Pragmatism: The State and the economy

SHARE   |   Sunday, 22 March 2015   |   By Gobe Pitso
Segolame Boy Segolame Boy PIC: Ricardo Kanono

A couple of weeks ago, on His Excellency the President Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s birthday to be precise, it was quite encouraging, I assume may be a bit astounding for others, that the local newspapers as well as other media, actually had quite significant positive attributes for the President. The question that media always ask; “what is it  that His Excellency will bequeath to the nation” is simply answered in these write-ups; botho, benevolence, love and caring for the more vulnerable members of our society (elderly and orphans) as well as taking democracy directly to the people (citizenry) through regular kgotla meetings and walk abouts, patron to sports and the creative industry, among others.
At the risk of sounding a little ostentatious, a week before that, I had the opportunity to interact with an extensive number of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds, diplomats, international editors etc. It should be noted, however, that one owes these contacts to the nature of the job. During the same week, one of the weekend newspapers carried a commentary about Youth Employment, whilst at the same time the sports segment thereof, as well as almost all other local newspapers carried stories that commended Segolame Boy of Township Rollers Football Club following his exploits against the South African football giants, Kaizer Chiefs. Interestingly, the same newspapers also highlighted that Segolame Boy was discovered by Miscellaneous Football Club at a Constituency League team, an initiative they love to chastise and link to the President. 
The thing is, the aforestated widespread group, in general discussions commended Botswana for her sterling economic performance,  during and following the world economic downturn. Indicating that Botswana has been steadfast in fiscal discipline, perhaps as an issue of making seriously difficult and pragmatic choices. Something that they mentioned other African countries could borrow a leaf from.  
It was during these discussions that questions were raised on the history of the country’s economic performance and the constancy in relation thereto, even with the change in leadership. It was, however, also mentioned that perhaps the leader who had the short end of the stick in this regard is the one who had to steer the country during the  world economic recession, especially since we are dependent on a primary commodity consumed mainly by the developed economies, who actually had it worse during this time.
Whilst the issue was on the table, a comparative analysis emerged on the fact that most countries in the world, particularly the developed world, could not afford pay increases and actually opted to instead reduce the workforce or downsize, basically reducing the wage bill like the Bretton Woods institutions would put it. Botswana’s leaders on the other hand were labelled as bold in this regard, for they opted to weather the storm, stay the course with the same workforce when in fact advice from the aforementioned institutions was simple, as quoted by local newspapers then “cut the civil service and increase the pay.” Some of the questions asked then, were if indeed some of the local ILO affiliates were reading the same newspapers and comprehending the recommendations contained therein, for those advancing these arguments were saying in their countries, these institutions were bearing the brunt of the economic crunch.
The interesting thing though was that the issue of youth and employment came up on several occasions and the mention of a need for bold policies was always at the forefront. Emphasis was perhaps put on the arts (creative industry) and sports, their long term benefits through copyrighted works, as well as linkages to use of ICTs and just the multiplier effect in job creation if the linkages are harnessed well.
It is against this backdrop that one looked at the situation that obtains in Botswana and the President’s support to the creative industry and sports. Since ascending to the Presidency, there has been intensity in hosting of major art competitions and consequently exponential growth in the arts, evidenced by among other things the increase in the number of international invitations to some of our budding artists. There has also been an increase in cultural exchanges and by extension one hopes Cultural Diplomacy.
It is also worth noting that the name that everybody wants to associate with in local and international football, Segolame Boy, was being mentioned by almost all newspapers in past weeks, as having been discovered in the Constituency League, even though during these good discussions, mention thereof is often overlooked.
Interestingly again, doing a comparative analysis, this development is not unique to the time when His Excellency became Head of State, but could also be traced to the time when he was Commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), whereat he encouraged competitions in the arts as well as sports, and of course the results are well known.  In the long-run we had the likes of Franco, Dikakapa, Lister Baloseng, Gong Master, Jeff Matheatau, to mention but a few.
To be objective and putting political rhetoric aside, if you were to comprehensively look at the output of the initiatives of the incumbent Head of State and perhaps highlight what has been bequeathed to the younger generation and the nation at large, one would from the outset highlight the pragmatic approach,  and commitment to ensuring job creation through all possible avenues, especially for the youth, more so in the fields that have been aforementioned where Botswana has done well during his stewardship. 
I also wish to perhaps recall that in the lead up to the elections, one local columnist, in one of his creative write-ups, perhaps in a bid to advice others on how to tackle the BDP, acknowledged that His Excellency is charismatic and in borrowing from Sun Tsu’s book “The Art of War” suggested that the President was a very strong point in the BDP and therefore the opposition should instead identify other areas to attack and not his policies, particularly in the rural areas where he regularly meets directly with the people, who in fact identify with these policies.
I believe that this is just a synopsis motivated by interactions with a diverse group, but on the whole there are a lot of other issues that one would wish to visit such as the record harvest in the last year, as well as Botswana’s rankings, which are a benchmark or standard for us. These standards are used by all countries, including the likes of Singapore and Malaysia, as a basis or baseline so that a country could be able to measure its improvements, and I should hasten to say locally, sometimes it is surprising that there is a tendency to shun these, and at the same time quickly embrace them where there has been a decline. I think our value system teaches us not to be two faced or pursue double standards, but rather to be objective and fair in advancing the interests of this country, post a heated and convoluted political election process. It is in this regard that I wish to underscore that the very sentiments highlighted during the afore-stated period, in all those centre-spreads, are the exact answers you might wish to underline when you sometimes ask, rhetorically I guess, on what is it that will be bequeathed this Republic.

Gobe Pitso
Press Secretary to the President

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