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Poverty eradication in Botswana: successes and failures

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

When all else is said and done as regards the just delivered State of the Nation Address (SONA), two issues remain primal- job creation and poverty eradication. Afterall, the ultimate aim of every government should be to ensure dignity for all, an aim which would remain elusive if unemployment and poverty levels are high.

According to the World Bank’s 2015 report, half of Botswana’s population remains either poor or vulnerable, with 46.2% of them being children under the age of fifteen. The report further states that while the poverty gap between rural and urban areas has declined, the risk of falling back into poverty is still higher among rural households that depend on small-scale and subsistence farming. Further that, although vulnerability among the country’s poor was significantly reduced from 2002-2010, nearly 31% are classified as vulnerable.

The study projected that with significant inequality reduction, poverty rates can fall to below 12% by 2018 and below 6% by 2030. The Botswana Poverty Assessment found that poverty declined from 30.6% to 19.4% between 2002-2010, particularly in rural areas, due to increased labor and agriculture-related incomes and more opportunities for the poor. This, according to the study, resulted in 180,000 people being lifted from poverty, 87% of which live in rural areas.

In my view, these levels of poverty reduction were not achieved through sustainable economic projects. They were achieved mainly through social protection programs. According to the World Bank Country Director for Botswana, Guang Zhe Chen, Botswana dedicates about 4.4% of its GDP to social spending. Therefore, comprehensive and colorful as this year’s SONA may have been, its success or failure will be determined by the extent to which the plans it entails will lead to job creation and poverty reduction.

When His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, delivered his inaugural SONA in 2018, he stated that the 2015/16 Botswana Multi Topic Household Survey by Statistics Botswana, released in February 2018, showed that poverty has decreased from 19.3 % in 2009/10 to 16.3% in 2015/16. He further stated that the percentage of people living under extreme poverty, i.e. below USD 1.90 a day, has reduced from 6.4 % to 5.8 % over the same period.

On a negative note, but rather expectedly, he reported that rural areas have the highest poverty incidence at 24.2 %. On the contrary, urban centres performed better at 13.4 %. Cities and/or towns performed even better at 9.4 %. H.E Dr. Masisi stated that poverty eradication remains one of the primary goals of his Government. According to him, since the inception of the Poverty Eradication Programme in 2011, a total of 29, 691 beneficiaries have been funded, out of which 23,146 projects were operational thus improving the lives of the poor.

Here, H.E Dr. Masisi failed and/or neglected to inform Batswana why 6,545 projects were not operational. Is it because they had not yet started operations altogether or it is because they had collapsed?  H.E Dr. Masisi also failed and/or neglected to give such critical information as the number of jobs created by these projects, and the number of beneficiaries who have graduated from poverty or extreme poverty as a result of these projects.

In my view, the reason for this is that the projects did not significantly contribute to employment creation and poverty eradication. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most of the projects, especially back yard gardens, failed, with the project infrastructure ending up as white elephants.    

H.E Dr. Masisi promised that to ensure that “No One is Left Behind”, Government will profile all the poor people in the country so that they are all assisted accordingly to improve their livelihood, stating that, in addition, Government is in the process of finalizing a National Strategy and Policy with the aim of ensuring a coordinated effort for greater impact.

Yet, in this year’s SONA, no mention was made of profiling for the poor being conducted as promised. Similarly, no mention was made of the National Strategy and Policy. How then do we hope to eradicate poverty if we fail to implement such activities which are key to planning for poverty eradication?

In this year’s SONA, H.E Dr. Masisi acknowledged that poverty, unemployment and inequality remain the greatest challenges facing our country, stating that both Vision 2036 and the National Development Plan 11 have prioritized these challenges to ensure that lasting solutions are pursued to reverse the trends. He further stated that since the inception of the Poverty Eradication Programme in 2011, a total of 38,418 beneficiaries have been funded, out of which 29, 877 projects are operating and 5, 609 are at different stages of implementation.

Commendably, considering that 23,146 projects were operational by 2018 and the figure stands at 29, 877 this year, it means 6,731 additional projects are operational. Also, unlike last year, this year the president has done a good job by giving the number of jobs created by these projects as 33, 918. But he, just like last year, failed to inform the nation about the extent to which these projects contributed to poverty eradication.

Government must be commended for clearing the backlog of poverty eradication projects in Kgatleng, Sowa, South East, North East, North West, Boteti, Bobirwa, Lobatse and Francistown, and making progress in clearing the backlog in Palapye and Jwaneng. Similarly, Government must be commended for developing an Exit strategy, which the president says was launched in February this year, which clearly outlines interventions that facilitate the graduation of beneficiaries with excelling projects.

According to the President, to date, 2, 094 excelling projects have graduated from the programme, with certificates of graduation awarded to thirty (30) of these beneficiaries during the National Poverty Eradication Expo early this year. While this is to be commended, the question is: how many jobs have these excelling projects created and how many people have they lifted out of poverty. For instance, how many people now live above USD 1.90 a day because of these projects?

Assuming that many of these projects are in rural arears, the question is: to what extent have they contributed to the reduction, if any, of the 24.2 % rural poverty incidence alluded to by the 2015/16 Botswana Multi Topic Household Survey? Assuming that some of these projects are in urban areas and cities and towns, the question is: to what extent have they contributed to the reduction, if any, of the 13.4% and 9.4% poverty incidences in urban areas and cities and/or towns respectively.  

This year’s SONA reports the provision of breakfast at primary schools under poverty eradication. While the project itself is to be commended since it reduces hunger and malnutrition among many children from poor families, it is a misnomer to categorize it as a poverty eradication project. Granted, the provision of breakfast at primary schools promotes optimal health, growth and development, prevention of nutritional deficiencies as well as align the primary school menu to that of secondary schools, as Government states, but it does not eradicate poverty.

A family, for instance, does not become classified as living above USD 1.90 a day simply because a child coming from the family eats breakfast at school. The 5.8 % level of poverty, as alluded to by the 2015/16 Botswana Multi Topic Household Survey, does not reduce because children are provided with breakfast at school. It is, therefore, incorrect to suggest that the menu for primary schools can support poverty eradication and home-grown feeding initiatives to economically empower and capacitate Batswana and promote micro and small-scale entrepreneurship.

If Botswana is to meaningfully reduce poverty, she has to make significant improvements in shared prosperity, with the poorest benefiting the most. Wages and various formal and informal incomes should increase substantially, especially in rural areas. Not only that. Government-supported agricultural incomes and employment have to be a priority. Government also has to invest more on education by improving access to primary, secondary and university education.

According to the World Bank, for it to significantly reduce poverty, Government has to boost productivity, employment and labor-market efficiency; improve education, health and social protection and safety nets as well as improving survey data for evidence-based policy making.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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