By August Zeidman
Against a backdrop of a continuing, and re-intensifying landscape of COVID-19 worldwide, President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana rose before Parliament on Monday, November 8, to deliver the annual State of the Nation Address. In his introductory remarks he commended the many facets of national society which have remained strong throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and been essential to social function, while also emphasizing that, although the State of Public Emergency has been lifted (a measure which President Masisi has already publicly considered reinstating), adherence to public safety and health measures is still essential for all. He also drew attention to the National Vision 2036 program and efforts to raise Botswana to a High Income Nation by 2036.
The rest of the speech followed the following themes: Economy and Employment; Social Up-Liftment (sic); Sustainable Environment; and Governance, Peace, and Security.
The President’s economic outlook was optimistic, highlighting predictions for a quick recovery from the downturn suffered during the pandemic and reflecting a highly successful agricultural season. Various efforts to revitalize the tourism sector were also touched on as this important area of the economy particularly suffered during 2020.
Much was elaborated upon in many other important areas of the Botswana economy, including mining, creative industry, sport, infrastructure. Many major infrastructure projects such as further digitization and spread of optical fiber networks, as well as expanding the capacity of national electrical production, are targeted to be completed by the end of 2022.
Regarding Social Up-Liftment, President Masisi proudly spoke of government success in funding programs for youth owned businesses and for targeted projects which have recently been launched, including a youth owned radio station. Additionally, Botswana will be the host of the first Forbes Under 30 Summit in Africa, scheduled for April 2022 and expected to gather hundreds of young innovators from around the world.
Womens’ equality was another major topic in the speech, sharing the many firsts that have been recently achieved for women in leadership roles in the government. Additionally, an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Gender Based Violence has been established, along with other programs to address this issue in the past year.
In the context of the ongoing pandemic, health and wellness was prominent in the speech, with Botswana faring generally better against COVID-19 than many other nations of Sub-Saharan Africa. Steps are being taken to minimize the potential for a fourth wave and the country is on track to vaccinate 64% of the population by the end of 2021. Proliferation of oxygen, ventilators, and other essential medical equipment is continuing so that it can be mobilized when necessary in the ongoing battle against the pandemic.
HIV-AIDS is also an ongoing major health issue in the Southern Africa region, and the Government of Botswana is holding to their commitment to end new transmissions by 2030. Vulnerable populations are being given special attention with a variety of preventative programs.
For the section on sustainable environment, President Masisi highlighted to Parliament the steps being taken to curb climate change, to ensure community control of natural resources, and to improve sanitation across the country. Even though the country enjoys very high air quality, bio-digestors are being constructed to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Additionally, 11% of the country still has no access to sanitation services, so pilot projects are being initiated with the aim of expanding these services complete to all Batswana.
Finally, in a review of governance related matters, the President described efforts to open new courts and speed up review processes; to review and bring up to international standards the country’s labor laws; and to combat the growing prescient issues of crime, both cyber and traditional, which have manifested in parts of the country over the past year.
Botswana is also in position as the incumbent chair of the Southern African Development Community and has, in this position, promoted cooperation with neighbors through bilateral measures. Some major foreign policy goals relating to Africa are a committment to resolving the political crisis in Eswatini, ensuring security in Mozambique, a strong denouncement of the coup in Sudan, and an urging of restraint for the Government of Ethiopia in their own civil conflict.
President Masisi concluded his remarks with the hope that, emerging from this crisis of the pandemic, Botswana can make the most of it and work towards a better future based on self-reliance and development. He uses the Tswana phrase: ‘letsema le thata ke mong’ which roughly translates to ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself.’
As one of the wealthiest and most stable nations in Africa, with some of the highest standards of living, Botswana has a bright future and the international community should join in wishing them well and applauding the successes they have already achieved in this difficult time.