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Can Phikwe be redeemed?

David Magang           

View From Mana House   

Finally, the gavel has sounded.  Barring a miracle of the scale of Moses parting the Red Sea to enable the nation of Israel hassle-free passage  en route to the Promised Land,  the little twin town of Selibe Phikwe, or simply Phikwe in short,  is headed the way of a ghost town. Following months of tactless equivocation, the powers-that-be have at long last hit the nail squarely on the head. They simply no longer have the wherewithal, let alone the stomach, to keep pumping unrequited billions into a starkly moribund mine, never mind that in truth, it still has at least seven years of life left in it according to some “leaked document”.  It is not their fault, they seem to suggest: it is nature’s law of diminishing returns and the matter-of-fact fate of the wasting asset that minerals inherently are.

Well, we all knew that some day or other, BCL would give up the ghost, excuse the pun: the writing has always been on the wall though Government did nothing of substance to forestall the apocalypse. What caught us unawares is the manner in which the mine has bitten the dust – by way of assisted suicide, or euthanasia in medical jargon. Government gives us to understand that it has switched off the mine’s artificial breathing apparatus not so much to prematurely terminate its life as to extricate it from its own misery, which misery was draining the coffers of Government, or, shall we say, the Government blood bank. Whilst indications are that a circulatory specialist would have staunched the bleeding at least for one more year, when the patient was expected to be on the mend,  Government simply no longer had the patience for medical magic of any shape or form, particularly when some  fuming dude from down south was  breathing down on it with bad intentions for a breach of contract of some sort.

As “Doctor” Nigel Dixon-Warren of KPMG hankers down to carry out a definitive post-mortem – who knows, he could find a way of reversing the rigor mortis and breath back life into the mine like Jesus called forth a clinically dead Lazarus out of the tomb – the media, the opposition, and a whole host of arm-chair critics are having a field day. Recriminations are   flying thick and fast, with the naming and shaming game already at fever pitch. 

Taking much of the flak are a former mines minister who let go of a very able GM and only listlessly kept tabs on the mine’s modus vivendi; a feckless former board chairman who  brought on board a profligate new GM before he jumped ship in the very moment the vessel hit an ice berg; an intransigent expatriate CEO of a newly-formed mining parastatal who was at perpetual loggerheads with the redeployed mines minister; and Government itself for being just plain sloppy in the greater scheme of things, such as, for example, entrusting a critically important institution such as SPEDU to    

recycled veteran  civil servants who are past their sell-by date and have no experience in running a business undertaking.

Who deserves to be particularly rapped hard on the knuckles?

NOT EASY TO REANIMATE

Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopaedia, defines a ghost town as “an abandoned village, town, or city, usually one that contains substantial visible remains”. A town regresses into a ghost town mainly when “the economic activity that supported it has failed, or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as floods, government actions, uncontrolled lawlessness, war, or nuclear disasters”. 

If Selibe Phikwe is to wilt into ghost town status, it will be because of government inaction – its neglecting to hasten to diversify the economy of the town when desperate necessity demanded so.   As far as I’m concerned therefore, responsibility for the now precarious situation of Phikwe lies squarely on the government enclave in Gaborone. Grand opportunities to reinvigorate the town were lost in BUIST which should have been built there, SPEDU which should have been speeded up, ESP which should have been devoted to the town first and foremost,  to mention only a few.

Can Phikwe be redeemed in the wake of the BCL implosion?  It is possible of course but it could be up to scores of years before such a revival and the vitality of yesteryears is attained.  Two examples come to mind in this regard. Walhalla in Australia became a spectral town when gold mining came to an end in 1914 but its accessibility and proximity to tourist attractions, coupled with political will and initiative on the part of the Australian authorities, has occasioned a turnaround in its economic fortunes. Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, first flourished, then waned in the Middle Ages.  In the 19th century, it again rebounded. From a population of only 5000 in 1806, it is now a bustling city of 4 million.

The fact of the matter though is that not every ghost town fully revitalises in the fullness of time along the lines of Alexandria and Walhala. Dallol in Ethiopia was a potash, sylvite and salt mining community. Since it was abandoned in the late 1960s, it has never stirred at all. Kolmanskop in Namibia,  founded in 1908,  in the middle of the Namibian diamond fever, was slowly deserted right after the First World War, when diamond sales plummeted. It remains in total dereliction. Bodie in California was a thriving gold mine with more than 2000 imposing buildings. When gold deposits petered out in the late 1880s, the exodus was almost instantaneous. In 1905, it had 1965 inhabitants. Today, it has less than 40, which does not even qualify as a skeleton population.  All these ghost towns stand as eerie monuments to glittering bygone eras. 

All told, we should not completely despond over Phikwe. There is life after life only it could take several life times to dawn. Phikwe still has potentially bankable minerals in its crust that await exploitation and the EU has the multi-million euro Sismin Funding Programme we could tap into to help revitalise BCL if the Dixon-Warren autopsy pronounces for a new lease of life. There is also the amelioration of  the commodity price crunch projected to set in post 2017 to count upon.

For Phikwe to somehow reinvent itself in the nick of time, say as a marquee tourist attraction, there has to be something for people to travel all the way from the West or the Orient to see. Phikwe does have a bit of game all right, but not the seamless, paradisiacal   variety that teems in  the Moremi Game Reserve or Chobe National Park. Nor does it have the equivalent of the Okavango Delta or the Makgadikgadi Pans. At best, it could be no more than a B-List tourist destination. 

Of course BCL would bequeath to the town a 2 kilometre deep underground mine  but tourists who take a ten-hour flight to go and savour the blood-curdling depths of an ancient sub-surface mine can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Cullinan Mines in neighbouring South Africa has such a facility and indeed receives only a handful of tourists per year, almost all of whom from within the country. 

Maybe Phikwe will prove to have the nine lives of a cat and like a sphinx rise from the ashes to which Government now has combusted it. Jesus was greater after Calvary than before Calvary. But exactly what abracadabra must be uttered to turn Phikwe into an Aladdin’s cave and in reasonable time for that matter?

THE MIRACLE OF SHENZHEN

When I was Assistant Minister of Finance & Development Planning in 1990, I broached the idea of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) to Government. My boss at the time, Festus Mogae, and other Cabinet ministers pooh-pooed the notion, the core of their argument being  that the incentives obtaining under FAP (Financial Assistance Policy) very much mirrored what a SEZ setup would require.  Although I wasn’t convinced, I meekly yielded.

In 2005, the Business Economic and Advisory Council pitched the same idea to Government. This time around, Government embraced the proposition. But as is typical of the glacially slow pace at which things move in our country, the SEZ Policy was finalised only 5 years later, in 2010. Over ten years since SEZs were mooted, we still haven’t moved an inch in kick-starting the process. Had we moved at the speed of a gazelle as our state of desperation demanded in light of Phikwe’s plight and set about establishing SEZs right in 2005, the national heartache we now harbour over Phikwe would not be this acute.  SEZs have the potential to dramatically resurrect Phikwe and make it the catalyst overall of the economic resurgence of the country in the manner Shenzhen sparked a countrywide economic renaissance in China.

In one of my recent articles (Wanted: Benevolent Dictator, September 17th), I made mention of the great Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the fairy-tale economic prosperity China enjoys today. It was Deng who seized on the idea of SEZs and ran with it at full throttle. In July 1979, Deng designated Shenzhen as an SEZ, along with three other locations. At the time, China was teetering on the brink of economic collapse, as Botswana soon could if budget deficits persist and perpetuate. Shenzhen was an impoverished and therefore unimportant rural backwater tucked away along China’s south coast. It was not a ghost town because it never soared and then came a cropper economically: it was a soporific town, with a population of only 30,000 whose livelihood almost wholly derived from fishing. The daily income for a peasant was a pathetic 1 Yuan, when just across the border in Hong Kong (then under British rule) a peasant earned 60 times as much.  

Today, Shenzhen is a dynamic metropolis with a population of 15 million people thanks to the advent of SEZs. In 2013, Shenzhen’s GDP was $237 billion (larger than that of Ireland), about 2000 times what it was in 1979. At $22,000, its GDP per capita in that same year rivalled that of some of the OECD’s full-fledged countries. In the 1990s, Shenzhen was characterised as constructing “one high-rise a day and one boulevard every three days”. In 2014, a US real estate developer paid a record $2.21 billion for a site in Shenzhen, underscoring how highly prized the city had now become on the international property market. 

BEHOLD THE RED DRAGON

Maybe you haven’t heard this, but Egypt is constructing a new capital city to replace an over-crowded, jam-packed Cairo and where stratospheric property prices and rentals have occasioned a tellingly high cost of living.  The city will be built from scratch and right in the centre of the Sahara Desert. Guess who’s funding it? It is China, to the tune of $45 billion.

Now,  whereas practically every country on the continent of Africa is paying court, with cap in hand,  to the mighty Red Dragon, our relations with China remain fraught such is our intoxication with diamond rents, which in any case are dwindling faster than the October sun melts wax.  If the Government enclave is not well apprised as to how powerful and globally indispensable China is presently and potentially, I can help with a few titbits.

Just this week, China supplanted the US as the world’s largest economy, a status the US held for 142 years after it overtook Britain in the same capacity in 1872. The US, the so-called locomotive engine of the global economy, has in fact effectively been an economic colony of China for some time now. As of June 2016, the US owed China $1.24 trillion. The US pays China $100 million a day in interest only on this gigantic debt. As part of the consideration arising from the debt – which the US will in all probability never be able to settle – the Chinese government is pushing for the creation of “development zones” on US territory where Chinese-owned business will be established with an overwhelmingly Chinese workforce. When that happens, a sizeable portion of the $1.24 trillion debt will be converted from debt to equity. In the event, “China would own US business, US infrastructure, and US high-value land, all with a US government guarantee against loss” as one America economist chillingly put it.    

Meanwhile, China is busy buying up swathes of land on the continent of Africa to possibly convert to SEZs thanks to a staggering $3.2 trillion in reserves. In 2014, it offered to finance 30 percent of India’s targeted infrastructural investments as per the latter’s 12th National Development Plan spanning the years 2012 to 2017. China, folks, is on an investment binge unprecedented in history and this is the country our government keep thumbing its nose at!

WE MUST COSY UP TO CHINA

At the 2006 Forum on China-Africa Co-operation in Beijing, Botswana was conspicuous by its absence. We were not invited reportedly because of the contemptuous manner with which we treat Chinese interests in our country. The aftermath of the Beijing summit was the initiation of 7 Chinese-run SEZ projects in Africa – one each in Mauritius, Egypt, and Ethiopia and two each in Nigeria and Zambia.  According to the Zambian China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, a total of 27 copper and copper-related enterprises were already operating in Zambia’s Chambishi Multi-Facility Economic Zone by 2014 and approximately 8000 jobs had already arisen.

Phikwe is one of the two locations slated to pilot the Botswana SEZ thrust. If we are to make a success of this, we will need Chinese FDI – just as China needed Japanese and Hong Kong FDI to kick-start the Shenzhen SEZ – and Chinese technical knowhow. Dubai offers a most invaluable cue in this regard. Its people used to spend millions of dollars per year to stock up with merchandise from China. That was a lot of money leaving the country. To stem this haemorrhage, Dubai set up SEZs with mouth-wateringly attractive incentives and invited Chinese companies to establish their businesses in there. Today, there are more than 170 Chinese companies operating in the Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA), the flagship SEZ of Dubai and the foremost in the entire Middle East. Since 2007, over 160,000 jobs, about twice to thrice the population of Phikwe, have been generated in the Chinese-dominated JAFZA.

 Needless to say, Botswana will need not only the instrumentality of Chinese investment in the Phikwe SEZ if the ailing town has to spectacularly spring back to life but the goodwill of Beijing as well. So let us desist from treating the Chinese as “infestors” and render them the deference virtually every other nation on Earth is according them.

   

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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