At 92, Xhao Tiqhao has no direct involvement with the formal economy unlike his peers elsewhere. Almost all his entire life has been lived on government handouts. Uneducated, without a job and without livestock in Xaxa, he is a clear definition of poverty.
Born in Namibia in 1920 he says he has never worked formally anywhere and has no education background.Living a traditional life, he used to hunt and gather but as the country laws became more restrictive he resigned his life to poverty. Tiqhao does not blame anyone for his misery. Not his parents for not sending him to school and not the government for failing to distribute resources evenly. All he wants is food on his table provided for by the government and his monthly P220.00 old age pension.
Of course he has heard of the diamond – the little gem that has transformed Botswana to its current Middle Income Status economy but Tiqhao is not aware of the wonders that the stone can bring.Tiqhao is not the only poor resident of Xaxa – a village close to the Namibian border in the North West of Botswana. People younger than him are experiencing the harsh conditions of poverty. This is one place where the gem has failed to sparkle.
This past Sunday the village’s eyes were on the headline grabbing handing over of 25 houses to the poor by President Ian Khama. But elsewhere Xai-Xai or Xaxa as the village is commonly known; the residents are reeling in poverty.Away from the glamour that surrounded the main event on Sunday – poverty is written all over the faces of the village folks, a far cry from the sparkling government diamond wealth that the country has accumulated over the years. “Most people here depend on government for a living,” said a resident. Living standards in Botswana are high by African standards, but vary considerably across the country. While some are affluent others, like most residents in Xaxa, depend on government handouts.
Records show that Botswana has had the highest rate of per-capita growth of any country in the world in the last 35 years. In the 2009 Human Development Index (HDI) report released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) indicated that with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of U$13,000 – the highest in Africa – Botswana managed to reduce the number of people living under US$2 a day from 55 percent to 49 percent of the population. This is an indication that the country continues to fare poorly in human development.
Botswana's HDI is 0.633, ranking the country number 118 out of 187 countries with comparable data. The HDI of Sub-Saharan Africa as a region increased from 0.365 in 1980 to 0.463 today, placing Botswana above the regional average.
It is conventionally held that Botswana has managed diamond revenues well in fiscal and infrastructural terms especially. But the country seems to struggle in fighting poverty with some experts blaming lack of diversification. The neediness in Xaxa is best described in a paper penned by former University of Botswana lecturer, Prof. Kenneth Good in his report titled: The Social Consequences of Diamonds Dependency in Botswana where he faults the country’s failure to diversify as the main root cause of poverty.
Prof. Good has since been declared a prohibited immigrant. Also unequal distribution of resources has disadvantaged some Batswana. “Poverty and inequalities are at the core of the country’s problems, and their destructive effects permeate widely. Inequalities are rife. The du- or tri-opoly, of national prosperity, wealth for the few, and poverty for many is established,” writes Good. According to statistics from the Central Statistics Office there are 321,808 people living below the poverty datum line in rural areas.
Emphasising the causal link between diamonds’ wealth and poverty, Good notes the deterioration in human development in Botswana occurring during periods of rapid growth, as in the 1990s. “Diamonds promoted certain forms of economic and political development and restricted or limited others,” he says.
In Xaxa there is no decent housing, little developments and the private sector seem to be shunning the small village. Acting Senior Research Fellow at the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA), Dr. Pelotshweu Moepeng, notes that the diamonds wealth belongs to the country and that government decides how it will help its people, either through employment creation or handouts.
Tiqhao’s only source of income is the monthly old age pension from government. His two children are not working, and spend most of their time drinking traditional beer in the village. And so are many other residents of the village. The disparity between headline-grabbing projects such as the handing over of the 25 modern houses to the poor and the poverty that surrounds the Xaxa residents is well known in the village.
A group of millionaires from Gaborone that formed the entourage that descended in the village to witness the occasion perhaps made the less than 1000 villagers wonder why some people seem to get rich easily, while they (residents) are destined for a life of financial struggle and dependency.
A single gravelled road connects Xaxa to neighbouring Qangwa. Another 120 km-gravelled road, which is in a very bad state – joins the two villages to the rest of Botswana. The next tarmac road for the residents of Xaxa is 169 km away. Dr. Moepeng argues that levels of poverty are high in places like Xaxa because they are far from normal markets, people’s level of education is low and that the village population is small and thus government is not developing the village.
As the rich that included Salim Shaikh (Builders World), Farouk Ismail (Choppies) and Rafik Sardar from Trade World, Mohamed Dada of Broadhurst Motors and Willy Kathurima of Willy Kathurima Associates hit the village on Sunday, nearby a farmer was herding his cattle to the next drinking well, talking on a mobile phone. One of the latest and perhaps biggest developments in Xaxa and the neighbouring village Qangwa is cell phone connectivity. This has been made easy by the government sponsored Nteletsa II project that provided telecommunications services closer to communities.
In Xaxa, those who have the knowledge are now on Facebook. They can access the Internet and make cell phone calls. The latter is the most common in a village populated by a big number of school dropouts. Most dropouts are at early primary school level. For those who are not into cattle farming life is harder for them and they depend on government handouts for a living. Cattle farmers have their own problems as well as they cannot freely sell their livestock to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Maun because of the persistent Foot and Mouth Disease.
The Basarwa tribe, who historically are not into farming, largely populate the village. Living a carefree life most people in the village spend the better hours of the day drinking traditional beer. “If it was not for today’s event most people would be making a beehive to the next drinking spot,” remarked one resident, while the village tribal leader Nxooka Xishee complained of the excessive drinking.
Generally life is hard in the village, one resident confided to this publication. The only source of employment for the villagers is the Ipelegeng project. He said a larger population in the village depends on the North West District Council. The council takes care of orphans and the poor. It buys school uniforms for most of the school going children, and even the announcement by President Khama that Sardar (of Trade World) has pledged to buy each school going child three uniforms each will not make a difference in some of the lives of the residents though the announcement was received with ululations.
The only people who will be relieved of the burden of spending on their children are those who are not under the care of the NWDC – a resident said to the Botswana Guardian. Most residents get life amenities for free. This even includes families depending on the Trust’s help during funerals. Lack of employment and education has contributed to the people’s poverty. Sitting just a few kilometres from the famous Gcwihaba Caves and the Aha Hills, tourism is one area the villagers are trying to explore.
The Xai-Xai Tlhabololo Trust is one organisation that was envisaged to contribute to the village’s economy. The Trust was created in 1997, to enhance the well-being of the community, diversify their economy, engage in craft sales and tourism, promote biodiversity, preserve their cultures and raise social awareness of their culture in order to save it. But a lack of an investor to run it has rendered the Trust useless. A tender was floated around for interested investors but the one investor awarded the tender wanted to build a lodge on top of one of the hills in the area. This was turned down by the Land Board and he has since not returned to pitch a new idea.
According to Eric Keharara, while operational the Trust contributed significantly to the livelihoods of the people. “The Trust provided funeral services and also created jobs for some of the people in the village,” he said. Inevitably, politicians are exploiting the dire situation in the village. One source revealed that during elections politicians tend to buy votes with beer and tobacco. At the handing over of the houses individuals who are eying council and parliamentary positions in the next elections were strategically seated at the event.
Meanwhile, plans are underway by government to stamp out poverty in Xaxa and other settlements deemed as remote areas. In Xaxa alone, 20 families have been allocated 30 goats each. Speaking at the event President Khama urged Batswana to help in the fight to eradicate poverty, saying government alone cannot win the battle.