Botswana—Towards a more diverse economy

Botswana—Towards a more diverse economy

Diamond sorting at Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB).

[INTERVIEW]

H.E. Mr. Jacob Dickie Nkate
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Botswana to Japan


H.E. Mr. Jacob Dickie Nkate, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Botswana to Japan.
H.E. Mr. Jacob Dickie Nkate, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Botswana to Japan.

—What are the current bilateral relations between Botswana and Japan?

Botswana established diplomatic relations with Japan in 1966, the year we obtained independence. We used to rely heavily on assistance from friends around the world including Japan through ODA (Official Development Assistance) disbursement; which was spent on assistance in the areas of transportation, social services and especially the health and education sectors. Today Botswana is considered an upper middle-income country and its collaborations with Japan focus more on technical assistance, such as capacity building and human resource development. To give an example, just recently Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) decided to expand its activities at the Geological Remote Sensing Centre established in July 2008 in Botswana. The center has conducted mineral exploration and technical training of geologists in the SADC countries.

In 2013, Botswana became the first and only African country to adopt the Japanese broadcasting standard called the Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting (ISDB). Since the adoption of this Japanese standard we have relied on Japan’s technical assistance for its successful implementation.

Additionally, the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) is working together with our Department of Agricultural Research (DAR) to develop gene-manipulated plants that are drought resistant. In addition to that, a 5-year collaboration research project with Tottori University on Jatropha bio-diesel has been initiated. These are just a few examples of the many collaborations with Japan.

—Mining encompasses a large portion of Botswana’s GDP, what are the current investment opportunities in the mining sector?

Our natural resources are a blessing and curse at the same time. We have a tendency to over depend on the mining sector. There is a general estimation that in 40 years we will run out of diamonds, at least the deposits that we are aware of now. So the question is how can we sustain the economy in Botswana after the depletion of these resources? The government has an Economic Diversification Drive (EDD), which has established or identified several sectors such as agriculture, science and technology (innovation), diamonds, health, transportation and education as potential areas for growth.

We also want to promote beneficiation in the mining sector, for instance by building refineries for copper and other metal products.

In the transportation sector, we need to build a railway from Botswana out towards the sea, to the west—to Namibia or to the east—to Mozambique in order to deliver coal to the market. So even in the area of transport there is a lot of opportunity for investment. Botswana has over 200 billion tons of coal.

Most kimberlitepipes (veins of kimberlite) in the country are still unmined. Although there are existing mines, a change in focus in the mining process is needed. There have been three new mines in the last few years and all are small to medium sized mines. Botswana is committed to the sustainability of the environment as a responsible member of the international community. Our natural resources, such as diamonds, have been used for the benefit of our people. This is in contrast to other countries where such resources have benefited only a few in the elite and ruling classes.

—In what ways is Botswana striving for economic diversification?

In the sector of education, we have Botswana International University of Science and Technology established in 2005 to attract young people from Botswana and abroad.

In the agricultural sector, the Lower Zambezi Agricultural Project will be inaugurated to establish a farming area to produce as much agricultural products as possible and add value by processing goods before sending them to markets.

Mokoro safari at Okavango Delta.
Mokoro safari at Okavango Delta.

The idea is to look at all the sectors and develop them in such a way that in the future, when mining becomes less important to our economy, we have other sectors to rely on. But even in the mining sector there is room for diversification. For example we process a lot of copper in Botswana’s refineries and are in negotiations with other South African copper mines to bring their copper into Botswana for refinement. We are also looking to become a hub for the production of jewelry in the region, which is an area we haven’t fully developed in the past.

—Botswana and Japan are both heavy energy importers, how can bilateral relations between both nations help each country’s energy needs?

I think our cooperation with Japan will focus mainly on the area of technology sharing. We have some deposits of coal bed methane gas, but we are yet to bring it to a level of commercial production, where we can actually utilize it in the country. It is still very much a work in progress. We see Japan as a possible provider of the necessary technology, enabling us to tap into that energy and put it into the market.

Solar power production is another area the Japanese government has aided. They provided Botswana with technology to build a 1 megawatt photovoltaic (solar) power station project near Gaborone in 2010. Additionally, as I said earlier, we have more than 200 billion tons of largely unexploited coal. These resources could support the government’s effort to diversify the economy and solve the energy deficiency. Therefore we think Japan can supply us with the technology, enabling us to take advantage of gas reserves, solar power and coal as well.

—What are the potentials in the tourism sector of Botswana?

Tourism is one of the areas with the most potential growth in Botswana. Our ecosystem exhibits an astonishing number of wildlife coexisting harmoniously with the human population.

We adopted the Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) concept, which relies heavily on the direct control of the local communities over the utilization and benefits of natural resources, in this case the wildlife. CBNRM is a strategy of conservation and development of rural areas, involving community mobilization and organization, institutional development, comprehensive training, enterprise development and monitoring of the natural resource base.

Botswana has the Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta, which recently became the 1000th UNESCO world heritage site. There are many other tourist attractions in Botswana, therefore tourism should play an expanding role in our economy of the country.

Botswana and Japan

  1. JOGMEC-SADC Regional Station at Botswana Geological Surveys.
  2. Ongoing joint venture exploration projects with JOGMEC and private sectors.
  3. In the field of energy:
    – Undertook studies on refurbishment of Morupule A power station.
    – Development of 1.3 MW solar power project in Phakalane.
  4. A five year collaboration with Tottori University on Jatropha bio- diesel research project.

Investment opportunities in Botswana

  • Minerals prospecting;
  • Mining;
  • Downstream diamond beneficiation;
  • Transportation in mining;
  • Power generation;
  • Transmission infrastructure;
  • Renewable energy technologies.

Over the years, Africa has been perceived as just one big black continent, full of wars, diseases and poverty. But our message to the Japanese is that Africa is not a country, it is a continent. Admittedly, there are some parts of Africa that are bedeviled with problems of war, poverty, corruption or diseases. However, there are also other parts of Africa that are secure, peaceful and free from conflict.

Next year we are celebrating our 50th anniversary of independence. We are proud that we remained peaceful; there haven’t been any conflicts or political prisoners and we have developed from one of the poorest countries in the world to higher middle income status. We are a truly vibrant democracy. We are also proud that after the discovery of diamonds in the late 1970s, we ensured that the gains from this resource would be utilized for the improvement of the living standards of the people and not for the elites or politicians.


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