According to Economist and Managing Consultant – SPECK Dynamics, Sennye Obuseng, Botswana’s national budget for the 2020/21 financial year presented by Minister of Finance and Economic Development Dr Thapelo Matsheka, is only about the economy and has no specific reference to children.
This week, the Civil Society Organizations in Botswana engaged a handful of opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), to discuss the national budget which they feel continues to ignore critical issues which are key to infusing children’s rights perspectives in budget debates. The Civil Society is concerned that children in Botswana continue to face a myriad of challenges due to inadequate resource allocations to the health, education, and social service sectors. Increases in allocations have in most cases remained nominal and hardly beneficial to children in real terms.
In his presentation Obuseng put into context the extent to which children, as a stakeholder group, are prioritised or not, in Budget 2020/ 21. He contended that the Children’s Act of 2009, makes clear the obligations of all duty bearers to children as follows: “…the promotion and protection of the rights of the child; …promotion of the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development and general well-being of children; the protection and care of children; the establishment of structures to provide for the care, support, protection and rehabilitation of children; and matters concerned therewith.”
Consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC or UNCRC), the Act says a child is anyone under the age of 18. The fulfilment of the aforesaid obligations requires the State as a key duty bearer to develop, resource and implement, appropriate interventions. Taking into account the obligations to children as spelt in the Act, the study focused on three fundamental premises, namely; every nation has a duty to ensure safe passage to productive adulthood for all its children; it is a moral, human rights and self-interest imperative.
Apart from having inalienable rights, including to health, education and development, children are a resource, Obuseng noted. He says however, their utility as a resource depends on adequate and appropriate investments being made in their favour at each stage of their development, failing which they could become liabilities as teenagers and as adults. Strategic government spending on children, and indeed all appropriate spending on children, is the most critical investment in a nation’s future, he contended.
“It is determinative of the quality of a nation’s human capital and its future competitiveness, and by extension, the key social and economic outcomes that drive or define progress and national prosperity, e.g. economic growth, employment, household incomes, poverty and general human welfare,” the study argued. “As Botswana sets its sights on becoming a High-Income Country (HIC), a knowledge economy and a knowledge society in 16 years’ time, one of the critical question to answer is: how is the country investing in its children?
“Finally, it is not only the quantum of per capita resources invested in children that matters, but also the timing. Investment in a child’s development has the most impact when it is made at the right time at every stage in a child’s development. “This includes adequate nutrition and prenatal care for expectant mothers; adequate nutrition, safe water, safe food, immunisation, and access to quality health services including appropriate care by trained health professionals when needed, and appropriate sexual and reproductive health services and information for adolescents and teenagers; and access to quality education for all ages. Question is, are our leaders and planners thinking this way?”
According to Obuseng, there is a dearth of complete and up-to-date information across the priority areas of child welfare in Botswana. Consequently, the analysis on children is often based on information that is several years old. “Even so, it is sufficient to generate a lucid picture of the state of children’s wellbeing in Botswana across the priority areas of poverty, nutrition and health, education and child protection,” he said. The former University of Botswana lecturer said data on child poverty in Botswana is insufficient (not enough coverage) and out of date.
He said available sources present highly inconsistent and incomparable estimates of child poverty, mostly due to conceptual and measurement issues. “The data are consistent in one regard though: Botswana’s children are more vulnerable to poverty than any other population group. That is so because they lack both agency and assets, and therefore depend on others to meet their needs. These needs often go unmet,” he said.
Obuseng says nutrition and health are critical areas of intervention for the promotion of the wellbeing of children and ensuring their safe passage to productive adulthood. Whilst all age groups face nutrition challenges, children are among the most vulnerable. Poor nutrition for children can have dire long-term consequences for “…the survival, growth and development of children, young people, economies and nations” as noted by State of the World’s Children 2019 report.
SOWC 2019 profiles what it calls the triple burden of malnutrition, namely undernutrition, hidden hunger and overweight. It is noted that under nutrition can lead to physical and mental stunting, and heightened risk of poverty as well as leading to wasting and death. “Hidden hunger, or deficiencies in micronutrients such as essential vitamins may lead to poor growth and development, weak immune systems, poor health and heightened risk of premature death,” SOWC 2019 indicated.
“Overweight can result in cardiovascular problems, infections and low self- esteem, obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. According to the State of the World’s Children Report 2019, malnutrition is a global crisis.According to SOWC 2019, the world is experiencing a malnutrition crisis. At least 1 in 3 children under five years of age is under-nourished or overweight, and 1 in 2 children suffer from hidden hunger, undermining the capacity of children to grow and develop to their full potential. 1 in 2 children under five suffer from hidden hunger due to deficiencies in vitamins and other essential micronutrients.
“Almost 200 million children under five suffered from stunting or wasting, whilst at least 340 million suffered from hidden hunger. From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of overweight children (5-19) years rose from 1 in 10 to almost 1 in 5. The number of stunted children has declined on all continents except in Africa,” the report indicated. The global crisis of malnutrition is Botswana’s crisis as well. According to SOWC 2019, Botswana is among 41 nations that suffer the triple burden of all three forms of malnutrition, namely; underweight, hidden hunger and overweight.
According to the report, 39.9% of Botswana’s children were not growing well in 2018. That means that at least a third of Botswana’s future human capital is at risk of severe destruction. The World Health Organisation’s Botswana Country Nutrition Profile of 2019, indicate that Botswana’s national prevalence rate of under 5 stunting (underweight) was 31.4% in 2007, 6.4 percentage points higher than the developing country average.
The prevalence of under 5 wasting was 7.2%. Low birth weight was 15.6% in 2015, a small improvement from 16.3% in 2000. Significantly, the report suggests that Botswana is not making progress in key areas of nutrition. Worrisomely, there was no up-to-date data on child malnutrition. Education is one of the most important and transformative investments a nation can make in its future. â€¨Whilst Botswana spends about 27% of its recurrent budget on education, which is by far the highest share of the recurrent expenditure, its development budget allocation does not even make the top six.
“The biggest problem for education in Botswana is performance. The public education system, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of learners, produces poor results,” argued Obuseng. “For instance, in 2019, 37.50% of Junior Certificate candidates obtained Grades C or better (credit grades). In 2018, the comparable figure was 38.00% in 2018. At the BGSE level, credit grade pass rates for 2018 and 2019 exit examinations were, respectively, 19.29% and 20.95%.
“It is safe to say that Botswana has a crisis of investment in children. Botswana is not investing effectively the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, the promotion of the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of children, and the protection and care of children. “The consequences for children, and the economy are dire. Overall, Botswana’s children have very poor prospects of realising their potential because of physical and cognitive development.
“This is manifest in poor performance at school. Ultimately, the ineffective investment in children translates into poor economic and human development outcomes.” Obuseng said under present circumstances, Botswana’s dreams of a knowledge economy, and high-performance 4IR compliant economy are unrealisable given trends in its investment in children.
Obuseng is an experienced development professional. Trained as an economist, with specialisation in Public Finance and Monetary Economics, he taught economics at the University of Botswana for eight years before joining UNDP Botswana as an Economist in 2000 to begin a fifteen year-long career as a development professional, providing policy and strategy advisory services, designing and managing programmes/ projects, undertaking the monitoring and evaluation of development programmes/ projects, doing policy and strategy advocacy work, and providing informed commentary on development.
Members of Parliament also utilised the opportunity to express their concerns. MP for Tonota, Pono Moatlhodi said classrooms in schools across the country are dilapidated thus not conducive for learning. Ngami MP Carter Hikuama said government has the tendency of trying to address the symptoms or outcomes. He said the current recurrent budget cannot impact meaningful change. “This is only to allow them to pay service delivery and keep the system running and functions of the Ministry. The development budget of the same Ministry [Basic Education] is the lowest”, he said.
While there is no hard-and-fast rule in politics, former Molepolole North Member of Parliament, Mohamed Khan says populism acts in the body politic have forced him to quit active partisan politics. He brands this ancient ascription of politics as fake and says it lowers the moral compass of the society.
Khan who finally tasted political victory in the 2014 elections after numerous failed attempts, has decided to leave the ‘dirty game’, and on his way out he characteristically lashed at the current political leaders; including his own party president, Advocate Duma Boko. “I arrived at this decision because I have noticed that there are no genuine politics and politicians. The current leaders, Boko and President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi are fake politicians who are just practicing populist politics to feed their egos,” he said.
Former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary hopeful, Lawrence Ookeditse has rejected the idea of taking up a crucial role in the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Central Committee following his arrival in the party this week. According to sources close to development, BPF power brokers are coaxing Ookeditse to take up the secretary general position, left vacant by death of Roseline Panzirah-Matshome in November 2020.
Ookeditse’s arrival at BPF is projected to cause conflicts, as some believe they are being overlooked, in favour of a new arrival. The former ruling party strategist has however ruled out the possibility of serving in the party central committee as secretary general, and committed that he will turn down the overture if availed to him by party leadership.
Ookeditse, nevertheless, has indicated that if offered another opportunity to serve in a different capacity, he will gladly accept. “I still need to learn the party, how it functions and all its structures; I must be guided, but given any responsibility I will serve the party as long as it is not the SG position.”
“I joined the BPF with a clear conscious, to further advance my voice and the interests of the constituents of Nata/Gweta which I believe the BDP is no longer capable to execute.” Ookeditse speaks of abject poverty in his constituency and prevalent unemployment among the youth, issues he hopes his new home will prioritise.
He dismissed further allegations that he resigned from the BDP because he was not rewarded for his efforts towards the 2019 general elections. After losing in the BDP primaries in 2018, Ookeditse said, he was offered a job in government but declined to take the post due to his political ambitions. Ookeditse stated that he rejected the offer because, working for government clashed with his political journey.
He insists there are many activists who are more deserving than him; he could have chosen to take up the opportunity that was before him but his conscious for the entire populace’s wellbeing held him back. Ookeditse said there many people in the party who also contributed towards party success, asserting that he only left the BDP because he was concerned about the greater good of the majority not individualism purposes.
According to observers, Ookeditse has been enticed by the prospects of contesting Nata/Gweta constituency in the 2024 general election, following the party’s impressive performance in the last general elections. Nata/Gweta which is a traditional BDP stronghold saw its numbers shrinking to a margin of 1568. BDP represented by Polson Majaga garnered 4754, while BPF which had fielded Joe Linga received 3186 with UDC coming a distant with 1442 votes.
There are reports that Linga will pave way for Ookeditse to contest the constituency in 2024 and the latter is upbeat about the prospects of being elected to parliament. Despite Ookeditse dismissing reports that he is eying the secretary general position, insiders argue that the position will be availed to him nevertheless.
Alternative favourite for the position is Vuyo Notha who is the party Deputy Secretary General. Notha has since assumed duties of the secretariat office on the interim basis. BPF politburo is expected to meet on 25th of January 2020, where the vacancy will be filled.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) big wigs have decided to cancel a retreat with the party legislators this weekend owing to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The meeting was billed for this weekend at a place that was to be confirmed, however a communique from the party this past Tuesday reversed the highly anticipated meeting.
“We received a communication this week that the meeting will not go as planned because of rapid spread of Covid-19,” one member of the party Central Committee confirmed to this publication. The gathering was to follow the first of its kind held late last year at party Treasurer Satar Dada’s place.