Former BOCCIM (now Business Botswana) President, Iqbal Ebrahim, has called for diversification of minds of stakeholders to achieve succesful economic diversification that can yield positive results and transform the local economy. Presenting a lecture on "The next Engines of Growth" on Thursday, the former Francistown Mayor said: “One of our major challenges is that we have developed a roundabout mentality”. According to Ebrahim the Botswana is fixated and stuck in a comfort zone without exploring alternatives to diversify the economy away from mining, particularly diamonds. He said although mining is set to continue sustaining the economy in the next few years, the country should review the manner in which that is done. “We have to ensure that management, board members and senior personnel are business minded,” he said, adding that focus should be placed on downstream products by ensuring more local beneficiation.
Ebrahim said an opportunity exists to turn Botswana into a transportation hub that could draw in massive revenue, because the volume of road traffic carrying goods from South African ports destined to countries north of Botswana is growing every day. He said other possible avenues for economic diversification include investigating the possibility of turning Botswana into the Dubai of Africa. “By this I mean we turn Botswana into a duty free zone.” Ebrahim said since Botswana is situated centrally in Southern Africa, the possibility of attracting many cross border shoppers even those beyond is high. Ebrahim said uncertainty of work and residence permits creates confusion in business, which has in some cases led to investors relocating elsewhere to follow their families who had been rejected in Botswana. Another problem with the immigration system is the difficulty for investors to employ foreigners to manage their businesses, he said, urging Botswana to open up to the world as some of the world's super powers have done to achieve economic success.
He, also decried that the trade act and the regulations governing business is a mine field for any entrepreneur and a haven for officials who love to bully and make life difficult for business to take root and thrive. "The major problem is that these laws and regulations are so clumsy that they can be and are intepreted to mean one thing in the morning and yet something different in the afternoon, and the interpretation from one council to another differs widely. A high number of rules, laws and regulations and harsh penalties coupled with discretionary powers to levy them, the greater the opportunity for corruption if there are no oversight mechnisms," he said. He said agriculture, which at pre-independence was the mainstay of the economy, has seen its contribution dwindle over the years and suggested that the sector be taken seriously.
He said there is a need to train local farmers in latest techniques of farming such as drip irrigation, tunnel and shade net farming, and all techniques that improve crop yields. There is also a need to expand the beef market from solely relying on the European Union (EU) for exports, said Ebrahim. He argued that although the EU market is lucrative, it has very strict standards and requirements, which leaves the country at the mercy of the market. The other suggestion that Ebrahim put forward is the introduction of savings bond/certificate for small investors. “This will be run by an independent body of business-minded people who will use the funds for investment. The post office for example could sell a certificate in denominations of say P100 to anyone who wishes to buy it,” said Ebrahim.