffers as it currently does. We have the raw material in abundance in the form of cattle and other animals and the market cannot be better. With government helping with disease control as it currently does and leaving the private sector running BMC as a business, more wealth would be created for Botswana and Batswana shareholders.

SPEDU is another example where government should have provided infrastructure and allowed the private sector to take over as suggested above. With government involvement, we are likely to see what is happening at BMC happening at SPEDU.

In passing, it is funny that the CEO of BMC is the chairman of BCL and the CEO of BCL is the chairman of SPEDU!  Well, how do we expect people to spread themselves so widely and still perform adequately in all these demanding jobs? Is this not part of the problem we have?

These are some few examples that I believe can create wealth for Batswana and empower them to meaningfully participate in the economy.  If you have employees as shareholders of the companies they work for, they will be motivated to do more to increase their own personal returns and everyone will gain more. These employees when they retire will continue to earn income from their shares and with sufficient wealth they could if they so desire invest in other small businesses.

What a winning formula!
In conclusion, this is my contribution to a blue print for a private sector led economy. Any government who wants the private sector to excel must not just talk about it, but must find ways to make it excel and talk about the results.
Having graduates starting small businesses because they have no jobs is not privatisation; is creating false hope and deeping many of our young people into poverty and hopelessness.

The number of young people registering businesses daily at the registrar of companies is shocking. Currently only privileged individuals corruptly get tenders from government and the rest are desperately wallowing in poverty. Some people are saying we are slowly building a time bomb that will explode and destroy the very fabric that this country is known for. We need to change course and find viable ways of financially empowering our people not only to avoid the impending explosion but more importantly to empower them to lead the economic development of their country.

 Bernard Busani
 Email: bernard.busani@ Cell: 71751440

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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