A prosperous nation and land management

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 10 September 2014   |   By Dr Boga Manatsha

Last week, I focused on the Botswana Vision 2016 pillar of an “informed nation”. It is well-crafted. Yet, it fares badly when it comes to land management. I argued so and provided some examples. This week, I focus on another pillar: ‘Prosperous, productive and innovative nation’. I relate it to land management too.  For a country to be ‘prosperous and productive’, it needs sustainable investment in many sectors. Of all these, access to land, a fundamental means of production, is key. Moreover, for a country to be ‘innovative’, in whatever form, its workforce has to be happy and should take cut-edging initiatives. This pillar emphasises sustainable development and economic diversification. It states that “Botswana will have diversified its economy, with mining, agriculture, industry, manufacturing, services and tourism all making a substantial contribution”. My worry is that 2016 is around the corner. For these sectors to make substantial contribution, Batswana ought to be actively involved, taking the lead- not as bystanders as it is the case. The pillar goes on to say that “Agriculture in Botswana will be productive, profitable and sustainable, and will make a full contribution to economic development, poverty alleviation, food security”. Not with land repossessions! It also emphasises the sustainable use of resources. In this regard, “Communities will be involved in the use and preservation of their environmental assets, and will benefit directly from their exploitation”. I picked up something interesting in this pillar: “There will be a fully integrated approach towards conservation and development”. The wording of this pillar, like others, indicates a good Vision for the country. The problem is that the said Vision remains a mirage since those tasked with leading the country and those who formulate policies have other motives other than those espoused by the Vision. No one can dispute that this statement is well crafted: “The attitude towards natural resources will pay attention to a fair distribution between present and future generations”. Yet, most will argue that this is not happening since a coterie of few heartless and greedy chaps amass unparalleled wealth. The poor watch helplessly and with angst as their resources are wantonly grabbed.

Having tried to identify few key points in this pillar, I relate them to land/resource management. First and foremost, ‘prosperity’ should be judged from a socio-economic and political perspective. I acknowledge that in most cases, people think of a country’s prosperity in terms of its high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. It is for this reason that Botswana is praised for being ‘a success story’ in a pessimistic continent. This is despite the glaring socio-economic inequalities. The GDP should correspond with social development/indicators (access to land, health, water, food, education and employment opportunities etc). Importantly, ‘prosperity’ should be judged on the basis that there is equitable redistribution of resources; land being the key. A landless and homeless man has no incentive to be productive and innovative. Without land, one becomes a vagabond and vagabonds are just vagabonds! Is this the ‘class’ that the government wants to create through its elitist and anti-poor land policies? A landless person is easy to manipulate politically-wise, use and discard. It makes no sense to expect prosperity and productiveness out of vagrancy. Countries like Japan, China and Thailand developed rapidly because of radical land reforms which dismantled large and useless holdings by giving land to the peasants. In Botswana, thousands of hectares, in the most productive areas, are held by few greedy land barons. Most of these individuals obtained them through the elitist Tribal Grazing Land Policy (TGLP) in 1975, the National Policy on Agricultural Development (NPAD) in 1991 and other elitist land reforms and policies. Some acquired the land through corrupt means, very rampant in the land administration system. 

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The TGLP and the NPAD displaced peasants from their land and relegated them to the most barren lands. The same peasants are expected to recite the Vision 2016 pillar on “a prosperous, productive and innovative nation”. Those who are thought, genuinely or otherwise, to be against this Vision are vilified. They are labelled the unpatriotic fools and hoodlums. When they reason that a landless and ill-informed man cannot be “productive and prosperous” let alone “innovative”, they are reminded of another pillar “compassionate, just and caring”. In other words, being landless, or being ill-informed about land management, is not an issue. Why? The ‘business community’ can build some funny small houses for the landless and even donate blankets. The national anthem can be used to ‘deceive’ the landless and the ill-informed: “Fatshe leno la rona ke boswa jwa bo rraetsho!” When many hear these words, they sing with unmatched gung-ho and infectious melody conveniently forgetting that the words would make more sense when sung “Fatshe leno la bone le bana ba bone ke boswa jwa bone le bana ba bone!”

It is important, as the pillar states, that the local communities should be responsible for managing their local resources. But the Community Based Natural Resource Management model is doing badly in this country. Moreover, the local resources are captured by some foreigners who are allowed to exploit and mistreat citizens. These foreigners are treated with the annoying kindness simply because of an animal called Foreign Direct Investment. What is important is empowerment and ensuring that Batswana have access to secure land rights. The pillar talks of equitable resource distribution. Fine and clear. But is it ‘equitable distribution of resources’ when some individuals own 700 plots each? Is it equitable when squatters have their land demolished willy-nilly after voting for some politicians for more than 20 years? Is it equitable when some people acquire swathes of land through elitist land reforms? Is it equitable when the government repossesses land from Mr Poor and Ms Weak and gives it to Ms Wealth and Mr Power? Is it equitable to have the Tati Company and the Catholic Church still owning swathes of land in the midst of landlessness? Is it equitable when foreigners are allowed to freely buy land and built multi-residential houses and rent out to Batswana exorbitantly? Is it equitable when Banks demand crazy security when the youths want to buy land or houses? Is it equitable when some few foreigners dominate the tourism industry? Is it equitable when the same foreigners mistreat Batswana and practice racism? 

Can we have a ‘productive, prosperous and innovative nation’ in Botswana? I doubt because a productive and prosperous nation begins with an individual, then family, community, society and lastly the nation.  It is important that those tasked with leading this country should understand that a landless man, an angry man, a hungry man, a homeless man and a poor man has no incentive to be innovative to the ‘good cause of the country’. But he has an incentive to cause havoc and invent more anger and disruption. Our leaders should make serviced land available to the people. They should ensure that local resources are managed equitably by the local communities. The Vision 2016 booklet provides a nice theory. I often listen to some legislators citing it with uncontrollable devout tone. But theory and practice are two different things. 



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