Lekgowe, Mogapi & Kgosi
Rumour has it that President Masisi recently announced, boldly, but to the ire of many that, he never said he will create jobs, that his job is to provide an enabling environment for job creation.
Many might have missed this, leading up to the 2019 general election this statement has been shape shifting in low-resolution double-speak, the one associated with politicking. Hearing it now, boldly and blatantly announced, is liberating. It enables the unfurling of finer details of Masisi’s doctrine.
Because of that revelation, we now know of Masisi’s push towards a second-hand approach, laissez faire capitalism he intends to employ to drive his agenda. Leaving a small and fragile economy such as ours to market forces is no different from leaving an innocent boy child alone in a Catholic parish. The repercussions may not be immediate or might be actively hidden from public eye but the national expectations drawdown will yield us nothing but disappointment.
The drawbacks of this hands-free, market driven economy are many. The resultant hegemony by a few corporations with seemingly no public interest at heart is easily an anti-thesis to a government for the people by the people. And to date, President Masisi has accumulated a few frequent flier miles on his quest to lure investors into Botswana. Some of the trips were to blow off the dust from old MOUs probably signed before the Khama-era and forge new bilateral relations.
But the picture that is emerging is of a president so consumed by the concept of a knowledge-based economy and an ideology of somewhat glitzy start-ups, all operating in a free-market set-up, easily detached from the reality facing a traditional enterprising Motswana who breaks a sweat everyday farming chickens which he cannot sell at a profit, or the small-stock farmer who doesn’t have a market for his flock, or the horticultural farmer struggling to sell his produce at a profitable price because the big retail shops are either producing vegetables themselves or just deliberately pitting one farmer against another in a perpetual price war. Price discovery is all fine in mature free-market economies, in our context it lacks the compassion of sensible and targeted policy meant to uplift an ordinary Motswana.
Masisi’s renewed mandate is a call for him to carry favour with ordinary Motswana, all the time. His policies should, at all times, match the pressing needs of our people. Shameless infant industries protection is critical here, and that means government intervention in the economy to help citizen-led SMME’s against the cut-throat rape-culture of free-markets.
We cannot economically transform if we haven’t gotten the basics right. This means ensuring our small to medium enterprises (SME) are thriving and creating employment and exploring new markets. The BIDPA special briefing on SME policy found out that approximately 80% of SME in Botswana cease operating within 5 years of start-up. This is worryingly high considering that SME’s employed the same number of people as large firms, about 32%. Now with the declining importance of centralized mass production of which mostly are in foreign hands, SMEs are usually 100% citizen owned. A publication on the European Scientific Journal in 2014 by Wilbert R. Mutoko mentioned a few contributory factors to the high failure rate of SMEs in Botswana, being the lack of entrepreneurial and management skills, access to finance, restrictive regulations and shortage of business premises.
It is not that Batswana are not entrepreneurial or ambitious. They are already doing wonderful things and could do more to grow and employ their fellow countrymen. It’s just that the system is rigged against them. The men with the ponytails have captured the economy and it seems the president’s laissez faire approach is directly targeted for them to thrive at the expense of Batswana. He would rather try and pursue totally new lines of entrepreneurship lest he steps on the toes of his benefactors.
Masisi should abandon altogether the laissez faire bearing. It works best elsewhere, not for our current situation. We need our government to actively guide our budding SMME entrepreneurs, nurture them, equip them with the necessary skills, buy their produce and watch them thrive and grow. That is how we secure our economy, and bolster our national security ensuring that our people have a larger stake in factors of production.
Because the big foreign-owned corporations will leave, without a notice, they don’t owe us, but our people have their hearts here and we owe them an honest job at delivering effective solutions to the challenges they face.