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Of Public Investments and Unemployment

When the rest of the world went into a recession in 2008 and subsequently recovered from it, President Ian Khama lauded his administration for remaining steadfast in the face of calamity. This only tells part of the story. As the economy improved after the recession, our success in withstanding the storm was measured by non- job losses and return to economic growth due to increase in mining output. But the other part of the story is more sinister, the growth has been slow and the level of unemployment has been staggeringly high. According to the latest statistics, unemployment rate stands at 19.8 percent.

What we currently have in Botswana is a clear case of structural unemployment, a situation where at a given wage, the quantity of labour supplied exceeds the quantity of labour demanded due to the mismatch of the number of people who want to work and the number of jobs that are available. There is no easier way out of structural unemployment. It is a problem that is large in magnitude and painstakingly hard to solve. The end results of unemployment are not pretty at all: despair and dejection, social costs, economic losses, political and budgetary pressures.

Policymakers in Botswana are faced with challenges on how to formulate policies that create work for those who want to work in a country that currently has little to offer. And by creating jobs, we mean decent and meaningful jobs that bring dignity to the worker.

Surprisingly, the policymakers know what needs to be done, in fact it appears they have all the conventional ingredients: stimulate economic growth, improve education and skills transfer, embrace technology and innovation, deal with barriers to market entries, boost public investment, grow the private sector, promote citizen empowerment and entrepreneurship. So one is inclined to ask that despite all these efforts why is the Botswana economy faltering, more importantly, why they haven’t decisively dealt with the growing unemployment rate. 

The answer may lie with the lackadaisical approach of the government and how they determine the rate of return on investments. Quite often, the government will talk about how much they have spent and little on what was achieved on that money spent. This could be solved by instituting strong structural reforms.

The most obvious structural reform that the government has to undertake is to build effective and sound institutions. Such institutions should be able to enforce good governance, transparency and accountability. If they are able to do that, the quality of supervision and monitoring will ensure the government gets a good return on its investments.

Consider this, if the government had sound institutions, it wouldn’t have lost hundredths of millions through corruption, project delays and cost overruns. And not only that, heads would have rolled for those responsible for the mess. In the absence of effective institutions, some people have acted with impunity: after all it’s only the government money they are wasting.   But this is money that could have been put for better use and the purpose it was intended for, including curbing the unemployment rate.

Indeed much of the government’s failures can be largely blamed on poor implementation. To be sure, the Botswana government has some good policies that have set it apart from other African countries. This is the government that has spent lots of money on public investment, think of the free education and health. But the country has been caught wanting in terms of policy implementation, as we speak the country’s education is in crisis. The problem is much deeper as it was long in the making: putting emphasis on government expenditure and little on the returns on investments.

For example, over the years the government has largely focused on quantity rather than quality in the education sector. The end result has been proliferation of graduates with half baked degrees which have led to employers shunning them for their lack of skills. While this has contributed to the rising number of unemployed graduates, it has been manna from heaven to the profit oriented private schools that have benefitted from the government expenditure on education yet delivered so little.

A quick survey of the private institutions (particularly tertiary education providers) reveals that majority of the owners and lecturers are foreigners.  This clearly shows that public investment is not sufficiently enough if it’s not properly monitored and evaluated. There is a need for a culture of transparency and accountability so as to ensure that everyone benefits from public investments as well as prevent any potential abuse by greedy business people.

Granted, the government of Botswana cannot alone create jobs for the unemployed. A robust private sector could prove to be a critical tool in helping the government deal with the unemployment rate. Without proper structural reforms that encourage private investment and entrepreneurship, the government would continue carrying the burden and on top of that having to deal with the ever increasing wage bill that has made it difficult for the government to adjust salaries.

While the government has some existing policies that could help grow the private sector, such as citizen empowerment schemes and other financing institutions (Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency, Botswana Development Corporation etc), the returns and benefits have not been forthcoming. Once again I will fault the government for not enforcing quality supervision and stricter monitoring.

The government needs to deal with problems facing start-up companies, in case policymakers are not aware, these problems transcends beyond the usual capital problems. What the government must do is confront large enterprises (monopolies, oligopolies etc) blocking fair competition from small medium enterprises (SMEs).

While at it, the government is best advised to ensure that it has effective tax systems for these huge enterprises. The most recent report from Global Financial Integrity (see has pointed to illicit financial outflows; such acts together with tax evasion are not good for the economy.

Furthermore the private sector and entrepreneurship in Botswana is built on sand. Their business operations are heavily dependent on doing business with the government. This is hardly surprising given the population (market size) and the fact that the government is the biggest spender. But in the long run this is unsustainable, especially when the government is looking at belt tightening measures. The government tenders have given birth to the wrong kind of entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs who lack good work ethics and productivity. Such entrepreneurs lack the innovation needed to grow the private sector.

These entrepreneurs (now popularly referred to as tenderpreneurs) have poor savings rate, weak human capital and zero plans for further expansion or diversification of their businesses. It does not help the situation that the tendering process in Botswana has been fraught with errors and given rise to corruption (bribery, inside trading etc). What the economy of Botswana needs is businesses that will not only add value to the economy (think industries like manufacturing which are exports oriented) but actually hire unemployed people.

It’s disheartening how a company which employs less than 20 people can win multimillion tenders. What is the government getting in return? While other than inflated prices they pay for doing business with the private sector, the government is not getting much in return. Growing the private sector should not equate to doling out tenders, the government must ensure that it does business with companies that have vested interest in growing the economy of the country, not companies that want to line their pockets. In addition the government should look at the supply chain and determine if citizens are benefitting from the tenders it gives out, it should also ask itself if there are any skills being transferred to citizens.

Any person with a decent grasp of economics will tell you the significance of statistics in dealing with the unemployment problem. Besides structural reforms, the government should look more into labour market policies. Such policies should be focused on relevant statistics: collecting the data which is needed in determining which skills are needed in the labour market, the required training and workplace flexibility.

This approach will have two aspects to it. Firstly it will ensure that students make well informed decisions on what to study and which skills to gain in order to improve their employment opportunities. Secondly labour market data will ensure policy makers are in tandem with education providers as well as employers on which fields to invest money in hence closing the gap between skills mismatch.

The labour market data could also be used to gauge the progress the country has made in terms of the localisation of certain job positions, how many citizens sit on executive management positions and more importantly if employers engage on training and transferring expertise skills to citizens. The national internship program is a welcome development despite the justified criticism.

The purpose of the program is to facilitate the integration of inexperienced workers into the workforce, while helping to correct skills mismatch and skills transfer from experienced workers. But the successes of the program lies in the government monitoring the progress to ensure that interns are gaining valuable knowledge as well as ensuring they are not being exploited as a form of cheap labour.

Implementing structural reforms and a renewed policy momentum remains integral to any successful growth strategy. Like anything else they will be challenges. Some of these challenges emanate from political posturing, when politicians with short term visions cannot get a clear picture of the economy, this happens when self interests precedes national interests. There will also be resistance from big companies and individuals that prefer the status quo because it benefits them. But should these challenges be ignored, the unemployment problem will deepen resulting in immense social, economic and political costs: increase in inequality, poverty, corruption and potential for political backlash.

To solve a problem, it is not enough to know what to do. You actually have to implement the solution and be willing to change course if it turns out that you did not know quite as much as you thought. Not only that, the government should be serious about return on their investments, and that starts with effective institutions that can properly supervise and monitor projects. On that regard, the government of Botswana has some fantastic policies but they require concerted efforts during implementation and evaluation stages.

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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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