Sir Ketumile Masire, Former President of Botswana accepts the Free Market Award – 4 April 2001

It is a great honour for me to receive this award from the Free Market Foundation, an institution renowned for promoting socio-economic development and for fostering free market enterprise in developing economies. I am grateful for their recognition of the achievements of my country during my tenure of office. But I must hasten to mention that, there are a number of other personalities without whom our enduring efforts would not have deserved such recognition.

I would like, from the outset, to express my gratitude to Mr Michael O’Dowd for his kind words – not only those directed to me, but those about my country, Botswana as well. For this, I am most grateful.

We live in an era during which we have to deal with the harsh realities of globalisation. The creation of a borderless world. A global village presents us with many challenges, indeed. There are as many opportunities that need to be carefully exploited, as there are challenges.

Under such circumstances, it was most appropriate for us in Botswana to take stock of our accomplishments and failures over the decades since we attained independence.

As you will no doubt be aware, I retired from public office two years ago. But before I stepped aside, I handed power over to an individual whom I believe will carry Botswana to even greater heights. I believe he will continue to address with vigour the development challenges facing Botswana in the new millennium.

I retired from public office after serving my country for many years in various capacities. I therefore had the opportunity to contribute towards the political and economic advancement of Botswana.

One of the key initiatives that I took before leaving office was to put in place the process of charting a long-term vision for Botswana. This Vision came about after a series of consultations with the people of Botswana. I have no doubt that it reflects a wide spectrum of the aspirations of the people of Botswana.

The long-term Vision for Botswana identifies seven major goals that should be attained by the year 2016. The Vision will ensure that – through education and development of human capital – future generations of Batswana can achieve a reasonable level of literacy, and that the country can boast of a pool of well-trained manpower.

The critical elements of our vision provide for creating:
  • an educated and informed nation;
  • a prosperous, productive and innovative nation;
  • a compassionate, just and caring nation;
  • a safe and secure nation;
  • an open, democratic and accountable nation;
  • a moral and tolerant nation, and
  • a united and proud nation.

    This is the central challenge for many of the developing economies. The underlying principle of our Vision is the preservation of the positive aspects of our cultural heritage. This is critical for fostering an environment in which free and uninterrupted economic activity can take place.

    In keeping with the traditional values of Batswana, and consistent with our national development planning objective of social justice, we recognise that every Motswana is entitled to have access to economic opportunities in his own country.

    When we sought independence thirty-five years ago, our critics were very vocal. They derided us for being irresponsible in seeking political independence when we could hardly feed ourselves. At the time we could barely balance our budget without external support.

    Furthermore, for some time after independence, there was very little accumulation of private savings in the society. What little capital existed was largely in the form of cattle – and the scourge of the drought dealt the livestock industry a severe blow from time to time. Nonetheless, we persevered.

    To date, Botswana has recorded a very high rate of savings at the macro level. The earnings – most of which have accumulated in the public sector – are largely generated from the mineral sector.

    In order for the rest of the population to derive benefits from these fortunes, we have had to reinvest them in the economy through development, financial and investment organisations, as well as education. Indeed, we are grateful to South Africa for admitting our students to their institutes of learning.

    This we have done successfully – thanks to prudent economic management. We have been able to support a high rate of economic growth. In order to derive even more benefits from the revenues generated over time, we are now finalising the process of establishing Botswana as a regional financial centre to serve the Southern African region.

    There is an equally important factor – yet less recognised – that has also contributed to our sustained economic growth. This is our unflinching commitment to public sector reform.

    There is indisputable evidence that, in the new economic order, the absence of bureaucracy in the public sector enhances private sector development.

    Therefore, one of the efforts of government in the recent past was to prepare for the challenges of participating in – and benefiting from – the global economy. We have thus reduced the degree of government involvement in those activities that can best be performed by the private sector, including the public enterprises.

    At the same time, we have steadfastly adhered to the principles of openness, transparency, good governance, and promotion and development of the private sector.

    An equally important development was government’s undertaking to review the size and structure of the public sector.

    The privatisation of certain activities performed by the government is one of the consequences of reforms undertaken. This is also a concrete manifestation of the government’s promotion of the private sector.

    I must emphasise that, many other factors have contributed to the successful socio-economic transformation of Botswana over the years, in addition to good fortunes and prudent economic management. A long and enduring democratic tradition of Batswana has also sustained us.

    We have also aspired to a high level of political maturity in avoiding adversarial partisan relations. We encourage free and well–informed debate. Our political parties have a responsibility to distinguish between partisan political interests and issues of national concern.

    Botswana has also thrived as a result of the successful partnerships it forged, both in the region and internationally. We are a country with a small population. We therefore suffer the constraints of a small domestic market. Consequently, Botswana has had to look for markets for its products and services beyond its political boundaries.

    In this context, the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) – in which Botswana enjoys free trade with other member countries – has been an important factor in Botswana’s economic development.

    Beyond the SACU, in partnership with other countries in the region, Botswana has been instrumental in nurturing the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

    Both SACU and SADC provide the basis for the creation of an important economic and political alliance of the Southern African countries.

    For many tangible benefits to be derived therefrom, such an alliance needs to be well managed. It has the potential to increase opportunities for regional prosperity, peace and harmony.

    We should recognise the value of regional co-operation as one of the essential prerequisites for the attainment of the ideals of the African Renaissance.

    Unfortunately, there seem to be many obstacles that thwart the completion of this great enterprise. We need to overcome this challenge. We must be united in our endeavour to transform our society into A GOOD SOCIETY – A JUST SOCIETY.

    Together we must develop the mechanisms for settling our differences through dialogue rather than war.

    Together we must seek to prevent the outbreak of violent conflicts by establishing institutions through which people can exercise the right to determine how they are governed.

    We must be UNITED in finding ways to prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS – diseases that inflict so much pain and misery – that erode the very fabric of society and perpetuate a cycle of poverty.

    Without UNITY, we cannot hope to enjoy the fruits of our freedom. The architects of our independence have fought – and died for our freedom.

    This is the time to demonstrate to the world that, as fellow Africans, we are capable of working together so that we can all enjoy PEACE, FREEDOM and DIGNITY.

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