The night is always darkest just before sunrise. Words that resound today, as the people of Botswana pay their last respects to Sir Ketumile Masire, the second president and one of the founding fathers of the republic of Botswana.
It could not be truer as we, in this article, reflect on the 18 years of public service by the late statesman and his contribution to the economic prosperity that we still relish in today.
The southern African development community, preceded by Southern African Development Co-ordinating Conference (SADCC) was a creation of the forefathers, leaders of the Frontline States was established on 1st April, 1980. The “community” was therefore formed before the presidency of Masire, but as vice president, he was part of the leadership that is responsible for the formation of what is now known by the acronym SADC.
According to the SADC website, the southern African region had a combined GDP of US$20 billion from 1980 to 1992. This grew from 1992 to 2012 to stand at a GDP of US$471 billion, a feat made possible by cooperation that induced the growth of the economies in the region.
Economic prosperity or growth is ordinarily measured by the growth in gross domestic product (GDP). According to Statistics Botswana, with data sourced from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) world economic outlook, the economy of Botswana during the 18 year rule under President Masire grew at an average of 4.5 percent. This was quite a remarkable feat as compared to neighbouring countries and regimes before and after Masire. South Africa, which had a GDP which was estimated to be 77 times larger than that of Botswana, had a GDP with an average growth rate of -7 percent. At this time, it was also estimated that 80 percent of all imports into Botswana were from South Africa. This is a commendable achievement and prudent fiscal management for the leadership under President Masire.
Under President Festus Mogae, the average growth rate of GDP was dampened to 3.8 percent whilst in the current regime, according to World Economic Outlook statistics, the growth rate of the economy as measured by GDP is at an average of 2.2 percent.
The government under Masire prioritised, just like the current government, employment creation and universal education. As noted by Grossman in 1972, education is the most important determinant of human capital. Therefore the goal of achieving universal primary education is also related to economic growth, health, gender equality and a whole host of other indicators.
The country has been a beacon of light in the region, the continent and the world as it provides free of charge education from primary level to tertiary level. This, most experts agree, was a step in the right direction for the development of the country and growth of the economy.
Botswana has always been known to have enormous foreign exchange reserves this is due to budget surpluses that were known at the time to easily run into billions of dollars. This feat was commendable as reserves set aside served as security for the rainy days.
Social and economic commentators though argued that for such a small country, it made no economic sense to have such huge reserves and it was a sign of a government that relied heavily on the private sector as they failed to invest into the country. That is, more could have been done in terms of investing in human capital as even today, the country is known to be lagging behind in terms of skilled labour and human capital productivity in the public sector.
Botswana had the second highest HIV prevalence rates in the world in 2011 at 23.4 percent just behind Swaziland at 26 percent (UNAIDS, 2012). This result can be attributed to ARVs which prolong life thus increasing prevalence rates. When the disease was first diagnosed the estimated median survival time was only 12 months, but after the introduction of ARVs, this estimate rose to five years as time went by and health care improved.
Therefore, the duration of a disease affects prevalence positively. Prevalence will most likely remain higher for longer periods if life years increase and this is bound to have an effect on health expenditure. An indicator that was effectively dealt with, by the leadership of President Mogae.
The national health policy of Botswana, first drafted in 1995, notes that the country has a sparsely distributed population with around 3 persons per square kilometre. With a GDP per capita of BWP 14,232, the country has an estimated life expectancy of 46.5 years. This was due to the damning effects of HIV at the time and hence, economic prosperity was achieved during Masire’s presidency but was rolled back by the lack of growth in human capital due to the disease. Provision of the public good was a priority for the government, according to International Energy statistics, an average of 0.185 million kilowatts was installed from 1980 to 1998. This has remained a priority in the budgets as the electrification projects are today a mainstay of the national development plans.
Sir Ketumile Masire’s presidency is characterised not only by economic growth, but by the two referendums that today are a variable, among others, that determine foreign direct investment flow into the country. The referendum that replaced the Supervisor of Elections with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), is an achievement that most today would agree that if not for it, democracy with which Botswana attracts foreigners, would be a far-fetched dream. It is therefore commendable that Sir Ketumile Masire played a role in the development of this country.