As we celebrate 50 years of independence, we look forward with anxiety. Can the country replicate the past 50 years of success? What should we do to remain a shining example of democracy and economic development? The challenges ahead are massive. The circumstances of the past have gone. Ahead are new even more difficult ones. The fortunes we enjoyed cannot be a certainty for the future. What we need to carry from the experiences of the past 50 years should be the ethos of resilience, upholding national principles and doing all that brings us together than divide us. We shall forever be grateful for the good governance that has ensured that we all benefited from the mineral wealth we found. Other countries are to this day still reeling from the shocks and effects of the mineral curse where the vast resources at their disposal have created conflict due to the selfishness of the leaders. Mineral policies of these countries have not favoured the whole nation but greedy individuals or multinationals. Our visionary leadership offered the best solution (Mineral Policy) to a discovery that was least expected at independence and have as a result turned Botswana into a case study for the rest of the world on resource mining and management. And as such Botswana’s economic growth has been unmatched on the continent. We hope that the new leadership that will take the country forward will always look back to how the predecessors managed the country and resolved issues to work on advancing the economy.
Problems of the past of course have gone; there new ones. The population is now more educated than it used to be. There are more unemployed educated people than has ever been the case. Hence the new leadership has to grapple job creation. The economy, however, is no more as vibrant as it used to be. The mineral (diamonds) wealth that we enjoyed is now getting depleted, and hence we cannot rely on income generation from mining anymore. The economy has for years failed to diversify; with over-reliance on mineral wealth having created unsustainable comfort for far too long, there is urgent need for reforms. Complacency must be ditched for drastic and accelerated action to move the economy forward through other sectors. The comforts of the past are gone. New leadership should bite the bullet and do things differently. If that cannot be done then our future will be bleak. The urgency at which new jobs have to be created on the back of declining revenues from minerals and the regional trading block – Southern African Customs Union (SACU) – can only be achieved through taking brave decisions. The unfortunate situation is that the majority of Botswana’s population is youth who also form the majority of the unemployed. While this group should be standing up as a demographic dividend to us unless something drastic is done it will represent demographic time-bomb. Botswana’s retiring Governor of the Central Bank, Linah Mohohlo has recently warned about this, urging the country to do things differently to turn this group into a dividend than a time-bomb. This remains one of the biggest challenges the country faces as it celebrates the golden jubilee.
The need to diversify the economy is another challenge. And it goes without saying that if there is any success in diversifying the economy by developing other economic sectors then employment could be generated. We urge the leadership to invest heavily in seeking solutions to the current challenges. The challenge does not fall on leadership alone. All of us as Batswana must roll up our sleeves and work even harder for the country. We need to be more creative and daring in our approach to economic vocations. We need to look at the market globally and not limit ourselves to Botswana alone. We need to rightfully take our place in the world and not only look inside the country for solutions. We should not continue to allow a situation where jobs in international bodies that are reserved for Botswana and its nationals drift into foreigners’ hands because we are afraid to work abroad. The comforts of the past are gone and we have to face to the challenges of being globally competitive as an economy and individuals. With that we can afford to believe that in the next 50 years we will grow even faster and better than we did in the past.