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Monday, March 29, 2010

Botswana: A Success Story of Practical Abstract

By Mwarang'ethe

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.

After Independence

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?


Anonymous said...

Poor Mwarang'ethe,
You have squared played into the anon's hands. And you know what, you have not disappointed. Your verbosity makes you such a poor communicator.

Please revise some basics on summary and sticking to one point. It will help your delivery a great deal. Otherwise you are doing your great ideas huge injustice. It is not lofty ideas that sell but delivering them in an engaging and not condenscending form.

Your obssession with the twin themes of land and money is good but your delivery so poor you loose everybody including yourself.

Your brilliant ideas are lost to the wind in the absence of EFFECTIVE COMMINICATION. A blog is no refereed journal please and stop serial references to newpapers and dead people. Instead INTERNALIZE them and engage readers. Will you please before you send all readers to beed at midday?

Anonymous said...

You are right on the point that the colonials did not neuter traditional practices in Botswana but the crux of the matter is, that in kenya the brits destroyed the traditional leadership structures while creating a new elite political class drawn from the "athomi" class these were people who had acquired some basic literacy skills and mainly consisted of societal rejects and misfits. People who would never have attained leadership under traditional rules. The results speak for themselves.

Botswana had genuine leaders,(not political/ colonial appointees and their progeny) people who had risen through merit and had the interests of their community at heart, that's why they did not stash the diamond proceeds in swiss accounts, or squander the nations wealth on ostentatious lifestyles. they chose to invest in botswana.

Some societies like the Gikuyu had private land that was bought, sold and inherited following traditional customs

PS:I do not use the term tribe, I find it extremely derogatory and the fact that it is also used to describe a group of monkeys get my drift.

Anonymous said...

anon at 10:32,

did you have to spoil this well written, well-thought out piece with your stupid comments. If the kitchen's too hot wait outside, or better still go to mashadaa or wait for your 'choir members' to return for your usual tribal mchongoano.
Let the intellectuals and those that have the capacity to understand and engage in useful discussions tackle this one.
Did i just waste my two minutes...time that i should have spent writing something about the topic at hand.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we must invest our efforts in improving infrastructure and creating an environment in which business can thrive.

Anyway, some reading I have found interesting of late:

a)Vijay Mahajan: Africa Rising.

b) Dambisa Moyo: Dead Aid.

c)Pinkovskiy and Sala-i- Martin: African Poverty is Falling...Much Faster than You Think!

Anonymous said...

However good the new Kenyan constituition will be many Kenyans will still be left behind.

Look at the education system. This is a system which favours the rich only. If you get an A in KCSE, you will not manage to study your dream profession of Medicine. The daughter of a permanen secretary with a B- will be enrolled in the faculty of Medicine.

Look at the aims of all secondary school leavers. They all want to join University and no one wants to work manually or join middle level colleges which are slowly being phased out by the government.

Nobody wants a blue color job, every one wants to be a boss. What type of education system is that? Where are the jobs for all these graduates? The professors have tasted blood, they increase the duration of courses to cash more.

There must be fairness and justice in education. Polytechnics and middle level colleges must be expanded AND parallel degrees abolished.

Mwarang'ethe said...

From African Poverty is Falling...Much Faster than You Think!

We find that:

(1) African poverty is falling and is falling rapidly.

(2) If present trends continue, the
poverty Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people with incomes less
than one dollar a day will be achieved on time.


Now, as concerns number 1, we find on the WB's website this:

"In Sub-Saharan Africa, the $1.25 a day poverty rate has shown no sustained decline over the whole period since 1981, starting and ending at around 50 percent. In absolute terms, the number of poor people has nearly doubled, from 200 million in 1981 to 380 million in 2005. However, there have been signs of recent progress; the poverty rate fell from 58% in 1996 to 50% in 2005."


As concerns MDG, this is palliative economics, and the less said about it, the better.

Simply, this is colonial welfare, i.e. putting a whole continent on the dole.

If there is any person or group of persons who has ever grown wealthy by receiving the dole, then, Africa will also grow rich.

More importantly, MDG sees poverty as the problem whereas, it is only the symptom. Seen this way, MDG is a mockery to Africans.

Anonymous said...

OK GUYS FORGIVE ME BUT I have to mouth off about the bashing of Kenya and Ethiopia following our victory in the World Cross Country Championships.

Once again, people here are awash with "let's abolish the event because only Africans are winning."

So what? ARE WE GOING TO ABOLISH THE WINTER OLYMPICS TOO? I didn't see any African country getting a medal there...

Anonymous said...

Anon here again for you. Please note that we are not in the present HOLE of hopelessness and underdevelopment becoz of lack of great ideas. FYI many whilte papers have yellowed on govt shelves. While you copy-paste makes great read, more brilliant ideas are suffocating the shelves.

You sample your on vomit when you deride POOR LEADRSHIP as a cause of our predicamnet while hailing Botswana's leaders. What an hypocrite claiming hire authetic moral grounds castigating the west while typing seated in one of their capitals/towns?

You better remember my analogy with PHI100 student.

indulge in

Anonymous said...

Another great article, keep writing, I know I would not be able to put it as eloquently as you have...
The person who said that the truth is a bitter pill to swallow was right, comments from some individuals are very indicative of the problem of the bitter pill.

Your comments on the MDG (ala the stuff that Jeff Sachs preaches) are spot on, no one on the dole ever got out of poverty...there is plenty of evidence that proves this fact

Ken Thumbi...

Anonymous said...

Mwarang'ethe, your post is great food for thought and it got my undivided attention due to the fact that you did raise some of the very issues that have contributed to Bostwana's success story.

Land as an uncontested asset in Bostwana has been instrumental in creation and sustenance of a very stable political and economic environment in the country. While Kenyans and Zimbabweans have been left deeply cursed with all issues related to contested land.

Batswana were very lucky to have great visionary leaders such Seretse Khama, Quett Masire, Festus Mogae and Ian Khama, and the existence of a very independent judiciary continues to provide strong protection to all citizens of Bostwana.

Unlike Wakenya who were left cursed with selfish and myopic leaders like Kenyatta, Moi, Kibaki, Raila and a very weak and corrupt judiciary that only protects the wealthy, corrupt, the powerful and "connected outsiders" instead of extending the same to the ordinary citizens of Kenya.

There are no bloated cabinet ministerial positions (revenue bottomless pits) in Bostwana and the government has managed to maintain sound fiscal policy and an advanced competitive banking system.

Hence, it does not come as surprise as to why Bostwan's economic growth rate has outpaced the economic growth of even the Asian Tigers.

I hate to be the first to admit it on Kukekucha that Tanzania seems to be on the road to economic recovery. They have already taken the necessary baby steps by following Bostwana's economic and political example. Tanzania will outpace it's East African neighbours in ten to twenty years time. Rwanda is another emerging nation to learn from.

Where did we (Kenyans), Ugandans, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Sudanese and Somali go wrong? What a shame. and what a waste of nations, resouces and African people.

Mwarang'ethe said...

Anonymous said...
Anon here again for you. Please note that we are not in the present HOLE of hopelessness and underdevelopment becoz of lack of great ideas.


Ideas built on rotten foundations cannot take any nation anywhere.

Secondly, you are obsessed with persnalisation of universal problems. Thus, all you are looking for is people to blame for our failures. Thats very easy to do and is what we are very good at doing.

The way we see it, it is not that our leaders are bad by nature, it is that, many of them are ignorant of the major issues. And, thats why we noted that, the idea of freedom entails reasoning citizens offering alternative policy choices to their leaders.

Flowing from the above observation, we know that, there are young Kenyans who read this blog, and who may be genuinely interested in reforming the way we do things. It is these young Kenyans we are addressing.

In this sense, you need to be part of the solution by either,

(a) offering alternative ideas to those who are in public office, or those who may be seeking public offices, and the public in large so that, they can demand these changes from those in public offices, or

(b) you seek a public office and put the reforms you would want to put.

Instead of doing any of the above, and therefore, be a history maker, you sit there and indulge in whining as ignorant men make history in a way that messes you up.

Msema Kweli said...

Anon 10:32 AM,

Mwarang'ethe has spoken the absolute truth.

This Truth that Mwarang'ethe speaks seem to be HURTING you intensely.

Pole sana. Sometimes, to fraudulent people like you, the truth is something to be abhored, hated and avoided. It is people who think like you who have messed up this country of ours called Kenya - a very rich country with so much potential.

Mwarang'ethe, I like your posts. They are very informative and eye opening. As for the haters, such as anon 10:32 AM, do not worry about them. They are pieces of S**T

Anonymous said...

Mwarangethe once again you are spot on brother. You seem to be very well informed and cite very practical examples. Now what can be the result of Kenya mixing the land policy of Botswana and that of HongKong? I think we can be the envy of everyone. But we need militant leaders if such ideas are to see the light of day. As you said industrialization is an art of war.

Anonymous said...

Poor Kenyans,
Endeleeni kujidangaya with textbook ideas packaged as intellect. And you all fall for the cheap shot like flies to milk. OLE WENU.

It is not the grand-soounding ideas that make you great but the ideals you stand and made of. Most of you are living beautifyl lies, endeleeni tu kuota.

Mwarang'ether you are a maetro for a conductor to the gullible choire. SECURITY IN NUMBERS, LOL.

Anonymous said...

%5 of the population in bostwana is roman catholic. which translates into lesser numbers of status quo clergy, tourist missionaries, religious misfits, social workers, wasteful aid industry, and undercover agents in the host nation.

if you check the map of the african and asian continents, one thorny issues stands out is that all the areas under the influence of the roman catholic church are overly underdeveloped because religion ended up becoming the opium of the people rather than a much needed vehicle for liberation, progress, empowerment, economic development, political maturity and patriotism.

the roman catholic church has always concentrated all of its century old religious efforts on preaching about the "hereafter" or the "eternal rewards" instead of the earthly reality as in the 'here and now.'

a vibrant economy like that of bostwana discourages a begging mentality, a pyschological disease, that was set in perpetual motions by roman catholic missionaries wherever they lived and worked among the natives.

personal observation.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:48 PM

Let's remember to pray for our benefactors this coming Easter Sunday.

Anonymous said...

What is the difference between comparing Kenya with Saudi Arabia and comparing Kenya with Botswana? Personally I find it difficult to take Botswana seriously. Kenya has few-to-none Botswanans holding positions equivalent to those held by Kenyans in Botswana. The author may be confusing harmony arising from basic and secondary human needs having been met from mineral windfall with the Kenya situation where there is no comparable largesse to distribute and poverty driven desperation is a real issue for majority of Kenyans which may be manifesting as land contest.

DM-Nairobi said...

Mwarang'ethe,thats a brilliant piece.
But as someone observed, brilliant ideas have been rotting on GK shelves since Independence. Implementation is the curse of Kenya.

The solution to this conundrum is simple and yet difficult at the same time. Its all about re-engineering our basic individual and national VALUES ladies and gentlemen.

Mzee Kenyatta could easily have bequeathed Kenyans the positive values of honesty, dedication to service, excellence and sacrifice, way back in the 60s. And Kenya could have been another Botswana, Malaysia or Singapore, with or without minerals.

Tragically, he gave us dishonesty, theft, shortcuts, selfishness and other disgusting vices that climaxed in the 2007 election mess.

Short of a REVOLUTION, I honestly do not see a leader EVER emerging democratically to impose positive values in Kenya. Sadly, it may well take a vicious Rwanda scenario for such a Leader to arise and change our country for the better.

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