Botswana gained independence in 1966. Thereafter, in the late 1990s, the country became one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, only comparable to China, with an average annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth above the 10% mark. In the 2000s, the pace of this remarkable growth performance slowed. Nevertheless, Botswana continued to maintain political and economic stability, which is often attributed to good governance and sound macroeconomic and fiscal management. This saw the country repeatedly listed among the top Africa performers in most of the governance indicators produced by the World Bank and other international organizations.
Despite the strong historical growth performance of Botswana throughout the 1990s and prior to the global financial crisis of 2008/2009, dependence on diamond exports remains high. Although the Government of Botswana has invested its diamond revenues in infrastructure, education and healthcare services, Botswana’s private sector continues to remain relatively weak to create decent jobs for the growing youth population. For example, the current unemployment rate stands at 33.2%. As a result, the economy continues to be overly dependent on the State to create jobs and provide much needed services to the population.
This situation has been exacerbated by the Covid -19 crisis. On 2 April 2020, in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, the Government of Botswana declared a State of Emergency. The Government acted quickly and decisively upon the detection of an active COVID-19 case and introduced an initial 28-day lockdown on 2 April 2020. Strict measures regulating the movement of essential goods across the border, cessation of international air traffic and transportation of people remain in place. The impact of COVID-19 is therefore evolving and the government is taking a cautious approach to opening up the economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic is clearly not only a health crisis, but a crisis of unprecedented proportions with far-reaching socio-economic impacts. In recent years, the Botswana economy has been threatened by a contraction in the mining sector, due to slow demand for diamonds, and 2019 figures show that the national economy slowed to a 3.0% year-on-year growth, compared to 4.5% in 2018. Whilst there is uncertainty around the extent and duration of constrained economic activity as a result of COVID-19, global estimates by the IMF in the April World Economic Outlook (WEO) predicted a contraction of 3.0% in the global GDP in 2020. National estimates show that Botswana’s economy is expected to contract by 8.9% in 2020, before rebounding to 3.9% in 2021. Given the recent upsurge in COVID-19 cases, the projections for 2021 may be too optimistic. This is particularly the case when considering the fact that Botswana’s main export industry – diamond mining – has been contracting over the past few years. While efforts have been made to diversify the economy and diamonds accounted for only 16% of value added (GDP at basic prices) in 2018, compared to 25% in 1994, the exports are still heavily reliant on rough and polished diamonds -still accounting for 73% of total exports of goods and services (2018), little different to the figure 25 years earlier. The demand for diamond during Covid -19 has slowed with a significant drop in global commodity prices which will result in considerable revenue shortfalls for the government. With the disruptions in global supply chains and economic downturn, the need for a locally diversified markets and supply chains has become increasingly important for Botswana’s resilience.
In the 2020 global multidimensional poverty index (MPI), 17.2% of the population in Botswana is regarded as MPI poor, showing deprivations across the health, education and living standards dimensions. Significant geographic variations are evident across the dimensions with primarily rural districts such as Kweneng West, Ghanzi and Ngamiland West with MPI scores of 0.206, 0.192 and 0.145 respectively compared with urban Gaborone at 0.004 and the national average of 0.073.
According to the 2019 Human Development Index (HDI), Botswana ranks as the 7th most unequal country in the world, despite it’s upper-middle-income status. According to the World Inequality database, the top one percent of Botswana’s income earners accounted for 22.6% of Botswana’s Gross National Income (GNI) in 2017 whilst the top 10% accounted for 58.9% of GNI and the bottom 50% shared only 8.7.% between themselves.
Widening income inequality is one of the defining challenges of our time. In advanced economies, the gap between the rich and poor is at its highest level in decades. Inequality trends have been more mixed in emerging markets and developing countries, with some countries experiencing declining inequality, however, pervasive inequities persist in access to education, health care, and finance. The extent of inequality, its drivers, and policy responses are debated by policymakers and researchers alike. Botswana is no exception to this reality.
UNICEF and UN Women (2013) define inequalities as being fundamentally about relational disparities, denial of fair and equivalent enjoyment of rights, and persistence of arbitrary discrepancies in the worth, status, dignity and freedoms of different people. On the other hand, Kabeer (2010) defines economic inequality within the context of social inequalities faced by people marginalised because of identities such as gender, disability, race, ethnicity, caste, religion or language – resulting in intersecting – and mutually reinforcing inequalities. According to UNDP (2013), these socially excluded groups often suffer from spatial inequalities and they tend to be concentrated in disadvantaged locations, and that social, economic and spatial inequalities are likely to contribute to political inequalities. These definitions clearly indicate that inequality is a multi-dimensional development challenge that needs to be approached and addressed within the said context.
Against this background and context, UNDP is commissioning two research studies on the causes and contributing factors to inequality in Botswana; the Inequality (Economy) Study and the Inequality (Social) Study. Both research studies will identify and interrogate the causes of inequalities looking at specific questions to unearth evidence and to propose possible legal, policy and advocacy responses that UNDP could pursue in order to address inequality in Botswana. In terms of team composition, the Team leader to be a Social Scientist or related fields, with team members having extensive experience in researching cultural and land issues. Specific research on issues around inequalities is an advantage