ILLUSIONS OF WEALTH: Behind The Smokescreen of Economic Statistics

The illusion of inclusive wealth must become a reality sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the risk of our government’s sweet vision of a high-income society will turn very sour


In the wake of the Budget Speech of 5th February, let it be noted upfront that there was no mention of wellness, happiness or income disparity. Surely the very essence of government is to ensure the well-being of its people and a just and inclusive society?

If a major speech fails to mention any of these, there is something terribly wrong that smacks of elitism and privilege. Out of interest, unemployment was only mentioned twice out of 13,400 words, even though it is the number one policy issue.  Behind the smokescreen of economic management, there are considerable and deepening social problems.  Why are Batswana unhappy when per capita income is the highest in mainland Africa? Is it only income disparity and its ugly sister, unemployment, or is there more to it?

This feature explores this persistent dichotomy that the government has difficulty in acknowledging. It looks beyond the smokescreen by setting out the reasons Botswana has one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa and is yet one of the least happy nations as shown in the WHI for 2023.

Despite a high per capita GDP, income disparity is stark, leaving a significant portion of the population in poverty. The Gini coefficient (Gini index or Gini ratio) is a statistical measure of economic inequality in a population. The coefficient measures the dispersion of income or distribution of wealth among the members of a population.

The closer to 1 the more unequal the ratios of high income and low income per capita. This can sometimes be shown as a percentage from 0 to 100%, which is then called the ‘Gini Index.’ A value of 0 indicates perfect equality – where everyone has the same income. A value of 1 indicates perfect inequality – where one person receives all the income, and everyone else receives nothing.

Income inequality

The Gini coefficient in Botswana is forecast to amount to 0.51 in 2023 and has come down from highs of 0.65 ten years ago. The number of people in Botswana who are earning less than $2.15 per day is forecast to amount to 0.34m in 2023. The number of people in Botswana who are earning less than $3.65 per day is forecast to amount to 1.02m in 2023.

While persistent unemployment, coupled with income inequality, contributes to widespread dissatisfaction among Batswana, beyond economics, social inequalities such as access to education and healthcare exacerbate the unhappiness index. Issues related to corruption in governance can undermine the trust of citizens, impacting their overall happiness. Despite economic growth, some individuals may feel a lack of opportunities for personal and professional advancement.

Environmental issues, including climate change impacts, can affect livelihoods and contribute to overall dissatisfaction. Any perceived instability in governance or political unrest may lead to a sense of insecurity and unhappiness. Social tensions arising from cultural or ethnic differences can contribute to a sense of dissatisfaction and unease. Gaps in access to essential services like water, sanitation and electricity can impact the quality of life for many.

Mental health concerns, often overlooked, play a crucial role in overall happiness, and addressing these issues is integral to a nation’s well-being.

While the foregoing is well understood and provides a general explanation for Botswana’s enigma, delving into deeper socio-psychological factors can provide a nuanced understanding of the unique challenges faced by Botswana. Rapid modernisation may contribute to a sense of identity loss and cultural disconnection among the population. Historical factors, including the impact of colonialism, could have lasting psychological effects on the collective consciousness of the Batswana.

A feeling of powerlessness or lack of control over one’s circumstances may contribute to a sense of dissatisfaction. The belief that democracy is not working effectively and the monotony of a de facto one-party state does not engender change and hope for a better future. The pursuit of material success, influenced by global standards, might create unattainable expectations, leading to frustration.

Unfulfilled potential

Changes in community structures and weakened social bonds could impact the overall well-being of individuals. Discrepancies in educational opportunities and outcomes may contribute to a sense of inequality and unfulfilled potential. The impact of media portrayal on individuals’ self-esteem and perception of their own lives can be significant. Internal or external migration patterns might disrupt social fabrics and contribute to feelings of displacement.

A lack of optimism about future opportunities could contribute to a collective sense of despair. Limited engagement between the government and communities might result in a perceived lack of support and understanding. A lack of community spirit, generosity and compassion, which undermines humanity and the spirit of understanding these nuanced socio-psychological factors, can indeed shed light on the specific challenges faced by Botswana, offering insights for targeted policy interventions and social programmes.

The rapid transition from rural village life to urban life is of itself destabilising. The shift from close-knit rural communities to urban settings can result in a cultural shock, impacting individuals’ sense of belonging. Urbanisation often leads to a breakdown of traditional social structures, affecting community bonds and support systems. Urban areas may concentrate economic opportunities, creating stark contrasts in wealth and exacerbating rural-urban inequalities. Inadequate urban infrastructure can lead to challenges in accessing basic services, contributing to dissatisfaction.

While urban areas offer economic prospects, the competitive job market can lead to increased stress and job insecurity. Urban schools may differ significantly from rural counterparts, contributing to educational disparities and a sense of disadvantage. The fast-paced urban lifestyle and anonymity may lead to psychological strain as individuals grapple with new and often demanding environments. Rapid urbanisation can result in housing challenges, with many facing inadequate living conditions or homelessness. The transition may involve a departure from traditional livelihoods, causing a sense of loss and economic vulnerability. Individuals may grapple with an identity crisis as they navigate the complexities of blending traditional values with urban influences.

Cultural and social ties 

Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive approach that considers both the practical needs of individuals during this transition and the preservation of cultural and social ties. As is becoming a Gazette hallmark with its feature writing, the critical thinking is typically followed by proposals for change.


Having understood the challenges, let us explore potential remedies for the identified issues many of which are being progressed.

1. Income Inequality: Implement progressive taxation policies to redistribute wealth. Develop and enforce regulations promoting fair wages and workers’ rights.
2. Unemployment Woes: Invest in skills training programmes to align the workforce with market demands. Encourage the growth of diverse industries to create more job opportunities.
3. Social Disparities: Strengthen social welfare programmes to ensure equal access to education and healthcare.
4. Implement policies addressing discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic status.
5. Corruption Concerns: Enhance transparency and accountability in government institutions. Establish an independent anti-corruption commission to investigate and prosecute cases.
6. Limited Opportunities: Foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem to encourage innovation and job creation. Develop mentorship programmes to support individuals in pursuing personal and professional goals.
7. Environmental Challenges: Implement sustainable development practices to mitigate environmental impacts. Invest in renewable energy sources to address climate change and create new job opportunities.
8. Underlying Political Instability: Despite good levels of democracy and governance, there is mounting dissatisfaction. Strengthen democratic institutions and ensure a transparent electoral process. Encourage political dialogue and civic engagement to build a stable political environment. Perhaps apply proportional representation.
9. Cultural and Ethnic Tensions: Promote cultural understanding through education and awareness programmes. Establish platforms for open dialogue to address and resolve cultural and ethnic tensions.
10. Access to Basic Services: Invest in infrastructure development to improve access to essential services. Implement policies to ensure affordable and equitable distribution of services.
11. Psychological Well-Being: Destigmatise mental health issues through awareness campaigns.
Develop and expand mental health services and support networks for the population.

Ideally, political parties that are most able to present convincing solutions to these and other intractable problems should do well in November 2024 (dubbed The Youths’ Election by The Gazette). By addressing these remedies, Botswana can work towards creating a more equitable, stable and happier society. It requires a multi-faceted approach, involving collaboration between the government, civil society and the private sector.

The illusion of inclusive wealth must become a reality sooner rather than later, otherwise the risk of our government’s sweet vision of a high-income society will turn very sour.