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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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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021


This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi:

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media.

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021


The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media.

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