Why Botswana Artists Are Not Millionaires

While a finger is being pointed at the government for failure to create an enabling environment, artists are aware that they share some of the blame because there are isolated cases of individual success. Staff Writer GOSEGO MOTSUMI reports

Compared to other countries, Forbes has only managed to list Botswana’s multi-millionaires from economic sectors other than the creative industry. A few of those are from the retail and manufacturing industries and are of Arab origin. This reality has begged the question whether the sector is incapable of producing millionaires or there are stumbling blocks that creatives are battling with to gain opportunities that can elevate them into millionaire status. The reality is that Botswana’s arts industry is an untapped sector that has the potential to drive sustainable development and create inclusive job opportunities for a country that is currently struggling with job creation.

For a country that is now 53 years old, older than some industries that are now leading the world, Botswana’s arts development is growing at a snail’s pace even though creatives produce work every other day. Fashion designer Kaone Moremong says it has been difficult to produce millionaires in her sector because the cost of doing business in Botswana was expensive. All the raw materials needed to produce clothes are not available in the country and they constantly have to import.

“Looking at the market base of Botswana, affordability for designer products is not there,” Moremong explains. “It is easier to order clothes online because what I produce becomes more costly than what is available in retail shops. We are living in days of fast fashion, and if I order raw materials that are going to reach Botswana in three months, I lose out because by then new trends are in place. Many millionaires have made their money by diversifying their sources of income, which is a struggle for us when we haven’t even mastered our first craft.”

It is Moremong’s suggestion that the government should ease the way of doing business. “Bringing materials into the country should be subsidized and the duration of importing should be cut back to a time that will allow us to stay in business,” she says. “In that way the government can invest in people that are already there.”

According to a 2018 report from the Botswana International Music Conference (BIMC), the music industry alone is faced with many challenges, from a small domestic market and lack of proper facilities for hosting major international and local music events to lack of international and regional exposure for our music practitioners and poor regulatory framework. Promoter and entrepreneur, Seabelo Modibe says the first problem that was hindering them from succeeding consisted of promoters and artists themselves. He argues that they have a global product that they only want to sell locally while complaining that international artists are given more opportunities locally. “We need to decolonise our minds and accept that music has no boundaries,” says Modibe. “Event planners have staged events that have succeeded locally. Why don’t we take those same concepts to other countries? We want the government to do everything for us because we lack international exposure. Both the government and the private sector do not understand this industry but it is up to us to make them understand it.”

According to Modibe, the fact that the industry is poorly understood and poor government funding are related. Agriculture makes up 2.9% of the country’s GDP and the creative sector is estimated to be bigger than that, he points out before rounding on politicians whom he describes as “a seasonal problem” for staying away until election time. “They know artists during the campaign season, hence the government ought to be decolonised,” he says. “The government’s poor planning for the past 53 years has gotten us where we are today. They will allocate millions to the agriculture sector and a stinting amount to the arts.”

“The government does not have a plan and or vision for the arts. Agriculture is overly subsidised when we are living in the era of climate change. I am also a farmer and I know that farmers have an enabling environment provided by government while the creative industry struggles with venues. Government needs to re-prioritise and invest where the money is.”

Poetess, artivist and businesswoman Berry Heart corroborates this view, saying the government and its laws have failed the creative arts in many ways. She first highlights the lack of an arts council, local versus international music quotas on radio and failure in endorsements. “Artists make money through endorsements but South African shops do business in Botswana and make South Africans their brand ambassadors even if they know they can choose a Motswana,” Berry Heart points out. “The law doesn’t force them to, so they put the money they make here in the South African economy. When the government hires an artist, they do not pay well. How can the private sector pay us well when the government doesn’t?

“The other factors are our own as artists. We are taken for granted and end up depressed and resort to alcohol and drugs. The public also does not buy our music. You will hear a song being played everywhere but the artist of that song not reaping from it. Our population is 2 million, so for an artist to sell platinum is far fetched and the global market needs capital to start any business. That is why the environment in Botswana has to create business for us first so we may take our product globally.”

Fine artist and author, Wilson Ngoni, says Botswana artists remain beggars even if they produce masterpieces. The main factor that is affecting growth is that people in political leadership do not understand the craft and it is demotivating for most artists who end up dumping the craft for agriculture. “I could be contributing to this sector, but the system does not recognise me even after putting in much work,” Ngoni says. “It’s been five weeks since I returned from touring Europe and the support I got there surpasses what I get in Botswana. I went to museums in Norway, France and Poland where I was told that in the history of their art they have never seen works more powerful than mine. The comments are motivating and it saddens me that we have none of that here at home.”

Ngoni is currently working on a new book titled “Living with a Brush” that emphasises the need to support local artists for the industry to grow and contribute more to the economy. “All nations must support artists if we are to prevail over cultural failures,” he says. “When a nation leaves its artists to be desperate, it ends up populated with artists who are not even sure they painted masterpieces,” reads an extract from his upcoming book.

R&B artist Emulo Kgomotso, who is better known as Licky, echoes similar sentiments of a need to set up structures to enable creatives to prosper. Licky says artists should unite in order to push their agenda with one voice to have more impact. “We are often quick to blame the promoter but he too is a business who will do what makes business sense to him,” she argues. “Financial liberty gives the artist the freedom to create and compete internationally, exporting talent while contributing to national GDP growth.” In 2019, the head of of the media sector of Business Botswana, Tonderai Tsara, said government policy, spending and priorities were driven by statistics. He gauged the size of the creative and media sectors in Botswana and his findings revealed that the sectors contribute between 3 percent and 5 percent of Botswana’s P170 billion economy.

Meanwhile, the government confirmed approval of an arts council late last year. There is a need to establish an arts council that will be tasked with the responsibility of developing Botswana’s creative industry by awarding grants, among other things. This move will ensure that artists unite through crowd funding because it is difficult to fund artists individually. The council will also act as a hub for information and research about the economic and social impact of the creative sector. There is also a need to formulate a strategy to develop the creative industry, a move that the government announced it was working on in last year’s State of the Nation Address.

In an interview with the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture, Tumiso Rakgare, about how Botswana could realise millionaires in the arts sector and  progress in art reforms, the minister responded: “We are still working on those and when we are almost done. When it is ready, we will share all those details.”