Victor Kgomoeswana writes that that Botswana is underrated by none other than its own people; just like the rest of Africa.
‘So, how did you manage to get a standing ovation after offending your audience, in their own city?’ I had to answer this question from one of my fellow TEDx Gaborone speakers in Botswana at the weekend.
He was referring to my presentation to an audience at the Grand Palm in the capital of the world’s leading diamond producer. Incidentally, my talk was fêted in one of the local papers ahead of time as “if Victor could be president of Botswana”.
Three days after my talk I read that the world’s second-largest diamond – at 111.1 carat – was found in Botswana. This was yet a reminder that I might have been crazy to hypothetically talk about what I would do if I were head of state of this underrated Southern African country – but perhaps I was not too far off in suggesting that Botswana could do more with its endowment.
The painful truth is that Botswana is underrated by none other than its own people; just like the rest of Africa.
My crazy vision of Botswana is that of a population size at least five times the current 2 million, artificially increased with targeted immigration to attract Africa’s most talented.
The country, in my view, should be doing a lot more.
No doubt, it has done a great deal better than its diamond-producing African peers in Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola – all of which were seared by civil war, fuelled by blood diamonds.
Thanks to solid leadership and pride, Botswana, like Namibia, managed to make diamonds work for the majority of the people – at least compared with the others.
Through a joint venture with De Beers, the government built a reasonably sound resource-based economy.
The country is also known for its relative ease of doing business and for good governance.
Not so, I was told in Gaborone. Some of the people I met virtually told me to get my head out of the clouds and realise that the founding ethos of Botswana has long been abandoned by the current crop of leadership.
Now, they tell me, it is everybody for himself.
Are these people kidding me?
Everywhere I go, my mission is to tell the world and Africans that things are not as bad as they think.
I plead with everyone I meet to appreciate that the World Bank or Transparency International rankings are not a true reflection of the situation across Africa.
Nigeria is not synonymous with corruption, South Africa is not a crime-infested Wild West province.
Ethiopians are not dying of starvation and you can certainly holiday safely in Rwanda.
Yet, here in the capital of a country ranked highly even by the World Bank and Transparency International; but its natives are not buying their glossy image abroad.
This is our undoing as Africans. Even when we have things going for us, we find a way to unravel a good gig.
So, when I read about the huge 111.1-carat find at Karowe Mine, about 500km north of where I gave my “Botswana-you-can-be-more-than-you-have-become” speech, I felt like going back for an encore performance.
This is the biggest diamond ever found in Botswana – and the largest scoop in more than 100 years. The only bigger find was the 3.106-carat Cullinan diamond unearthed in South Africa back in 1905!
There you have it, two neighbouring countries hold the record for the biggest diamond finds in more than 100 years.
Namibia and Angola are not far off. Add DRC to the mix, and you get the picture of how Africa is continuing to downplay itself.
We should be the commercial capital of the diamond world.
Even after De Beers moved its Diamond Trading Company to Botswana, I am still reading about the closure of this factory or the other instead of the country claiming its rightful place as a value-adding diamond economy.
Instead, it is playing a distant second fiddle in diamond processing to a country in faraway Asia, India.
My Botswana reverie is but an illustration. I could be talking to Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia or South Africa.
All African countries have something exceptional to offer the world, but continue to underachieve because of our lack of faith in ourselves.
South Africa has the best accounting and investor protection in the world; Ghana is a world-class democracy, Nigeria a diversified powerhouse that could literally rule the world.
However, unless we get our pride back, our leadership and governance right, this 111.1-carat diamond is headed right where its predecessors have gone. Far away from here.
* Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business and anchor of Power Hour, broadcast every Monday to Thursday on Power FM. He writes a weekly column for both the Sunday Independent and African Independent – Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica
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