When The Economy Speaks … Cracking the Botswana Productivity Code. Short Notes.




30 Oct 2017

In its 2015 survey of African workers, South Africa’s Rand Merchant Bank found Batswana to be the laziest on the continent.  The problem is actually more acute than that.

In the 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Report, Botswana scores the worst among the 137 countries that are tracked by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) on 12 pillars of economic competitiveness.  From a list of 16 factors, respondents to the World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey were asked to select the five most problematic factors for doing business in their country and to rank them between 1 (most problematic) and 5.  The results were then tabulated and weighted according to the ranking assigned by respondents.  One of those factors is “Poor work ethic in national labour force.”

With a score of 19, Botswana’s national workforce (which would include those in the public and private sector as well as NGOs) emerge as standard bearers of the poorest work ethic in the world survey.  Also doing poorly are Trinidad & Tobago (15.9), Brunei (14.4), Sri Lanka (11.1), Liberia (10.8), Bhutan (10.5), Seychelles (10.1), Malta (9.8), Georgia (9.7), Mauritius and Vietnam (9.5), Namibia (9.3), Bahrain (9.0), Kuwait (8.7) and United Arab Emirates and Jamaica (8.6).

WEF’s interest in labour productivity has to do with the fact that it impacts on business. A University of Botswana study by Professor John Makgala and Dr. Phenyo Thebe (“There is no Hurry in Botswana”: Scholarship and Stereotypes on “African time” Syndrome in Botswana, 1895-2011”) found that this lack of productivity has frustrated effort to attract foreign direct investment. Interestingly, there was a time when, according to literature that the authors quote, Botswana’s civil service “was generally believed to be the most efficient in the whole of the African continent.”

On a past trip to Singapore, former and late President Sir Ketumile Masire gained an appreciation on the efficiency of the country’s workers. Where a Motswana factory worker would produce one shirt within a given period of time, a Singaporean counterpart would produce six within the same period.

“This was productivity not in theory but in demonstrable terms.  When we say we are not productive, this is what we meant,” Masire recalled to Sunday Standard in 2015 of this experience which would lead to Botswana benchmarking with Singapore and delegations from the two countries travelling back and forth.

As one of the Four Asian Tigers, Singapore would provide one quarter of the inspiration to establish the Botswana National Productivity Centre (BNPC). The tigers are Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Along the way, however, the late president appears to have given up on ever inculcating the right work ethic in Batswana. On assessing the apparent resistance, he determined that Batswana’s poor work ethic was a result of their pastoralism.

“If you look at the life of pastoralists, they don’t have a good work ethic,” he had said.  The example he had cited was that beyond sinking a borehole for their livestock, letting out cattle to pasture and doing some other undemanding work, most of the time pastoralists are just lazing about as their cattle graze untended in the bush.  By Masire’s analysis, this is the work ethic that has been bequeathed to modern-day Botswana.

As a University of Botswana study shows, not one productivity intervention scheme by the government has produced the desired results. In his 2015/16 budget speech, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo, lamented the low levels of labour productivity in Botswana.  The best performers in terms of work ethic in the national labor force are from Zimbabwe and Venezuela underpinned by a perfect score.

Source: Sunday Standard.  http://www.sundaystandard.info/batswana-have-worst-work-ethic-world-%E2%80%93-report Retrieved May 23, 2018

Productivity Systemic Story by Ranking

Table 1:  Comparison of Botswana with 2017’s Best Global Labour Productivity Data




  1. An economic system defines the mechanism of production, distribution and allocation of goods, services and resources in a society/country with defined rules and policies about ownership and administration.
  2. The most commonly followed economic system is modern-day capitalism.  It was based on a framework to secure supply of the key elements required for industry – land, machinery and labor.  A disruption in any of these would lead to increased risk and loss for the venture.


  1. Socialists viewed this commoditization of labor as an inhuman practice.  I am of the view, that those words are distinctively that of the female voice possibly lending itself from Marx’s known instances of showing great sympathy for peasants, and especially women, as important forces for change within Marx’s theory (and quite possibly marks the genesis of a matriarchal society – even so where women leads quietly from behind the scenes often as a response to survive in the face of absent males who  have needed to travel long distances to work in the agriculture and mining industries – and so have become increasingly ‘masculinized’).
  2. These, I believe, led to the birth of Karl Marx’s idealism on socialism and socialist economies across a few countries.

    • How does a socialist economy work?
    • The starting point to this form of economy is three-fold typically:
      • The country has substantial access to wealth generated by mining underground mineral and fossil fuel resources and which is demanded by other world economies and is traded in exchange for income;
      • Or it has traditionally enjoyed a monarchy and/or a pastoral economy and access to substantive land spaces that allows it to multiply livestock and warm crops (that does not require as much attention compared to cold crops) at rates faster than the rate at which the human population multiples with relative ease.  The monarchy supports its people when they ask for help and assist in distributing the wealth in the form of  shared resources (such as land) or meat and food as needed.
      • Either ways, the population therefore, has a tradition and work ethics unlike that of the farmers in parts of Asia, such as southern China where rice cultivation can be an intricate, laborious, multi-seasonal in a year and since the majority of whom have limited resources, they have learned to improve the returns on their labor by “becoming smarter, being collaborative, by being better managers of their own time, and by making better choices.”  In other words, more than simply working hard, they worked intelligently and strategically.  Cultures “shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work” tend to produce students with the fortitude to “sit still long enough” to find solutions to time-consuming and complex math problems, for instance.  As such hard work given this context, can easily be perceived as more difficult than usual and therefore quite possibly regarded as inhumane.
        Source: “Rice Paddies and Math Tests,” Malcolm Gladwell
    • There are three prominent characteristics of the socialist economy:
      • That the goods and services are produced based on usage value or for their usefulness (subject to the needs of the society, and so preventing under-production and over-production).  Therefore, it eliminates the need for a demand-based market for products to be sold at a profit.   This is completely different from the common capitalist economic system, where goods and services are produced by economies of scale to generate profit and capital accumulation.  In this way, it discourages accumulation, which is assumed to be the root cause of wealth imbalance across the society.
      • It is a financial system based on the public or cooperative ownership of production.  Socialism, similar to communism, advocates that the means of production be owned by the people, either through a state-controlled agency or worker cooperative; or else property/capital might be commonly owned by the society as a whole, with delegation to representatives.  Socialist economies discourage private ownership.  For example, this includes having a mostly state-run economy, subsistence farming on lands purposed for shared or communal use, a national health-care program, government- paid (i.e. free) education at all levels, subsidized housing, utilities, entertainment and even subsidized food programs.   These subsidies compensate for the low salaries of workers, making them better off than their international counterparts in many other countries.
      • Socialism also believes that wealth and income should be shared more equally among people.  Therefore, perceiving the receipt of income as an entitlement rather than merit is acceptable within all levels of society.  “If you have it, then I should have it too.”  Taken to an extreme, that would not bode well for productivity, would it?  It therefore becomes a misnomer to say that socialism and free market economies can realistically co-exist. However, the main goal of socialism is to narrow, but not totally remove, the gap between the rich and the poor.  The government, through its agencies and policies, takes the responsibility to redistribute production and wealth, making the society fairer and leveled.
    • The consequences of the above, are as follows:
      • The economy relies on sectors whose productive practices are not apparent to the masses or there is heavy reliance on machinery and technology such as in mineral extraction and processing, real-estate and passive income business practices such as multi-level marketing. The social environment makes it difficult for the general masses to imbibe productive work ethics and practices, to a point of shunning and even dismissing those who may display such practices;
      • The dominant trade offered by the masses to foreigners and professional include domestic maid services and guard duty security services.  Neither of these services train the individual learn to generate income but rather protect and consume resources that are already there.  The element of hard work is for the most part, removed.
      • Significant masses of citizens make purchases primarily do so, not to support entrepreneurial growth but to ensure redistribution of wealth, i.e. flows from professionals, foreign investors or expatriates operating within the system to the citizens;
      • The system works on ‘forces’ that facilitate the flow of money from those who have to those who do not and who are then, in turn, amply rewarded, even if with kind words.  The following are used intentionally or otherwise, to draw special notice to it to facilitate the flow to:
        • The informal business sector with standard essential products the masses use such as airtime, sweets, fat cakes, essential foods such as vegetables, meat and milk, drinks, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol.  A significant part of the income from the sector is used with a view to make ends meet rather than necessarily to grow an enterprise.  Growing large enterprises is shunned unintentionally or perceived as too difficult and would cause the ‘flow’ within the system to slow down to accumulate or even stop.  Most therefore stay as self-employees for life which makes for ‘things’ to be easier.
        • Citizen businesses rotate two monthly to allow more to gain access to government purchase schemes (catering, uniforms, supplies, etc.) before relinquishing the turn to the next ‘business’ in the queue.  We shame or shun who otherwise overstay their dues or are engaged in sales (who are too active and over the top and are perceived as being impatient and rude to wait their turn and is therefore callous and uncultured) or even make claims they are engaged in corrupt ways.
        • Young women who have young children often present subtle pressures as to one is more deserving than others to receive help and to come to one’s aid by virtue of the number of children one has mothered or the shanty standards of living one has unfortunately fallen into.
        • Women who are open to offering sexual favours in return
        • The youth or the orphaned child
        • The disabled
        • The disenfranchised or the ostracized
        • The man who has fathered large numbers of children and is unemployed or is a self-employee.
        • The royalty and therefore are naturally privileged to entitlements
        • When left untreated, these creates the perfect conditions for the growth of beggary as an acceptable occupation on the streets during the day and crime by night.


  1. Botswana’s real labour productivity per capita (when measuring the employed population’s output excluding value added by mining and real-estate sectors, against the total population of the country for a truer reflection of real per capita income of the country) is USD 2.2 per hour or USD 18 per day, and that is, before deducting costs of operations.  Luxembourg sets the pace as the global labour productivity leader at USD 93.4 per hour or USD 747 per day (or USD 16,437 per month).  At this rate, Botswana’s productivity (and therefore wealth) lags (falls behind by) at 30-40x behind that of Luxembourg.
  2. It makes one wonder, that in our efforts to avoid capitalism, apparent inhuman labour practices, wealth accumulation, and for that perfect equality in the distribution of income, at what cost have we done so?  Will our efforts to transform the manufacturing and industrialization sectors OR efforts to diversify the economy (from the tried and tested) gain traction without understanding the underlying forces that detract us from such efforts?
  3. The Question Is.
    • Would we rather continue this way as business as usual and dragging a burgeoning burden on the state in the process?
    • Would citizens know how big that burden is or what that would become of and cause to the state?
    • Would it help citizens of the country, see and learn what these distinctions stand for and what that would mean for them?
      Gaining such understanding in our mind would mean gaining the power in our hands.  If you can imagine it, then you can create it.


  1. However, this would deter organizations from worlds that practice capitalism, wanting to be a part of such an economic system.  These are organizations that grew their wealth by virtue of merits of their performance, have withstood the test of time being measured by defined standards and rates of growth of income and wealth and believed in reducing costs of production to accumulate business wealth so as to grow the economy.
  2. Interestingly, no pure socialist, pure capitalist or pure communist economy exists in the world today.  All economic system changes were introduced with a big bang approach and had to make “adjustments” to allow appropriate modifications as the situation developed.
  3. Eventually most state-run subsidies without high productivity standards, become insufficient to support the numerous social programs.  Despite perhaps, enormous aid received from outside itself, high poverty levels continues to persist, widening the gap of rich and poor, and becoming a massive burden on social programs.
  4. A reform will often aim to shift towards a mixed economy that would allow free-market mechanisms, remove government control of small businesses, lay off unnecessary state workers and make self-employment easier allowing up to 40% of the government workforce to move into the private sector, enabling the inception of income tax payment, which in turn will lead to more self-reliance.
  5. In the short-run, to relieve the income pressures of the economy, policies may be aimed at bringing in higher foreign investment. Tax-free special development zones are introduced for foreign companies to conduct business freely and allow transfer of tariff-free profits abroad, among other benefits. This may cause a significant change from the central “socialist” planning.  However, this cannot act as a substitute for it.
  6. Fundamental changes, however, will call for reforms (yes, even if it is aimed at our own citizens), designed to allocate wages based on  citizen or worker productivity.  Not rank.  Not seniority.  Till citizens see the direct link between their productivity and the national and personal incomes, the transformation will not be complete.


Socialist economies across the globe have existed and continue to progress. However, there may not be any standard pure socialist economy remaining.  Timely, fundamental shifts in programs and policies have allowed such economies to thrive and flourish – China being the world leader among them.  The ones taking a rigid stand are facing severe problems or developing parallel markets.

Source: Socialist Economies: How China, Cuba And North Korea Work | Investopedia https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/081514/socialist-economies-how-china-cuba-and-north-korea-work.asp#ixzz5GKkjPmXQ
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