I am very pleased, and indeed honoured, to have been invited to speak at this year’s Diamond Conference Banquet, which is held under the theme: ‘Celebrating Botswana’s 50 years of Success and 50 years Forward’. This theme could not be more appropriate as it resonates well with this Banquet, which coincides with the year of Botswana’s Golden Jubilee. On the 30th of September this year, Botswana witnessed colourful festivities throughout the country marking 50 years of peace, unity, stable democracy, economic growth and prosperity. In 1966, when we gained Independence from Britain, Botswana was classified as one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. In fact, some skeptics like Charles King of the Southern News Services in Canada, branded us a country whose population is literally being kept alive by emergency feeding and an economic misery, destined to be an international charity case. Of course, then we had no source of revenue to run our government. We only had a population of 500,000 people; a national airline with one (1) aeroplane, which Charles King branded as rickety; a national radio service that broadcasted for two hours a day. Botswana had a few graduates from the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (BOLESWA) and others like Fort Hare University; a few tribal secondary schools; missionary health facilities and about 8 kilometers of tarred road.
Following the discovery of minerals, particularly diamonds, coupled with prudence in their management, we began to experience an increase in Government revenue. We can never forget the vital support and benevolence extended to us by the international community. Today, Botswana has registered an impressive economic growth and development, which has led the country being classified as an Upper Middle - Income economy. Over many years, the economy registered an average annual growth rate of 8%. However, our economy is not immune to the economic slowdown experienced by the world economy. What is encouraging though is that in spite of the global economic challenges, Botswana continues to be one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. For the third year in a row, Botswana has been ranked the most prosperous country in Africa by the Africa Prosperity Report, thanks to the judicious and visionary leadership of this country. Worth noting is the fact that the Government of Botswana pursues a people-centered development approach. In this regard, I am pleased to note that we have to-date built three (3) public universities, which offer courses from a certificate to a PhD, and six (6) Colleges of Education. We have thirty- three (33) senior secondary schools; 207 junior secondary schools and many primary schools around the country. Botswana also boasts of excellent health facilities and continues to improve the provision of quality health services.
As I said earlier, diamond revenues are the main drivers of the high economic growth that we continue to experience. I therefore want to take this opportunity to appreciate your contribution as the diamond industry. Our diamonds are not stained because of your hardwork, discipline, diligence, professionalism and selflessness. As the Minister responsible for Youth Empowerment, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge my government’s efforts to empower our youth in the last 50 years, and how we can fully empower and develop the youth in the next 50 years. I believe this banquet, offers a good opportunity for me to encourage you to consider working with youth businesses in the mining sector. Lack of youth involvement in the mining sector is robbing us of future strategies and youth innovation that can further grow the diamond industry. My Government has taken affirmative action to empower the youth. Just recently, a 29-year-old youth was sworn in as a Specially Elected Member of Parliament, adding to the many youth in political offices as councillors. There are also many successful youth entrepreneurs who are Chief Executives or Managing Directors of their own companies, thanks to my Ministry’s Youth Development Fund. Stories of how these youth started their businesses are intriguing and sobering.
Over and above funding youth ventures, the youth are enjoying a number of exemptions ranging from PPADB certificates registrations to purchasing tender documents and quotas in Government tenders. They have been allowed to use open spaces around the city to actualize their ideas. We also have youth empowerment and development programmes in place, some of which will be unveiled early next year when we launch our new Ministry. Government alone cannot fully empower and develop the youth. We should collectively work together to mentor them into successful entrepreneurs. That is why I am urging you to consider affirmative action for youth businesses. In addition to affirmative action, consider investing in youth innovation and enterprises. Your performance as the mining industry will only be sustainably maximized when you invest in supporting young people. They have the potential to support your future industrial needs, and they are a potential solution to this country’s high unemployment rate. As I conclude my remarks, allow me to reiterate the benefits of your partnership with my Ministry on youth empowerment and development. These benefits are anchored on a long-term relationship, whose focal point is common interest and shared goal. Working together will enable us to produce desired results amongst the youth. In the future, we will all look back with smile at the remarkable partnership that produced young millionaires. Address by the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development Thapelo Olopeng at the Diamond Red Carpet Banquet Boipuso Hall on November 9, 2016