One man's vision for Botswana-Victor Kgomoeswana-sums up what is lacking in efforts to put Botswana on a pedestal to navigate the trajectory to economic prosperity, social upliftment and harnessing the potential the remains untapped. In not so many words he affirms the long held believe that Botswana is "too good to ignore".
Published in 2014, *Victor Kgomoeswana’s book – ‘Africa is Open for Business’ remains relevant for any international investor who is in a hunt for a good investment option in the continent.
This 50-chapter 299 pages book published by Pan Macmillian South Africa encapsulates the author's insights and experience during his many travels across Africa and hence reviews with a level of authority the trading and investment climate in the countries and institutions he writes about.
Views on Botswana
On this chapter on Botswana after reviewing the high credentials the country boosts of, he had one big wish put up in a question – ‘What would I do if I were in charge of Botswana?’
This is what he proffers to do: “I would call my top academics, business leaders, representatives of civil society, investors, traditional leaders, unionists into one room and ask them what we could do to take advantage of Botswana’s positive image all over the world. I would share with them the Heritage Foundation’s 2013 Index of Economic Freedom to set the scene. I would use this to illustrate that Botswana scored 70.6 overall, above world average (59.6) and regional average (53.7). Pointing out that the country is thirtieth freest economy in the world, and second out of 46 Sub-Saharan countries, I would then ask them to give me a list of their top 20 foreign investors to target over the next five years. The emphasis would be on those investors who would enable the country to reduce its overdependence on diamonds, but also to assist it to make the most of the same precious mineral.”
He would go further, he said, to ask the team to name their top three areas of strategic focus for the country over the next decade to ensure Botswana remained a top investment destination in Africa. He would further make attractive offers to lure back Batswana who are working outside the country; and “reprioritise selective immigration to attract educated foreigners and give them preferential treatment to encourage them to invest in real estate. I would finally get the University of Botswana to build international partnerships to accelerate skills development in priority areas.”
That was a year ago and as he acknowledged, he would not be Botswana President. However what he provides is a mirror through which the country could look at itself based on the impression non-locals have of us and our country. Perhaps, in daring to assume and wish for country’s top office he pointed to his perceived leadership deficiency. He feels the country is not taking full advantage of its strength to grow even further, taking a swipe at the anti-immigrants stand the country has adopted.
In fact in the year in which he published his book a growing number of immigrants had been denied work and resident permits resulting with those who operated businesses closing to go back to their countries. Former President Festus Mogae could not resist the temptation to blast his successor’s tendency of closing in Botswana, when speaking at African Leadership forum panel Discussion in Tanzania. He accused President Ian Khama’s administration of expelling over 2000 expatriates.
Kgomoeswana insists that Botswana is too important to be ignored, hailing its international rankings, best mineral mining policy and the setting up of down-stream diamond processing operations. He acknowledges the surge of the Choppies brand in his review of the African retail market and concedes to his surprise that it has risen so fast. “Choppies is one name that I never thought I would get excited about in the retail sector … But the significance of a small player like Choppies taking on its bigger South African counterparts is that it proves one point about consumer goods. There is no restriction if one can provide quality goods, at a good price, in a combination that provides value to the customer,” he enthuses, writing at the time when Choppies had not listed at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) or opened more outlets in South Africa and Zimbabwe and entered the Kenyan market.
He regrets lack of unity in Africa which results with countries working against each other instead of with each other for common good. “Africa is not well understood abroad and ignorant investors make calls on the basis of one incident in one part of the city in any of the 54 African countries that negatively affects the entire continent,” he says, citing an example of China where one face handles the whole problem as only one country is involved. “Brand China or Brand India as a result become more recognizable and respected. For poor Africa, one rogue president or minister can taint the whole continent with an irresponsible statement.”
The writer goes further to review Africa’s leading economies, Africa’s innovations, air transport, lost opportunities due to war and acrimony, China’s interest in Africa – why they pursue a different strategy than other leading economies. Particular attention is given to Kenya because of its innovative spirit and competitiveness.
M-Peza came before myZaka
What we know in Botswana as myZaka – a money transfer solution – was first started in Kenya on the African continent in 2007 and dubbed M-Peza. It was introduced by Safaricom; the country’s leading mobile-phone Company, the book acknowledges. “M-Peza not only changed the way money was transferred, but the way I look at Kenya, as it personifies technological innovation and a pioneering spirit. M-Peza is the language of business in East Africa, as I found out at lunch one day,” he writes. According to him, nearly 20 million Kenyans were using the system by 2013. M-Peza went further to connect with the banks when Safaricom formed a pact with Equity Bank in 2010 to launch M-KESHO, which effectively tapped into the unbanked market. Equity Bank’s Head James Mwangi received top awards as a result of this major transformation being African Banker of the Year and 2012 Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of Year, among many others.
Kenya Airways & Ethiopian Airlines
The writer pays tribute to the achievements and the good work put in by the leading executives of these airlines. Launched in 1977, Kenya Airways (KQ) had become among the leading service providers of the continent by 2003. Its visibility, the writer recognizes, was tied to trade and investment with China and India, and hence the airline prioritized codeshare or direct flights to these markets. He commends the airline for its pioneering efforts. “It is its groundbreaking spirit that makes the airline the highlight of air travel in Africa and general business for me,” he says.
The writer is even more raving about the Ethiopian Airlines (ET), one of the only three Star Alliance airlines from Africa after South African Airways and Egyptair. ET was founded in 1946 as a joint venture with Trans World Airlines. Not only was he surprised that the ET became the first airline in the continent to order Boeing 787 Dreamliner, but its financial resilience in the midst of turbulences in the aviation industry left him in full admiration.
“For the 2011/2012 reporting period, the airline sailed through the effects of a sixteen-month fuel inflation stretch – with fuel price at $125 per barrel at one stage – and dropping revenues to hike operating revenue by 37% and available seat kilometres (ASK) by 22%. Passengers ferried and freight uplift grew by 24% and 20% respectively. This led to the Ethiopian Airlines being recognised by the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) for consistent profitability over the years…,” he writes. The airline, according to the writer, makes its revenue (at the time the book was written) from Europe and America (25%); Africa (32%); Middle East and Asia (37%) with internal routes in Ethiopia making only 6%.
Uncompromising in quality the ET employed Service Quality Institute of Minneapolis, USA to train its 2 000 front-line staff – a move that demonstrated its seriousness to be a global player not by default but by delivering a world class service. It posted an incredible 25% average growth for the seven years to 2013. The writer acknowledges with further praise the Ethiopian Aviation Academy’s graduation of 20 pilots and 22 aviation maintenance technicians in April 2012.
Drawing this parallel the writer demonstrates a picture of world class service by a business in Africa where many in the continent (airlines) live on a life-support of their governments, barely take off on schedule and are constantly malfunctioning.
*Victor Kgomoeswana is an independent consultant, well known as an African business expert with a profile on radio and television. He has previously worked as an advisor and representative of several listed and unlisted multinationals, guiding them in their expansion in the African continent.