A sad countdown to the Golden Jubilee?
With 167 days left on the count down to this nation’s golden jubilee there is a need for introspection. Let’s take stock of how we are doing. Counted among five poorest countries in the mid-sixties and making it to the middle income economy in the 1990s, with an average GDP annual growth of 4.44% between the years 1995 and 2013, hitting an all-time high of 18.20% in the fourth quarter of 2002, billions of dollars in foreign reserves, Botswana’s story is indeed made of a fairy-tale. Does this success trickle down to the ordinary folk? This is a discussion for another day.
This is a story so rare it cannot have come out of the 1970s and 1980s Africa. The founding fathers of this nation are a personification of the word selfless. In the 1970s, amidst the rife civil wars, coup d’états, embezzlement of public funds, killing and imprisonment of opposition members, silencing of dissenting voices, Botswana’s founding fathers chose to chart the democratic route and they managed public resources prudently. Had they chosen the route chosen by the rest of the continent, History would not judge them harshly because it was the norm in Africa. Idi Amin’s son responded to allegations that his father killed a lot of his opponents; “Yes he did, the way every leader of his generation did. It was normal during their time for leaders to kill.” One wonders, as I suppose the rest of world, why these gentlemen, founders of Botswana that is, chose the path which they did.
Maybe democracy and prudent management of resources is inherent to Batswana after all. Yes, Botswana is a mineral rich country but it’s not any different from the Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and indeed the rest of Sub Saharan Africa, but its story differs violently from that of the rest of the continent. Now, suppose we agree that the vision of our founding fathers got us this far, has our current crop of leaders taken the baton and wrote of Botswana another fairy-tale story? Is the fairy-tale story still alive? We think NO! Our democracy is still alive but has not grown nor matured much. We are still a mineral dependent economy and not much has been achieved in terms of mineral beneficiation. The economy has not really been diversified away from minerals. In a nutshell, we have not covered much ground going forward after receiving the baton from our founding generation.
The Emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a lot of similarities with us and there is a lot that we can learn from it. Like us, they transformed their economy from fishing and trading to tourism, mass communications, shipping, and finance. Dubai has created for itself an image synonymous with luxury, multi –billion dollar real-estate ventures, and millions upon millions of tourists annually. The transformation was driven both by trading and oil revenue and this transformation was motivated by fear that, unlike other Emirates, they had limited oil and gas reserves. So, they had to build the Dubai economy to survive the end of the oil boom.
The current ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, building upon the strong foundation built by his predecessors; that of establishing Dubai as a hub of trade by sea and a centre of tourism and business travel by air, embarked on an ambitious strategy to transform Dubai further. He attracted the world’s top companies to transform Dubai into a knowledge based economy. By the end of 2006, a quarter of the world’s top 500 companies had presence in Dubai. Through the state owned Jumeirah Group, Dubai invested in hotels, resorts and shopping malls to make Dubai a tourist destination of choice. One can safely say this vision has been realised. In 2005, Dubai contributed more than 29% of UAE GDP and Dubai’s GDP recorded a nominal growth of 27%. Only 5.4% of Dubai’s GDP came from the oil sector, with the dominant sector being trade and repair at 22.8%.
So, here is a story of true diversification and clear strategies that delivered it. Petro-dollars and money made from the established trade sector used to diversify the economy into other sectors. We could borrow a leaf from Dubai and use our diamond and beef dollars to do the same? If fear would be of any motivational value, our diamonds reserves will not last us more than 30 years that is if the synthetic diamonds do not ground our natural diamonds industry before then. Granted, the vision and sacrifice of the founding generation got us where we are, we need the current crop of leaders to project us further forward.