Newsletter  :: Editor Notes


Botswana’s wee problem
Peter Griffiths

I have been thinking about Botswana’s wee problem for while now. The country has a well-educated population, but has been unable to attract investment that would utilize this because as a landlocked country with a population of under two million it is a difficult market to develop. Given the skills base that is already in place, this is perhaps one of the few African countries that would be better off with far more people to provide this base with a population to service. This will make it possible to generate wealth and diversify an economy that, although stable, is woefully too dependent on mining.

At the African Business Leaders Forum that I am currently attending, President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, said that one of Africa’s bottlenecks to development was that its population, relative to the size of Africa, was too small. He argued that Africa’s population is smaller than India’s, yet India is one tenth of its size and this was a stumbling block to development.

However, the president’s argument is flawed partly in that India had a broad base of skills to draw from first which could then be used to service a large economy. India's massive middle class of over 200 million shows clearly that skills must have been in place. While it is true that high densities make economies of scale easier, the skills base that is needed to provide services is still largely absent on the continent.

I do not think that it is wise to make statements about quantity while forgetting quality. This is not only an argument about economies of scale, but also of the quality of the workforce. Chris Kirubi, a prominent Kenyan business executive who is taking part in the ABLF added that although it is not a case of slowing population growth, leaders needed to make sure that economies could sustain the population and that an uneducated population must not be produced. Africa’s potential is enormous, but we lack implementers he added.

I tend to agree, this continent has unimaginable resources that can be used, as Botswana has shown, to build many high-capacity economies. It’s a pity that Botswana has the problem it currently has, especially given that it took steps to develop in the right order. First skill people, then build a country. The idea that simply growing the population without giving the population any guidance will solve Africa’s development problems is astoundingly short-sighted. While I do not believe that the president has failed to see that increasing the population alone would not be enough to encourage development, it is very easy to think the two are causally related when they are in fact only very distant cousins that have never had any knowledge of one another until just recently.

Perhaps it is just a case of realising that although one needs to build bridges before one can cross a river, one needs to build engineers before the bridge can even be thought of being built

Peter Griffiths
BiA Online Editor

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