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Poverty eradication in Botswana: successes and failures

Publishing Date : 03 December, 2019

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

When all else is said and done as regards the just delivered State of the Nation Address (SONA), two issues remain primal- job creation and poverty eradication. Afterall, the ultimate aim of every government should be to ensure dignity for all, an aim which would remain elusive if unemployment and poverty levels are high.

According to the World Bank’s 2015 report, half of Botswana’s population remains either poor or vulnerable, with 46.2% of them being children under the age of fifteen. The report further states that while the poverty gap between rural and urban areas has declined, the risk of falling back into poverty is still higher among rural households that depend on small-scale and subsistence farming. Further that, although vulnerability among the country’s poor was significantly reduced from 2002-2010, nearly 31% are classified as vulnerable.

The study projected that with significant inequality reduction, poverty rates can fall to below 12% by 2018 and below 6% by 2030. The Botswana Poverty Assessment found that poverty declined from 30.6% to 19.4% between 2002-2010, particularly in rural areas, due to increased labor and agriculture-related incomes and more opportunities for the poor. This, according to the study, resulted in 180,000 people being lifted from poverty, 87% of which live in rural areas.

In my view, these levels of poverty reduction were not achieved through sustainable economic projects. They were achieved mainly through social protection programs. According to the World Bank Country Director for Botswana, Guang Zhe Chen, Botswana dedicates about 4.4% of its GDP to social spending. Therefore, comprehensive and colorful as this year’s SONA may have been, its success or failure will be determined by the extent to which the plans it entails will lead to job creation and poverty reduction.

When His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, delivered his inaugural SONA in 2018, he stated that the 2015/16 Botswana Multi Topic Household Survey by Statistics Botswana, released in February 2018, showed that poverty has decreased from 19.3 % in 2009/10 to 16.3% in 2015/16. He further stated that the percentage of people living under extreme poverty, i.e. below USD 1.90 a day, has reduced from 6.4 % to 5.8 % over the same period.

On a negative note, but rather expectedly, he reported that rural areas have the highest poverty incidence at 24.2 %. On the contrary, urban centres performed better at 13.4 %. Cities and/or towns performed even better at 9.4 %. H.E Dr. Masisi stated that poverty eradication remains one of the primary goals of his Government. According to him, since the inception of the Poverty Eradication Programme in 2011, a total of 29, 691 beneficiaries have been funded, out of which 23,146 projects were operational thus improving the lives of the poor.

Here, H.E Dr. Masisi failed and/or neglected to inform Batswana why 6,545 projects were not operational. Is it because they had not yet started operations altogether or it is because they had collapsed?  H.E Dr. Masisi also failed and/or neglected to give such critical information as the number of jobs created by these projects, and the number of beneficiaries who have graduated from poverty or extreme poverty as a result of these projects.

In my view, the reason for this is that the projects did not significantly contribute to employment creation and poverty eradication. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most of the projects, especially back yard gardens, failed, with the project infrastructure ending up as white elephants.    

H.E Dr. Masisi promised that to ensure that “No One is Left Behind”, Government will profile all the poor people in the country so that they are all assisted accordingly to improve their livelihood, stating that, in addition, Government is in the process of finalizing a National Strategy and Policy with the aim of ensuring a coordinated effort for greater impact.

Yet, in this year’s SONA, no mention was made of profiling for the poor being conducted as promised. Similarly, no mention was made of the National Strategy and Policy. How then do we hope to eradicate poverty if we fail to implement such activities which are key to planning for poverty eradication?

In this year’s SONA, H.E Dr. Masisi acknowledged that poverty, unemployment and inequality remain the greatest challenges facing our country, stating that both Vision 2036 and the National Development Plan 11 have prioritized these challenges to ensure that lasting solutions are pursued to reverse the trends. He further stated that since the inception of the Poverty Eradication Programme in 2011, a total of 38,418 beneficiaries have been funded, out of which 29, 877 projects are operating and 5, 609 are at different stages of implementation.

Commendably, considering that 23,146 projects were operational by 2018 and the figure stands at 29, 877 this year, it means 6,731 additional projects are operational. Also, unlike last year, this year the president has done a good job by giving the number of jobs created by these projects as 33, 918. But he, just like last year, failed to inform the nation about the extent to which these projects contributed to poverty eradication.

Government must be commended for clearing the backlog of poverty eradication projects in Kgatleng, Sowa, South East, North East, North West, Boteti, Bobirwa, Lobatse and Francistown, and making progress in clearing the backlog in Palapye and Jwaneng. Similarly, Government must be commended for developing an Exit strategy, which the president says was launched in February this year, which clearly outlines interventions that facilitate the graduation of beneficiaries with excelling projects.

According to the President, to date, 2, 094 excelling projects have graduated from the programme, with certificates of graduation awarded to thirty (30) of these beneficiaries during the National Poverty Eradication Expo early this year. While this is to be commended, the question is: how many jobs have these excelling projects created and how many people have they lifted out of poverty. For instance, how many people now live above USD 1.90 a day because of these projects?

Assuming that many of these projects are in rural arears, the question is: to what extent have they contributed to the reduction, if any, of the 24.2 % rural poverty incidence alluded to by the 2015/16 Botswana Multi Topic Household Survey? Assuming that some of these projects are in urban areas and cities and towns, the question is: to what extent have they contributed to the reduction, if any, of the 13.4% and 9.4% poverty incidences in urban areas and cities and/or towns respectively.  

This year’s SONA reports the provision of breakfast at primary schools under poverty eradication. While the project itself is to be commended since it reduces hunger and malnutrition among many children from poor families, it is a misnomer to categorize it as a poverty eradication project. Granted, the provision of breakfast at primary schools promotes optimal health, growth and development, prevention of nutritional deficiencies as well as align the primary school menu to that of secondary schools, as Government states, but it does not eradicate poverty.

A family, for instance, does not become classified as living above USD 1.90 a day simply because a child coming from the family eats breakfast at school. The 5.8 % level of poverty, as alluded to by the 2015/16 Botswana Multi Topic Household Survey, does not reduce because children are provided with breakfast at school. It is, therefore, incorrect to suggest that the menu for primary schools can support poverty eradication and home-grown feeding initiatives to economically empower and capacitate Batswana and promote micro and small-scale entrepreneurship.

If Botswana is to meaningfully reduce poverty, she has to make significant improvements in shared prosperity, with the poorest benefiting the most. Wages and various formal and informal incomes should increase substantially, especially in rural areas. Not only that. Government-supported agricultural incomes and employment have to be a priority. Government also has to invest more on education by improving access to primary, secondary and university education.

According to the World Bank, for it to significantly reduce poverty, Government has to boost productivity, employment and labor-market efficiency; improve education, health and social protection and safety nets as well as improving survey data for evidence-based policy making.



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