By John Glassey, Managing Director, AfricanBrains, Part of The Brains Network
There is no formula for affluence in budding Africa, nor a manual for the intrepid investor looking to integrate in to one of the multiple emerging markets positioned within its resource-rich Southern African Development Community (SADC).
However were one were poised to do so, he or she need look no further for indicators of stability and the potential for prosperity than Botswana. And it is in light of Botswana’s unique mantra, in its spirit of ‘best practices’ in sects breaking the mould and thriving amongst SADC nations, its climate allowing for business to thrive and relationships from across the globe to foster with impunity, that it was truly our pleasure and privilege to host the AfricanBrains Innovation Africa Summit in the capital city of Gaborone from the 15-17th of October.
The readily available facts and figures behind Botswana’s transformative potential provided by Transparency International as but an example, are staggering at first glance. Here we have a Republic with a literacy ratio of nearly 85%, an ardent member-state of the OECD Anti-Bribery Commission with a deeply-rooted tradition of representative democracy and an African nation with a startling 80% Corruption ‘Control Rate’. By one economist’s estimate, the country has the fourth-highest gross national income at purchasing power parity in the whole of Africa, giving it a standard of living around that of Turkey.
Indeed the prospect of investing safely in resource procurement for instance, is one too attractive to fathom for many, with mineral deposits abundant throughout the nation and the industry itself providing roughly 40% of all government revenues. At the heat of talks on pivoting economic dependence from diamonds (initiated over concerns of dry-out) ambitious miners have only in this decade found massive deposits of uranium, with mining presently underway.
From the dawn of its independence in 1966 and truly in order to serve as a beacon for African opportunity today, Botswana has had to learn from the mistakes of its neighbours, both direct and indirect, in choosing to adhere to the global standards of fiscal lucidity and promote equality and free enterprise.
Rather than endorse indigenization as a means of reparation from the days of colonization (with documented cases of cronyism and corruption near-inescapable when put to practice throughout the continent), Botswana plays host to strict regulatory agencies which allow for the investment market climate to emanate as not only stable but competitive.
Further, the Republic’s constitution prohibits the nationalization of private property (a recognizable trend often causing trepidation from foreign investors in considering operating within emerging ‘democratic’ markets for a prolonged, viable term without incurring the advances of political opportunists).
One of the key pillars found in a nation’s infrastructure and developmental trajectory is its abidance to its constitution and its promotion of a sense of fair play. Botswana attractively supports an independent judiciary, incentivizing the international community to integrate en masse and assuaging concerns through enforcing rule of law.
In light of the pragmatic approaches of Botswana’s executive administration to galvanize global investment and raise awareness to Sub-Saharan African opportunity, the timing could not have been better for our summit. AfricanBrains prides itself on connecting the political will of actors from across the continent, ministers and senior government officials alike, with the ambitions backed by the capital interest of private sector captains of industry from around the world, and notably played a role in doing so with iconic brands and technological innovators in attendance such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Pearson, Intel, Google, Samsung and Oracle.
Through group and one-to-one pre-scheduled bilateral meetings spanning the course of days, these representatives pooled their collective energies and aspirations together and continued their track record of producing tangible arrangements that have circumvented the traditional bureaucratic red tape in integration and allowed for innovation, indeed with a particular focus on education, to flourish and long-lasting partnerships to prospectively develop.
There could be no greater synergy between the ongoing mission of AfricanBrains as host to this cultivation and indeed host city than that which was found in Gaborone in October.
Botswana Minister of Education & Skills Development, Hon. Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi noted in her opening remarks at the Innovation Africa Summit, that over the course of the past five years, her nation has spent up to an astounding 30% of the state budget on education.
Understanding the sector’s role as a mainstay of a nation’s prolonged growth, Minister Venson-Moitoi stated that “…education isn’t a subject you can just brush aside; it is a subject that you take seriously, because it is serious business.”
“It is about the future of this nation, this continent. It is about the future of this world, whether we like it or not. It is the only thing that is going to take nations out of poverty, the one thing that has liberated nations around the world”.
“Because it is education, “ she continued, “that will help us bring peace and order. It is when nations are educated that they understand why they must speak to each other, and not fight with each other. So maybe we should all spend more time talking about education. However, education needs enablers…”
And indeed while the nation’s education sector and its subsequent embrace of innovative technology is cause for commendation, Botswana is not without its share of challenges, those that must be acknowledged from the offset. The spread of HIV/AIDS had at one point hit epidemic levels. Life expectancy figures and those of child poverty are serious contemporary concerns, as if gone unchecked, can discourage this long and rich history of growth and curb the potential of the next generation of African leaders.
However, today we understand that Africa is on the rise. The fastest-growing nations in the world are sub-Saharan. Botswana is exceptionally leading the way and the old world order based on aid and patronization needs to come to an end. Trade is booming, foreign direct investment is at an all-time high and a growing regional middle-class are placing demands back on their own governments and societies.
We plan to look beyond the rhetoric, toward viable candidates to steward African business in to its next period of globalized ascendancy and remain grateful of the opportunity which was provided by the city of Gaborone and the nation of Botswana, sharers of the belief that it is in our own hands to create lasting change and no greater place to do so responsibly than in an evolving marketplace ready to take its rightful place on the global forefront.