In response to some of the ideas we have articulated on this blog, a certain anonymous ranted that, “While we appreciate your intellectual discourses, your abstract (NOT PRACTICAL) rants only succeeds in expanding your ego. ... What is a better robot than one possessed with quoting newspapers and dead men passing it along as knowledge?”
Having noted the above, we all know that, there are thousands of highly educated and qualified Kenyans who have worked and are still working in Botswana. We are told that, in this country, we find Kenyans manning very senior positions. But, has anyone dared tell Kenyans why this nation which has abundant diamonds, gold, nickel and copper has avoided the “resource curse” we see in Congo, Nigeria, Sudan and the tragedy and stagnation of Kenya, a nation with such immerse potential?
It is a well known that; Botswana which had income per capital of $100 at independence has performed very well when compared to other sub–Saharan neighbours. For instance, this land locked nation in 2006, had income per capital of $ 9, 945, Uganda had $ 1,478, and Zambia had $ 943 while Malawi had $ 646. When it came to top income tax rate, Botswana had 25%, Uganda had 30%, Zambia had 37.5% while Malawi had
Apart from these impressive economic figures, Botswana is also devoid of civil conflicts we see in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Congo, etc. More so, it is also ranked as one of the least corrupt nations in Africa, with high expenditure on schools and health. To understand this 'paradox,' the IMF posed the question, why did Botswana escape from resource curse which tend to bring both conflict and corruption?
Here is the reason. Since independence, Botswana has dedicated its resources rents (land values) to investment in public infrastructure under a fiscal discipline called the Sustainable Budget Index. In addition, the Botswana government channels these land rents into the Pula Fund which invests for long term interests of the nation. The question is why has Botswana leaders behaved so responsibly instead of
squandering this wealth in corruption and wealth as we see around Africa?
The answer is found in the history of Botswana. When British occupied this nation, it did not kill traditional practices or institutions such as land ownership. In this country, land was collectively owned but cattle were privately owned. This was exactly the position in Kenyan and all other African tribes. This is a clear and unmistakable distinction between common property and private property which we have
become ignorant of (such an idea is now abstract and impractical) because we now wear suits and ties and we can speak English.
When this nation gained its independence, it had only one abattoir, two secondary schools and few paved roads. Following independence, the founding fathers of Botswana enacted the Mines and Minerals Act (1967). This Act vested sub–soil mineral rights in the national government. Thereafter, diamonds, copper and nickel were discovered.
Using the rents from these minerals, the government built impressive infrastructure. But, why was this? Simply because, diamond rents were widely distributed this increased the opportunity cost of undermining the good institutional path. In other words, no group risked to expand its rent because that would have rocked the boat.
From this, we can see that, these developments were spurred by the traditional African practice of sharing land as a collective property right but not the cattle. How was this system organised before colonial times? All land was vested in the Chiefs of tribes who held them in trust for members of the tribe. Therefore, membership of a tribe ensured the individuals right of access to tribal land for USE.
These tribal customs on land ownership were preserved after independence via the Tribal Land Act of 1968. Under this Act, the leaseholder is subject to a rent on the land payable to the land board subject to review every five years. In this tribal land tenure, speculation in land (remember Thika road we mentioned a few days ago)
is avoided while ensuring no one is landless. In this scheme of things, LAND IS NOT A CONTESTED ASSET as we see today in Kenya. And, when land becomes a contested asset violence and genocide is a matter of time.
Therefore, we can see that, Botswana has avoided conflict, corruption because rents have been preserved for the community benefit. This was so because; the founding fathers of this nation had wisdom to preserve the customary rights of the everyone to share in the riches of nature. This has ensured that, the land rents are used in the public sector while burdening least capital investments by the private sector. In
other words, Botswana has preserved the natural right to the use of land which some now see as abstract in Kenya.
In Kenya, we may not have the diamonds of Botswana, but this is no problem at all. It is not a problem because, people’s energy and creativity creates even more land rent and it the infinite value we can tap very easily. Again, a look at what is happening at Thika road tells us how much rent Kenyans create, but, which is now monopolised.
Was it smooth sailing for Botswana?
This you can read in Joseph Stiglitz book Globalisation and its Discontents. Since Botswana lacked technology to mine these diamonds, they called the de Beers from South Africa. Quoting Stiglitz: “Shortly after independence, the cartel paid Botswana $ 20 million for a diamond concession in 1969, which reportedly returned $ 60 m in profit a year. In other words, the payback period was four months!”
It was then Botswana enlisted the help of a lawyer from the World Bank who argued very forcefully for renegotiation of this contract. As one would expect, to lose such rental flows was an insult to this cartel. They went all to the World Bank to stop this lawyer from helping Botswana. At the end of the day, the World Bank issued a letter denouncing this lawyer as not speaking for Wold Bank. Botswana’s response was this. This is precisely why we are listening to him.
Eventually, the matter was resolved when the second mine was discovered. Therein, we see how close Botswana was close to the destitution we see in Congo, Nigeria, and Sudan. It was the intervention of a just one brilliant and a publicly minded lawyer that saved Botswana from resources curse we see around Africa, but, at the cost being denied by his employer.
Thus, by securing rents from its land, this has made the difference between poverty and prosperity we see today in Botswana. Therefore, when you hear a Kenyan is working in Botswana, know that, he is running away from a nation full of practical men/women with practical ideas, to a nation of men/women who use abstract and impractical ideas to govern that little island of prosperity in the ocean of poverty.
Given the clear example of our neighbour Botswana, we appear abstract and impractical only to Cheerful Robots which want to enjoy the luxury of holding opinions without the discomfort of thinking. Since their reference is ignorance, these Cheerful Robots believe all that they do not know, understand and dare not ask or investigate further is abstract and impractical.
Kenyans have had a golden chance to implement these abstract and impractical ideas from Botswana in the ongoing “constitutional reforms,” but, since we are practical men/women, we have chosen to entrench plunder. Having done so, we now see every Kenyan is now fighting tool and nail to ensure he/she is the plunderer and not the
What a spectacle?