In this column, I deal with issues of transformational governance that I consider to be exemplary and worth modelling in the country and indeed in the African continent. The scope is a broad one with the issues ranging from law, human rights, organisational management, economics and business leadership. Although there is a tendency by columnists to digress and address issues that are tangential to their scope, I hope to remain on course.
From my many international trips my belief that learning is a continuous life-long process has been reinforced. Learning is not only in the classroom but seeing and hearing things outside, even in a relaxed, casual environment. The Japanese speak of kaizen, which encapsulates the spirit of continuous improvement, a concept well ventilated in the Art of Japanese Management by Prof. Richard Tanner Pascale (1981). Interestingly, Botswana can learn a lot from the Eastern countries. Unfortunately, for a long time we have been unidirectional, looking only at the West for best-practice benchmark. This explains why it is only now that we are seeing value in the donkey as an economic asset. For a long time we have encumbered ourselves with pedantic European standards of meat preparation and our beef exports have been a struggle to this day. I believe the Chinese would not be so fastidious. However I am not suggesting that standards must be relaxed. Food hygiene is a life and death matter that must not be compromised.
This week I start with some thoughts from my recent trip to South Korea, which I regard as my best academic trip; five days of plenary and 4 days of intensive training and sight visits. I will spend a few more weeks focusing in detail on some lessons from this journey that took me up to Panmunjom, the border village at the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea. I learned a lot about how the Korea manage their affairs, which explains why it took them just 30 years to transform rapidly into a global economic powerhouse. Occupied by Japan between 1910 and 1945 and then involved in war with the North (which used to be a part of the one country of Korea, incorporating both countries) between 1950 and 1953 the country has had a painful history of suffering and untold human atrocities. Despite this it has risen to be a world economic giant and home to an array of mega tech companies such as LG, Samsung, Kia and Hyundai. In fact driving around Seoul (the capital) and I believe elsewhere in the country, you can see that the nation is proud of its products with Hyundai vehicles from sedans to small trucks to buses dominating the road lanes. Kia also has a huge presence.
From a GDP per capita of $944.30 in 1960 the country stood at $25 458 in 2016. For the nation of over 51 million people, poverty is very low with the Gini coefficient of 0.3 in 2016. On the other hand with just a population of about 2 million people, Botswana’s GDP per capita was $6788.04 in 2016 and the Gini coefficient was about 0.6 in 2015, making it the third most unequal country in the world. Paradoxically South Korea does not have the natural resources that Botswana enjoys but has substituted wisdom and exceptional leadership for these. On the other hand Botswana for many years has been a hostage to fortune, with the diamond wealth dazzling our vision and paralyzing the leaders ‘ability to think beyond minerals. This explains why the closure of the BCL mine in Phikwe is like a satanic miracle that was never expected. We boast of many graduates of management but scenario planning seems to be a term absent in our vocabulary of the subject. On the other hand, we still have the destructive DeBeers slogan of ‘a diamond is a forever’.
In Korea, they don’t stress about tourism of the big five. Just like in the UK, France, China, France, Japan and many other nations cultural tourism is prevalent. Their huge palaces, monasteries and temples draw in thousands of tourists, both from within and abroad. Even their Constitutional Court is a major site of tourist interest, just like the DMZ were daily tours are organised from Seoul by different companies. Despite this tense atmosphere of war, which you really feel when you listen to soldiers at the DMZ, these wonderful people have not allowed fear to rule their lives. Interestingly, they are always prepared for any eventuality and at the same time they are prepared for reunification at any time. They love their relatives next door but do not want reunification by force. On the other hand the North is equally eager on reunification but through the barrel of a gun. So determined are they that they have been secretly digging several underground tunnels into the South and almost ambushed it. To show their alacrity to reunite, the South has built a railway line into the north at Dorasan (which I had the pleasure to visit) but the North Korean strip is unfinished because they would not cooperate. It is particularly painful for the South because they can’t travel through North Korea to Japan, Russia or China and the only viable way out is by sea or air. Most people fly at great expense. North Korea is the only country with a land border with the South. For over 50 years millions of relatives on each side of the divide have not seen each other. Millions have died without seeing each other, a tragic story that has its origin in the WW2 with Germany and USA portioning Korea between them.