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Delusions Dis-Illusions

David Magang’s latest literary offering reprises his earlier Magic

Delusions of  Grandeur is David Magang’s second plunge into the literary collosseum. The first, his biographical sketch – titled The Magic of Perseverance – came off the presses in 2008.


The two works are uncannily similar, which in itself is not odd anyway  coming as they do from the pen  of  the same, punctilious  chronicler.  Both are meticulous and encyclopaedic in their vista. Both are eloquent and riveting. Both are frank and forthright. Both are rousing and provocative in a positive way.  


Both are classics no doubt. They are sui generis.
Delusions  of  Grandeur is venturesome. Through it, Magang, a lawyer by training, treads on not-so-familiar ground notwithstanding his relatively brief stint as  the 2iC at the Exchequer.  Indeed, he makes a point of  underlining from the very outset that he is not a Keith Jefferis, Roman Grynberg, or Brothers Malema.  He is simply a commentator.


Well, if he is a mere discussant, then he is of a special breed.  Ordinarily lay people do not engage a specialised subject and argue  with such a flourish.  If any faculty of economics anywhere  endorsed the book as standard text for a development economics course on Botswana, they would not be going beyond the pale.  


Magang is good at  a whole host of things but more so at laying insuperable markers. In  The Magic of Perseverance, he set a benchmark that is yet to be bettered, let alone equalled, on the domestic literary scene.   In Delusions of  Grandeur, he has scaled another height which is every bit non pareil. Economists must be scratching their heads and wracking their brains as to just how  the great Son of  Kgabo can be one-upped.


The Universe of Discourse
Essentially, Magang’s bone of contention is that for an economy of  its tantalising promise once upon a time, Botswana has grossly under-performed. In bolstering his argument, Magang points to the Asian Tigers, basically, as the archetype. 

Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea – none had a headstart  off  the  blocks: they began on practically the same economic footing as  Botswana. All were anonymous, backwater economies with absolutely nothing to write about. In terms of that popular but questionable economic performance indicator known  as GDP, Botswana did in fact pip the four to the post.

It outperformed them by two to three points for 30 straight years or thereabouts. But look at where the Tigers are today. They have long broken into the First World mould  whilst Botswana remains stuck in that vast dust bowl dismissively referred to as the Third World. In Delusions of  Grandeur, Magang ventures an explanation why, reasoning more from a a posteriori standpoint than a nonchalant a priori   posture.


Magang’s thesis is that Botswana would have made greater economic strides but for a malady its economic planners suffer from and which seems to have metastasised throughout the entire bureaucracy. This morbidity,  which informs the title of  his two-volume tome, he calls delusions of grandeur and fingers it as the cause, fundamentally,  of the economic stasis  which  presently ails  the country. 

Magang charges that deeply ingrained in the psyche of folk in government structures is an incorrigible and incurable superiority complex that makes them deaf to all common-sense entreaties. It seems to them that Botswana need not emulate best practice from elsewhere on the globe: it is self-contained and as an economy is impregnably fortified.  This insularity, this hubris, has the effect that its economic policies are way out of kilter and militate against the symbiosis characteristic of the global economic village that is the world today.


Magang wonders why the policies of various departments of government are scarcely synchronised or concerted, why they seem to work  at  cross-purposes with each other. For example, he says, one gets the impression that the mandate of  the department of  labour and migration is to ensure as many spanners as are conceivable are strewn in the way of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

What seems lost to the people in charge of these ministries, Magang regrets, is that when two such elephants collide, the grass, that is, the investors, suffer untold adversity and to the extent where those who are prospecting are made to think twice about setting up here. Ultimately, the collateral casualty are the citizenry, who are deprived of those potential, vital jobs FDI helps engender, and the Internal Revenue Service we call BURS.


Trading Punches with Fundis
Although Magang explicitly voices the disclaimer that he is no economist, that he does, apparently, with tongue in cheek. In his book, the  entrepreneurial colossus  does not shrink from lacing up the gloves to slug it out with aficionados in the discipline of economics.

Certainly,  cases bound in the book where Magang goes off at a tangent from  orthodox economic thought and yet argues so cogently and masterfully that one really has to strain to marshal a viable countervailing argument.  
Opining on GDP per capita, for example, Magang contends that as an indicator of the overall economic wellbeing of a nation, it falls far short of a veritable litmus test. 

“The implicit assumption of  GPD per capita is that the wealth generated by the economy is shared equally within the population when in real life income disparities are of Grand Canyon proportions,” Magang submits, citing a whole phalanx of countries that band about  stratospheric GDP per capita  numbers but whose people in the main continue to reel from abject and endemic poverty.


On the tread-of-the-mill question of economic diversification, Magang shares the truistical view that Botswana indeed has dismally failed to make a quantum leap on that  score. He cautions, however, that the accent on diversification should not be such that it dismisses mining as a spent, inconsequential force. That would be tantamount to throwing the baby together with the water,  for given our vast mineral resource endowment, mining will continue to be a significant plank in our economic platform for the foreseable future.

His take is that,  “Diversifying away from minerals does not mean relegating mining to the fringes. It simply means an engendering of a multifaceted economic base. We are what we are today thanks to mining anyway. What is fraught with peril is relying on only one industry that is sustained by a non-renewable resource or a set of such in perpetuity and not the industry itself per se.”


Magang does have a point there. Take Australia. It is mining that has underpinned the  country’s  economic dynamism and resilience for 150 years and it is mining that helped the country weather the ravages of the 2008/09 global economic meltdown literally unscathed. Australia is a reasonably diversified economy but it is not turning its back on mining yet. All this we learn from Magang’s painstakingly researched book and whose copious source notes attest to this rigour.


Curse Did Strike
Granted, Botswana did escape the Resource Curse that has been the bane of many a Third World Country. In other words, its surfeit of resource riches did not boomerang back at the country to turn it into the proverbial basket case. Magang, however,  is adamant  that Botswana by no means steered clear of the resource curse. It too did incur the resource curse only in its case, the curse took a subtler form – that of the Diamantine Curse.

Magang argues that because the rents emanating from diamond revenues were so prodigious, government became complacent. It became so besotted with its skyscraping cash chest that efforts at economic diversification  were not pursued with proportionate vigour.

It explains why when Magang relentlessly  belted solo ballads on diamond beneficiation, his colleagues in Cabinet just stopped  short of  dubbing him a psychopath.  Government was so flush with cash  mineral resource beneficiation was not deemed imperative.   


Years  back on the sidelines of  some function, Magang recalls, Central Bank Governor Linah Mohohlo angrily lashed out at him “headmaster-style” for passing what she regarded as snide comments  on the competence of the monetary authorities. To the consternation of onlookers,  the “Empress” wondered  aloud where Magang got the temerity to venture into territory of which he was a rank ignoramus.


Reading Delusions of Grandeur, one is apt to wonder whether the venerable custodian of the national fiscus will not be forced into a revised estimate of the man who she so apoplectically laid into. For Delusions of Grandeur is so resoundingly percipient there is no way its author would fit the stereotype of a no-nothing in the field of  even monetary economics.

Magang picks off so many illusions about our economy that by the time one  finishes reading the book, he or she cannot help marvel at how dis-illusioned they now are. The book is superfragilisticexpialidocious and that is an understatement!


DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR, 560 pages, is published by Print Media Consult and is available at Exclusive Books, Bala Books, and Books Botswana at P250 per copy.

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Veteran journalist Karima Brown succumbs to COVID-19

4th March 2021
Karima-Brown

South Africa’s veteran journalist and broadcaster, Karima Brown has died on Thursday morning from COVID-19 related complications.

Media reports from the neighbouring country say Brown had been hospitalized and on a ventilator.

Brown anchored eNCA’s The Fix and was a regular political analyst on the eNCA channel.

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Botswana imports in numbers

1st March 2021
Botswana-imports

For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.

Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.

In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.

Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.

When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.

The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.

According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.

Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.

Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.

Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.

Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).

The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.

Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.

He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.

“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”

Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.

“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”

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Sheila Tlou: On why women don’t get votes

1st March 2021
Sheila Tlou

BARAPEDI KEDIKILWE

Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.

Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.

Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.

Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.

There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.

The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.

And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.

Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.

Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”

Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.

Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.

On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.

The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.

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