INTERVIEW with H.E. SAMUEL O. OUTLULE – AMBASSADOR OF THE REPUBLIC OF BOTSWANA TO THE KINGDOM OF BELGIUM AND HEAD OF DELEGATION TO THE EUROPEAN UNION

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H.E. Samuel O. Outlule – Ambassador of the Republic Of Botswana to the
Kingdom of Belgium and Head of
Delegation to the European Union

HOW WOULD YOU PRESENT BOTSWANA FROM AN ECONOMIC POINT OF VIEW?

Since independence in 1966, Botswana has pursued open economy policies that set off foreign direct investment in the mining sector. These policies led to rapid economic growth and development that enabled Botswana to graduate from the list of least developed countries. Furthermore Botswana has enjoyed strong and stable economic growth that is well supported by good governance and transparency, prudent management of resources, an independent judiciary and respect for the rule of law. In 2005 the World Bank classified Botswana as an upper middle-income economy.

Economic activity is mainly supported by mineral resources, especially diamonds, tourism and the beef industry. The three sectors make significant contributors to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and have been the cornerstone of Botswana’s economic success. Despite the good reviews, economic growth rate remains low, making it difficult to achieve national development goals to create jobs, especially for the youth. In 2020, Botswana’s economy contracted by an estimated 8.9%. This was subsequent to a 3.0% growth rate in 2019. The contraction is attributed to a number of factors such as COVID–19 lockdown and other restrictions on movement which constrained economic activities. On the supply side, mining output declined significantly, mainly due to falling global demand. In this regard, the Government is looking into increasing investments in agriculture, services, tourism, digital transformation and manufacturing in order to diversify the economy and reduce the high dependency on the mining of rough diamonds alone, which is subject to volatility.

I must underscore that COVID-19 has put a heavy burden on our economy. Due to this, Botswana developed an Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP) to bolster resilience to the pandemic aftershocks. The ERTP is an addendum to the Mid-Term Review of National Development Plan (NDP) 11 and is aligned to the National Vision 2036.
The Plan is expected to revive the economy by supporting local businesses, attracting private sector investments, diversifying exports as well as creating jobs. Other recovery measures that Botswana undertook include among others: provision of food relief packages, wages subsidies, increased utilisation of the ICTs to support sectors like education through online learning; economic stimulus packages for small and medium enterprises that were severely affected by the pandemic; deferment and restructuring of loan obligations; temporary suspension and concessions on tax payment until business recovers as well as a roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.

I would also like to indicate that the Government of Botswana has created strategies such as the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD). The EDD aims to address the identified weaknesses and threats that have over the years delayed the achievement of economic diversification, while simultaneously propelling the exploitation of our strengths and opportunities. Botswana has designated eight (8) Special Economic Zones (SEZs) which are dedicated to specific sectors and provide an investor-friendly business environment that will make Botswana the most preferred location for both domestic and foreign investment. The main objective of these SEZs is to diversify the country’s economic and export base into sectors that will continue to grow long after diamonds have run out. The 8 SEZ and their functions are as follows:

  • Gaborone: Provides for mixed use and entails the following; diamond beneficiation, pharmaceuticals, aerospace and aviation, finance & technology services, electronic equipment.
  • Lobatse: Meat and leather processing
  • Selebi-Phikwe: Base Metal Beneficiation
  • Francistown: Mineral beneficiation, freight and logistics, electronic equipment
  • Pandamatenga: Integrated agriculture (cereal. Agro-processing, water management solutions, food processing and storage facility)
  • Tuli Block: Agro processing and food processing
  • Palapye: the focus area is the energy sector (coal beneficiation, Oil & Gas and renewable energy)

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE BILATERAL RELATIONS BETWEEN BELGIUM AND BOTSWANA?

Botswana and Belgium share excellent and mutually beneficial bilateral relations since Botswana’s independence in 1966 as well as the multilateral relations that dates as far back as 1975, under the Lomé Conventions which were designed to provide a new framework of cooperation between the then European Economic Community (EEC) and developing African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. This was followed by the Cotonou Partnership Agreement in 2000, the EU-SADC EPA in 2016 and the New Agreement between the EU and the Organisation of Africa, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS). Belgium is widely known as the “heart of Europe” with its capital city, Brussels being an important centre of European economic, commercial and political activity and the capital of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The two countries have similar traits as Botswana is also strategically located in the heart of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and provides alternative routes to SADC’s other highly congested corridors, such as the route from South Africa through Zimbabwe and further north to Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Furthermore, SADC as an inter-governmental organisation that exists to achieve development, peace and security and economic growth within the Southern African States is headquartered in Botswana.

A significant part of bilateral relations between Botswana and Belgium can be traced to the discovery of diamonds. Belgium is a very important market for Botswana’s rough diamonds with an estimated export value of BWP 76,608.677,963 for the period 2016 to 2020. Antwerp is a major world diamond centre. A large number of diamontaires have invested in the city and are involved in the cutting, polishing and retail sectors of the industry. Many of the diamontaires were DeBeers sightholders and purchased most of their diamonds from the Diamond Trading Centre in London. With the development of Gaborone as a Diamond Centre, some of the Antwerp based diamond companies have been licensed to buy diamonds from the Diamond Trading Company Botswana and Okavango Diamond Trading Company. This means that there is a continuing partnership and cooperation between Botswana and Belgium. Belgium also participates in the Kimberley Process under the umbrella of the EU.

Bilaterally, Botswana has signed two Agreements with the Kingdom of Belgium namely; the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Bilateral Cooperation in Agriculture and Tourism between the Government of Botswana and the Flanders Government in May 2017; and the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement signed in 2018. Let me also highlight that a successful and exemplary twinning arrangement exists between the two cities of Francistown and Genk in Botswana and Belgium, respectively. The MoU, first signed in 2004, is seen as a mechanism to exchange ideas and best practices in areas of urban sustainable development and to deepen the bilateral agreement already existing between Botswana and Belgium.

We are therefore hopeful that collaboration with CBL-ACP will contribute towards diversified trade between Botswana and Belgium and the rest of the European Union as well as open doors for sustainable investments.

WHAT ARE THE KEY SECTORS IN WHICH YOU WOULD ADVISE BELGIAN INVESTORS TO INVEST IN BOTSWANA?

As I stated earlier, Botswana Government is looking to diversify the economy to avoid over-reliance on mining. Based on this, the following sectors have shown potential for investment; manufacturing, energy, beneficiation in the mining sector, education, agriculture, Finance and Knowledge Intensive Business Services (FKIBS), transport and logistics, tourism, health, ICT, digitalisation, cultural and creative industries. The Special Economic Zones also presents opportunities in the Agro-processing, manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and logistics as well as internationally traded services.

On this point, I wish to highlight that ICT and digitization in particular as an interesting area of investment as the Government of Botswana is currently implementing a digital transformation strategy called SmartBots, which will also support the goal of transforming Botswana from an upper-middle-income country to high-income status by 2036. The aim is to become a knowledge-based economy.

In other sectors, the underdeveloped nature of Botswana pharmaceutical market presents considerable investment opportunities. Here, innovative manufacturers have the opportunity to branch out from Botswana’s domestic market to the wider market of the SADC region. Belgian investors could also consider establishing partnerships between Botswana and Belgian businesses, chambers of commerce, academic institutions, women and youth organisations, cultural and creative organisations, among other opportunities. Botswana has abundant energy resources, receiving over 3 200 hours of sunshine per year with insulation. The government has put in place policy and legal frameworks to enable investors to develop the sector.

YOUR EMBASSY IS THE FIRST POINT OF CONTACT FOR BELGIANS WHO ARE HERE. HOW DO YOU HELP THEM? ARE THERE OTHER AGENCIES WITH WHOM IT IS IMPORTANT TO BE IN CONTACT?

Indeed, our embassy is the face of Botswana and first point of contact for citizens of Botswana, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, as well as other nationalities who are interested in investing and/or visiting Botswana, as well as EU institutions for bilateral and multilateral cooperation with Botswana. We are available 24/7 by email, telephone, website and in-person visits for the citizens of the BENELUX and Italy. We also have Honorary consulates in Luxembourg, Italy and the Netherlands who are also mandated to assist with consular duties. The role of the Embassy is to advance Botswana’s national interests and articulate our foreign policy in our bilateral relations and in international fora. Our primary mandate is to attract investments, promote trade and tourism, promote Botswana’s culture, arts and crafts, and facilitate movement of people by providing a range of consular services such as visa and national document processing.

We work closely with strategic stakeholders and partners such as the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC), the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO), the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA), as well as other government ministries, academic institutions and civil society. BITC is our investment promotion agency which is mandated to attract and promote investments as well as promote Botswana exports abroad. BITC also facilities the ease of doing business in Botswana through provision of prompt and efficient services offered through its One Stop Service Centre. The Embassy, in collaboration with BITC and other key institutions carry out and participates in tourism exhibitions in countries of accreditation, and undertakes investment promotion activities where we work closely with the Botswana business community to promote their business interests abroad. This includes organising meetings between potential investors and local business people, especially where foreign investors are looking for local partners.

The Embassy is an interface between Botswana and Belgium as well as Botswana and Europe at large. Botswana Embassies in Europe collaborate very closely and engage in regular exchange of information to ensure the seamless provision of services to the public. In this respect we represent the interests of Botswana and Batswana in Belgium and the Europe continent. We also connect Belgium and and Europe to Botswana by providing information on development priorities, profiled business opportunities for investment, promoting trade and tourism
The Embassy works to serve Botswana’s national interests.

IS THERE A MESSAGE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEND TO OUR MEMBERS?

Let me take this opportunity to indicate that the Embassy is open and ready to engage your membership on any information they may need about Botswana, be it on investment, trade, tourism, international cooperation or any issue where we can be of assistance. This includes, among other services, helping to link potential investors to Botswana’s key institutions and business leaders. An increase in investment from Europe will certainly help Botswana to succeed in diversifying and expanding its economy. We see a bright future for the economy and people of Botswana, and the SADC region as a whole. We hope that European investors will recognise and seize the myriad of opportunities which Botswana has to offer. In this regard, the Embassy stands ready and willing to facilitate all travellers and investors.