A call by the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta for increased trade among African states is followed through by one of his country men who after tasting coffee in Botswana pleaded that we should buy coffee from them. They could not have brought the call home better. As Africans we struggle constantly for markets. And the markets we are all seemingly looking for have embarrassingly been those outside the continent. Our major exports in Botswana are meat and diamonds. All these commodities are taken to overseas. We have had to suffer from strict regimes and conditions set by these faraway lands for our products. One key matter being our beef exports to the European Union (EU) market. We are held to ransom by the EU conditions. As a country we have failed to look more closely at our neighbours to identify ways in which we could advance to serve them with our beef.
This stands out as one big oversight that has not only denied us of readily available revenue but has rendered us captives of the continents far removed from us. We need to look inside the continent; talk to our SADC member states and increase our trade as members. SADC leaders would do well to liberalise trade even more; allow locals to sell their farming produce to the highest bidder at least in the region, if not anywhere they can. Trade within and among African states remains an unexplored area and it is disheartening that the most suffering of our societies would have been saved had we looked more at ourselves. The question is - why are we drinking coffee from other continents when we know there is coffee in abundance just right next door? Why are we taking our beef to the EU when there is Kenya just next door to supply it to? Just a year ago, the Kweneng District Council did something they deserved more praise for. They went to Kenya and struck a coffee/tea deal. This was the best African thing to do – they sought to source from their own. Yet months down the line, confirmation is yet to come of whether they have taken any steps to actualise the deal. Government needed to have supported this gesture and expedited.
The Kenyan businessman’s call was not only for coffee trade but for all that we as African have that we can sell to each other. As Botswana we need not be reminded about how the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) is struggling financially only because it is singularly looking at the EU market. It is being tossed all over the place with endless demands for adherence for hygiene rules set in the EU. With the recent decision by the United Kingdom to pull out of the EU, just weeks after SADC celebrated the renewal of the EPAs, Botswana cannot be reminded of the challenges of relying on external markets. In looking more into Africa, as a continent we will become more resistant to economic shocks that happen far away from us. It has never been more urgent to look deeper into ways of enhancing African trade. The effect of the Chinese economic meltdown of the past two years has resulted with the closing of mines and loss of thousands of jobs. In diversifying our economies with a deliberate tilt of serving ourself more; producing to sell to each other we shall safeguard the economic shocks that we are constantly reeling from. We will not export the jobs at the level we are doing now.