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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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The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosis visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosis actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as international waters.

Pelosis visit to Chinas Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqus. In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to Chinas position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The Peoples Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijings position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwans administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Bidens words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region. The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as Taiwan independence. The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosis visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for Chinas Peoples Liberation Army to safeguard Chinas national sovereignty, security and development interests. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard Chinas overseas investments, projects and personnel. It then follows that President Xis administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector Chinas sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part. Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The Peoples Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces. This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijings military exercises will certainly shake Taiwans confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwans central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As Chinas military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit Chinas Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to Taiwan independence separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General Antnio Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the Peoples Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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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 Botswanas 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, Mogaes 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 theBulela Ditswedispensation, 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 Ditswewas 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 consumers piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswanas, 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 dont imagine that their one download will do anything to the production houses 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 musicians 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 Botswanas 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 Africas 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 Botswanas economy are being diverted.

Why cant our local creative industry grow? Why dont 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 Botswanas 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 countrys 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, its 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 economys growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artists 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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