In the mid-1990s the British Labour Party went to conference. A conference slogan ‘New Labour, New Britain’ was hatched for the conference. Post conference this slogan became a pillar of the Labour party Manifesto in 1996 expressed as “New Labour, New Life for Britain”. In 1997 the Labour Party won the general election, for the first time in quite a while. Tony Blair with the support of Gordon Brown gave life to the thinking of Anthony Crosland on reforming the Labour party, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell gave flair and branding to the project. A new Labour Party gave birth to a New Britain. Firmly placed Britain in the new world. But what has this to do with President Masisi and Botswana? Well, everything.
Ok, granted. We do not know who the Anthony Crosland and Gordon Brown of the ‘new’ BDP are. But what is clear is that the Democratic Party needs to reform. The party has a record yes. But that record while great, is no longer much currency. A great deal of those that are nostalgic enough of the exploits of the grand old party of Botswana politics and its golden sons among them Sir Seretse, Sir Ketumile and the latter generations of President Mogae, the indefatigable Daniel Kwelagobe, Former VP Kedikilwe have succumbed to time and nature.
These are our heroes but the new generation of Batswana demand more, and better. And they were born and raised in an environment that says they have a rich country. What they then do not understand is why they are unemployed. They do not get why even when employed they still have to live pay check to pay check. Even more, they do not understand why it is that foreigners and naturalized citizens- especially- in this country are wealthier. In all fairness, some foreigners are more innovative and work harders.
Still, younger Batswana ask why it is that the wealthiest of this country are of Asian descent and or expatriates. They no longer buy the version that says success for these comes from hard work alone. They have seen their parents work hard- and seen them retire into poverty. And they have a reason to not buy into that washed out old reasoning.
Reality is that for the many who became quite wealthy here, with a few exceptions, wealth has come from a collision of opportunity, insider trading born out of having the right connections and a steady supply of business from government. And such steady supply does not come merely out of one being an excellent supplier of say vehicles, an amazing contractor of roads and builder of real estate merely- it has come out of the grand beauty of ‘who you know’ and how willing you are to grant favors to those you know.
Naturally, this has meant exclusion of the majority. And it is this exclusion that has younger generations of Batswana seething with anger at the system. And what infuriates younger generations even more is that these select few that have become multi-millionaires and billionaires from rent seeking from the state are not investing their billions into innovative things that actually create new money. They are not investing their wealth in manufacturing goods here in the country.
What then is the solution? Well, the UDC has thrown figures. They will throw money in. Their manifesto is by far the easiest to comprehend, and has the nicest sound bites. It is a good piece for distributive economics, but it will ensure we grow nothing. The easiest thing you can do is to tell everyone how you’ll share the cake. Nice and easy. The difficult part is making the cake- which really is the point. And this is where I have found President Masisi by far more impressive, deserving of five years at the helm.
He has noticed that we need to move away from the old economics of merely mining resources. And he now speaks to a new economy. A new economy that is inclusive. And by inclusive has not been afraid to make it clear that we have different kinds of Batswana. We have Batswana ba sekei, and these are mostly indigenous Batswana- the black ones with kinky hair like you and I. This is not racism. It is a descriptor that any honest observer knows is real.
How do we emancipate them? One way is to promise a 100 000 jobs in 12 months. But you cannot create 100 000 jobs in 12 months in this economy while at the same time you are raising the minimum wage to more than double what it already is- firms will simply have to reduce numbers or freeze new positions in order to afford the minimum wage. I do not speak of badisa and ‘maids’ as people usually argue. I speak of firms that employ significant numbers of people and also small micro and medium enterprises. What they naturally will do then, if not to freeze employment and cut back on staff is to hike prices.
When they cannot afford to pay the costs of production, firms will increase prices/pass on the costs of production to the consumer. Let me simplify this: a worker at a farm that produces tomatoes will now be paid a minimum P3000 monthly, a worker at Choppies will be paid P3000 monthly let’s say. These two companies will not cut that money from their profits merely. They will increase the price of tomatoes, the grocery store will also increase the price of tomatoes- it will not take the hit. The prices of products and services will increase.
You will increase the minimum wage to P3000 and the prices of food stuffs in the shops will also increase. The worker and the consumer will remain with a higher paycheck but is only able to afford the same basket of grocery as before. The price of everything will inflate. I would therefore vote UDC if they spoke more of adjusting inflation and introducing price controls in the market if they really are concerned about the high cost of living. Otherwise, the student now with P2500 will have better figures but in real terms no more. What is the point? The same goes for the pensioner. You get P1500 but now a bag of rice has doubled up in price.
This is why we cannot afford to ditch Masisi at this stage. And I speak only to the economics. The crusade against corruption, good governance and such others we will address another day. Masisi speaks to expanding the economy. He speaks to ensuring that we grow the cake, then share it fairly.
His expansion of the economy also speaks to moving away from merely mining. He speaks of the fourth industrial revolution and a knowledge based economy. Some people say but is it not too early to speak of a knowledge based economy and being part of the fourth industrial revolution? That cannot be correct. We need to start now- if we do not immense ourselves into the new economy today we will be in trouble. All indications are that in the next two decades diamond sales will be severely depressed as the world warms up to synthetic alternatives- which are chemically and physically not different from natural diamonds. We must transform to survive.
We must adapt now while we still have a bit of money to invest in knowledge and in our people. Let us invest in the internet- get physical infrastructure to every little corner of our country, get more of our people creating content and benefiting from new advances in technology. Let an old woman at Nata who uses palm leaves to weave baskets weave these baskets and be able to enlist and sell them online and receive her pay from her home. Let us have our kids learn to code, learn all sorts of programming language and also learn to make money off the internet.
Let our artists plug into the new world and make money beyond our borders without ever setting foot in some of these countries. Let farmers in Mosetse be able to sell their grain and beef in China without setting foot there. No disrespect to being a police officer, a nurse or a teacher, but I want my children to be able to aspire to new careers that are part of the knowledge economy. I do not want them to give the standard ‘I want to be a policeman, a teacher or a nurse’ whenever asked what they wanna be when they grow up. And this is possible with the thinking Masisi has. He speaks to transforming the education system to support this new knowledge based economy.
Not only does he do so, he dreams and sets visions that may seem unattainable. He has set a goal to build an electric car in Botswana. Some have laughed. But the same forget we have copper, endless hours of sun and that technology is now ubiquitous and you need not have done it before. I mean, if people went to the moon in the 1960s, why can we not build an electric car in the year 2020? There is only one reason, and that reason is a lack of a vision that wants to get it done. A lack of a dreamer that makes us all dream and aspire for more. We now have that leader. A dreamer and we should catch on to their coat tails and not let go.
A loss for Masisi will be a loss for our dreams, and the dreams of our children. We would have lost an opportunity for a giant leap into the new world, into the new age. It would be equal to the British Labour Party not having given Tony Blair a chance to birth a new party, new country after many years in the doldrums; it would be equal to the Americans having lost the opportunity to go to the moon; a loss equal to 1994 not having happened for South Africa; and in many ways it will be a loss as huge as the internet not having been created, or Mark Zuckerberg not having created Facebook.
This is our opportunity to leap into the new age, to build a country and an economy for the future. One in which we do not cry for P3000 living wages but in which we demand even more because we are able to afford it all. This country cannot afford to ditch President Masisi at this point in time. Please keep this in mind when you got to the polls on the 23rd of October 2019.