Hardly a month after former president, Festus Mogae, belched balls of belly fire about Botswana becoming less hospitable than it used to be, a report prepared for the British High Commission reveals that such sentiment is shared by some other people in the country.
Telling Botswana’s rags-to-riches story at the Africa Leadership Forum in Tanzania on July 31, Mogae said the country prospered because it recognised the need for symbiotic existence with others.
“We used professionals from all countries, including Tanzania here and we trained our people here, and in South Africa and in Nigeria and in Ghana but that is being reversed by our government,” said the former president, at one point referring to his successor’s government with “regime”, a term characteristically used to refer to autocratic administrations.
He also spoke about how previous administrations “ran an open economy, an open society” and lamented how the present government has “reversed all that.” By Mogae’s account, the present government has expelled more than 2000 professionals over the last six years.
The language used in the British High Commission report is not as biting but makes the clear point that many more people feel exactly the same way as Mogae.
Through its membership of the Southern African Development Community, Botswana is part of effort to establish a transnational free trade zone which will give local businesses access to a region made up of almost 600 million people (57 percent of Africa’s population) that has a GDP of over US$1 trillion. This is a big deal and is the reason why the High Commission took enough interest in the matter to commission Imani Development (International) a Cape Town-based consultancy firm, to review the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement, highlighting key issues for Botswana. The exercise was, in part, undertaken by way of interviewing business leaders and businesspeople. One key issue the consultants focussed on was immigration.
“The informants argue that the immigration policy in Botswana is aimed at keeping expats out and has become less inviting. This makes it difficult to recruit foreigners with specialist skills that cannot be found in Botswana,” the report says.
In his Tanzania speech, Mogae said Botswana is “regressing” and while it is not consciously constructed to support such assertion, one part of the consultancy report shores it up. This part identifies lack of skilled labour as one of the main constraints to doing business in Botswana.
“Across all sectors there are insufficient skills and graduates are not job-ready. This, therefore, requires companies to train the employees on even the basics such as basic computer skills,” the report says.
Mogae’s assessment of present-day Botswana prompted the government to issue a rebuttal. Reaffirming Botswana’s commitment to “building an open society that welcomes the participation of foreign nationals and investment”, the government’s chief spokesperson, Dr. Jeff Ramsay, further noted that the current government has to be mindful of domestic and global security concerns.
“In addressing such concerns the current administration, to a greater extent than those before it, has had to deal with the threat of global terrorism along with increasingly complex and organised transnational criminal activity, such as the illegal trafficking drugs, humans and arms as well as game products associated with poaching,” his statement reads.
Mogae’s own predecessor, Sir Ketumile Masire, has also intimated that by degrees, the Dark Continent’s long-shining example of democratic virtue has lost too much of its wattage to such extent that it is almost indistinguishable from its surroundings. The elderly statesman made his views known when speaking at the funeral of the late Botswana Movement for Democracy president, Gomolemo Motswaledi, in Serowe on August 8.