First it was the Political Scientist, Professor Kenneth Good who was kicked out of the country. Now renowned Senior Research Fellow at Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA), Prof. Roman Grynberg is leaving the country to join the University of Namibia because there is no hope of a job at the University of Botswana!
BG:Who is Professor Roman Grynberg?
Prof: I am a development economist who specialises in international trade and commodities. I have spent all of my life working in developing countries in Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa. I am always devoted to working with developing countries whether it was during the struggle days in Tanzania in the 1970’s and early 1980’s or in Fiji in the 1990’s, even when I worked for the Commonwealth Secretariat from 2000 it was always on developing country issues.
BG: How did you land in Botswana?
Prof: I always wanted to come here because of the country’s reputation. I wanted to see what Sir Seretse Khama had built. Much of what he built in the 1970’s was truly exceptional like the advertising. To say the least not all of his great legacy has survived.
BG: When did you first join BIDPA and where had you served before joining BIDPA?
Prof: I came to BIDPA in 2009. Before that I was director of Economic Governance at the Pacific Islands Forum, the equivalent of SADC. The difference between SADC and the Forum is that the latter includes two developed regional powers – Australia and New Zealand. I annoyed them because I committed the cardinal sin in international diplomacy. I took sides in favour of the small island states and was not neutral. It is something I am proud of because if an elephant and a fly are fighting and you are neutral that means you are on the side of the elephant. Before that I served six years in London at the Commonwealth as director of Trade- it was the same. They wanted me to be neutral. My absolute refusal to be neutral between rich and poor and weak and strong has gotten me into trouble before. I was never going to be a good diplomat if it meant sitting there in London or Geneva and saying nothing while rich and powerful countries trod on the interests of small developing countries.
BG: How do you describe yourself?
Prof: I have always considered myself a person who supports the weak and the poor. I helped landowners in Papua New Guinea negotiate with mining companies and I was a trade negotiator for developing countries for many years in Fiji. I also consider myself a person who has sought the truth though you never really get there. In life you are lucky if you ever get close to a few truths. I think the realisation that you never really understand, never really know helps make you a bit less arrogant. But when you speak the truth or even something approximating the truth to those in power it lands you in all sorts of bother.
BG: How many studies/papers have you produced at BIDPA and from those papers, have your recommendations been applied or adopted at some point by the relevant authorities?
Prof: I have lost count. I have written maybe 20 reports in five years. I have lost count. Policy makers almost never commission reports because they want to change things. It’s almost always the opposite. They commission a report or a policy document when they want to pretend they are doing something. I think policy change in Botswana is no different from most countries. Things don’t change because I write a report and then afterwards an official or policy maker realises ‘why didn’t I see that- why was I so silly?’ That is not how it happens. Most policy makers think they have got it right and until the facts stare them in the face and repeated time and again do they change. It does not make the studies useless they are part of a process of change. I know that some of the things I have written have had profound effects on policy but not in the way I expected.
BG: You are known to be a very outspoken person, you say things the way they are. I have seen you in a number of gatherings/workshops. Some even feel your words are of someone wanting to scare off people. What can you say about such statements?
Prof: Most people live in fear of not being able to pay their mortgage or ‘being eaten by lions’. At the age of 61 I certainly will not die young and I will not live on my knees. Where I work I see many people unwilling to stand up to tyranny because they live in fear. I am terribly conscious of my own mortality and so I prefer to speak plainly and simply because it is important that people get the point. Lord Marshal, a very famous economist of the early 20th century once said that ‘time is ultimately the only scarce commodity’. Speaking directly and plainly is not common in a world where people live in fear and hence it scares people but that is their problem … and often they make it mine.
BG: About your relocation to Namibia, is your contract coming to an end or you just decided to relocate? Tell us more about it, and tell us what inspired your relocation?
Prof: There are push and pull factors. I am leaving not because my contract has come to an end. I could stay for another one and a half years. In fact I have married a very beautiful Motswana lady from Maun just this week so my connections to the country are very strong. I just do not want to stay where I am a minute more than I must. The pull factor is that I am taking up a Professorship at UNAM. It will be my last job. I am not that clever but I have 35 years experience as an economist and I have seen and done things that most economists cannot imagine. It is said in Swahili that when an old man dies a library burns down. I am obliged to pass the library on to the next generation. I would have stayed in Botswana but there is no hope of a job at UB.
BG: How has it been to work under BIDPA? What can you say about the organisation, would you say it is an independent research institution? Support your answer.
Prof: I will say more about this before I leave in April.
BG: What can you say about Botswana’s economy, the policies and legislations? Do you think it’s a shining example of democracy as we see it labelled by international rankings?
Prof: There is much good in this country though I fear much of the legacy of Sir Seretse Khama is no more. As for policy, I get asked all the time to be involved in one policy document or another. We write first class policies but our record of implementation is not great. People come to Botswana to copy our first class policy documents- few come to see how we have implemented those policies. Two weeks ago Transparency International issued its annual Corruption Perception Index for 2014 and once again Botswana was ranked as the least corrupt country in Africa. From what I have seen and experienced in African countries from the Cape to the Congo and beyond this is probably, on the balance of the evidence, probably correct. But the danger is that we get lulled into a sleep and think we have no corruption problems. That is a terrible mistake.
BG:With the SACU Revenue Sharing Formula, what do you think will happen. Will it be a situation of winner takes all in favour of SA?
Prof: I do not think there will be a major change in the revenue sharing formula. There will be minor tinkering. In terms of the fundamental economic relationship where SA subsidises us to buy their goods i.e. pay us our share based on the share of imports this will not change. It does benefit South Africa but essentially we are paid to keep their children employed and not ours.
BG: EPA, what do you think is delaying finalisation on EPA agreements? In terms of Rules of Origin; do you think it is fair to countries such as Botswana, Namibia?
Prof: They are designed to benefit the EU and they will benefit them. It can benefit Botswana if we have something to export but we don’t have much. We have even less beef to export each year. The biggest beneficiary in the region from the EPA is SA which gets big increases in market access for wines, sugar and ethanol.
BG: Do you think SACU has done enough on intergrating the region over the past 10 years?
Prof: It is not SACU but the revenue sharing formula that is the biggest single impediment to further regional integration. For example Mozambique cannot join the customs union because it imports so much from SA and so the revenues to the 4 Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS) would fall if they join. Because of the revenue sharing formula SACU cannot widen to include more members and the SADC free trade area cannot deepen to become a customs union.
BG: Any advice for Botswana and Batswana, your last words?
Prof: I am not leaving quite yet and will have final words at an appropriate time.