President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi speaks at a session at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town. Photo: Reuters

CAPE TOWN – Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi told an audience at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town his country would embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) to reduce its dependence on diamonds. 

Since taking office in April 2018, Masisi has aimed at transforming Botswana's economy from being overly reliant on a single commodity, namely diamonds, to embracing 4IR. This blueprint is set out in the National Vision 2036.

That is one of the reasons why he was invited to participate in the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa, as the theme is “Shaping inclusive growth and shared futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

"Through our vision, we aspire to transform Botswana from a resource-based to a knowledge-based economy through digitisation and embracing the 4IR. We are committed to a modern Botswana that is not only open to but is also able to compete with the rest of the world," said Masisi.

He said his government aimed at creating an enabling environment that would nurture the spirit of entrepreneurship that would then stimulate economic growth through value addition and beneficiation of our natural resources. In that respect, strategic partnerships with the emerging economies that are advanced through digitalization and the application of artificial intelligence were key, which is why he said Botswana was seeking to attract foreign direct investment that would also result in skills transfers. 

He also said that his country valued quality above quantity, because as a small country with a small population of only 2 million it could not compete with the likes of Argentina or Brazil in terms of providing large amounts of beef to the world, but in his opinion Botswana had the “best” beef in the world.

He said this focus on quality above quantity also applied to the tourism sector, where Botswana had positioned itself as a premium destination for exclusive wildlife viewing, rather than attract a large number of tourists, who would have an impact on the environment.

“We have challenges in terms of geography, which is why we need to be better than our competitors. That is why we value stable government, predictability in policy making and harmonious industrial relations,” Masisi said.

Botswana has strong macroeconomic fundamentals with a growth rate above 4 percent, solid economic and fiscal policies, and low public debt levels. It is perceived as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa and is ranked at 34 out of 180 countries compared with South Africa at 73. 

This has meant that Botswana has far better credit rating than South Africa, which is rated junk by S&P Global Ratings, while Botswana stands at A- with stable outlook.

Turning to the geographical challenges, Masisi said the Kazungula Bridge over the Zambezi that would link Botswana to Zambia was being built and would be ready next year.

“I cannot give you a specific month when the bridge will be completed, but it will be next year. With regards to the heavy haulage rail links to Namibia and South Africa, that is dependent on the economic viability. As coal is currently out of favour, those projects will not proceed, but the road to Walvis Bay in Namibia is operational and our exporters are making use of the port there,” Masisi said.  

He said a major push of his government was to improve air links and increase the capacity.

“If we have a visitor here who needs to get back to his home country quickly for whatever reason, we need to be able to say that is no problem as there are frequent flights,” he concluded.

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