Even The COVID-19 Cloud Has a Silver Lining

Author, Okitanye Gaogane @ Innolead Consulting

Invisible giant. Bringing economies to their knees. Testing our very social fabric, rona ba manyalo, dintsho le maitiso. But with all that, I think COVID-19 is an ugly-beauty. Oxymoronic isn’t it!

I do not in any way get joy out of the health-socio-economic destruction that the pandemic is unleashing upon us. But being a Motswana child, I have been brought up to believe “metsi a kgoberegela go itsheka”. We could translate it to mean; at the end of the storm there is calmness. These words of wisdom are the pillar of hope for humanity, whose faith has been tested to bone.

Where is the silver lining in all these? In the past several weeks of medically imposed house arrest we as a nation have had to rethink our systems. Our social DNA and our economy machinery will never be the same again. We are redefining the new normal, all-hands-on-deck push to a different world. All sectors of the economy will change one way or the other and some more pronounced than others.

Security of Commodities

Our economy runs on imports: the food that we eat, the clothes that we wear, paper, furniture, you name it. Do we need to be importing in such large quantities? of course not. There is only a handful of commodities that we must import to sustain our economy. The likes of steel, medicine, rubber, and sophisticated equipment. All other basic commodities we can produce in abundance right here in fatshe leno la rona. I have never seen the citizens so excited about food production before than they are now; from backyard gardening to commercial Agro – processing factories. It’s a pleasing imagination to envision the number of meaningful & sustainable jobs that the food processing industry can generate if the state-owned entities like CEDA, BSB, NDB and commercial banks could focus their footprint on the food production sector. As long as they are alive, people will never stop eating. Imagine major retail supermarket shelves stocked to the brim with 100% local and organic products, what a pleasant sight it would be.

In the energy space, the abundance of solar and coal in this country is just ridiculous. To put it in perspective, digital maps and GIS data layers form Solargis show that more than half of Botswana has a score of more than 5.2 kWh photovoltaic power potential. We have been net importers of energy forever and with all honesty we should not be. We should be exporting power, coal extracted fuels, fertilizers. Could COVID be the trigger? Is this the Better Business Case we have been waiting for?

Information, Communications and Technology

The universal access measures of connectivity have been less than impressive for as long as we have been talking about them. A few weeks of working from home have exposed the obvious inadequacies of our technology infrastructure. The beauty of COVID is that we will emerge out of this era with better ICT infrastructure and clear acknowledgement that highways in the airways are more effective modes of transport and communications than our deadly roads, where we lose around 500 lives per year due to road traffic accidents. Well, acknowledging that technology does have its potholes in the form of cyber breaches, and the narrow-rutted bandwidth access roads. Information technology is not a nice to have, it is a basic human right.

The biggest benefactor of envisaged technological advancement should be non other than our education sector. The capital budgets, that we invest in massive brick structures and ancillary artifacts like books is unimaginable. And to think children still travel a few kilometres in bad weather to attend class! It sure takes a ridiculous paradigm shift to think a child could attend school from home (or smaller organised cells) with a whole library in a hand-held device. How sad that a few privileged Gaborone students continued with school while the rest of the nation is panicking about a possibility of a write-off year in education with consequences to be felt in the next 2 decades. Yes we can transform the education models as we know them. Let alone the health models, the agriculture models, the social security models. MmaBoipelego can have an up to date technology-based database of disadvantaged populace.

For sure our government has invested large sums of monies in developing a modern Government Enterprise Architecture. Before we are done with COVID some of the architecture may just succumb to obsolescence. Very close after the speed of light, it’s the speed of technological advancement, and humans are known to advance technology faster when they are paranoid like now.

Economic diversification

The scariest thing lately has been the realization that our strong economy is anchored on frontline resources that are fragile to minimal stress test. Our tourism was already on a full shutdown before our national lockdown, our mineral sector is bleeding. Haven’t we been talking about diversification for a few decades now? For many years we have. We are the masters of knowledge. We know what we must do. We do not have the plans nor the desire to do what we must do. Our knowledge is not power unless it can be converted into tangibles. We will continue talking diversification until the minerals are no more. I still think the invisible-giant COVID-19 is our messier. It’s a Better Business Case, a quick pick easily justifiable big spend proposals on economic diversification. Let’s build that knowledge-based economy, that technology-led-and-driven economy, that private-sector led economy, that citizen-inclusive economy. What Business Case is Better than this?

The ugly-beauty that is COVID-19 will breed innovation, leadership and patriotism. We will stop expatriating our capital gains and living off expensive freebies. Adversities are beautiful. From adversities like famine and weather, innovations have occurred in medicine, energy, automobiles, and food production.

Do you see the silver-lining!! from COVID-19 will emerge true captains, patriots, innovators, technological advancement, true economic independence, and profound change in social practices. Batswana are capable. It is time to act. The time for decisiveness in now. The optimist in me thinking COVID cloud has a silver lining bring us pula.

Okitanye Gaogane is a Senior Consultant at InnoLead Consulting offering Management Consultancy and Corporate Training Solutions. He is reachable at www.innolead.co.bw, f: Innolead Consulting, : @InnoleadConsult, innolead@innolead.co.bw, +267 3909102,