Now More Than Ever,Botswana Needs Her SMMEs To Come To The Table

The coronavirus is currently running rampant across the globe. About two months ago it seemed like the virus was only a problem in China but fast forward a few weeks and it had spread to virtually the entire globe. Even after it had reached Europe and America, Africa remained largely untouched, a situation that has changed drastically over the last few days.

Despite the scourge seemingly taking hold in the continent, Botswana has hitherto not recorded a single case, contrary to her peers. Although this is, of course, welcome news, the downside is that with her number of cases on an upward trajectory, South Africa, one of Botswana's biggest trade partners, has declared a 21 days lockdown to try to slow down the spread of the virus.

It has been stated by both the governments of South Africa and Botswana that the lockdown will have no impact on the movement of goods between the countries but with South Africa having to worry about feeding and keeping her own people alive and fed during the lockdown, it seems likely that priority to avail imports to Botswana—which gets 80% of all her imports from South Africa—is likely to take a backseat.

With South Africa's coronavirus situation is worsening by the day, it looks like instead of relying on the South Africa government keeping its word of keeping trade routes open during its lockdown, Botswana should look for a plan B should that promise not be kept. Exploring options of how the country can fend for itself should the coronavirus scourge worsen is the best proactive step the country can take to cushion the economic impacts of the virus.

This is the cue for the country's small, micro and medium enterprises (SMMEs) to come into play and help plug up the supply holes which are going to be left by the predicament South Africa currently finds herself in. It is during this time that the country can do with not only its SMMEs' capacity to supply goods and services but also their capacity to innovate solutions that will enable the country to face this difficult time head-on.

Despite them having had a flimsy relationship over the years, the country's SMMEs and the government, now more than ever, need to work together to see how they can combine their efforts to keep the country adrift during this crisis. Only through the cooperation of the two can Botswana have any fighting chance of getting through this pandemic relatively unscathed.

One of the many ways they can about this is by way of government offering not only a stimulus package to support the activities of these SMMEs during this crisis but also ensure that regulations which are put in place to combat the spread of the virus will not significantly hamper the operations of these SMMEs.

As much as saving lives is the top priority during this time, the country should be careful not to enforce populist, draconian and irrelevant-to-a-Botswana context regulations which will do nothing but stop its ability to fend for itself during this time. For example, if it comes down to a lockdown scenario, instead of forcing all SMMEs to close shop, they can consider allowing those involved in supply value-chains for essential goods and services to continue operations but under very strict health and hygiene regulations to keep the virus contained.

Stimulus packages for SMMES who are involved in these supply value-chains for essential items of consumption during the pandemic, on the other hand, can serve the purpose of giving them a boost in order to help them keep up with the demand of the populace. Having access to these stimulus packages can also help foster the spirit of innovation among these SMMEs enabling them to conjure up innovations that will serve the country well during the course of the pandemic.

As a landlocked and largely unindustrialized country with an undiversified economy whose two main sectors are directly affected by the coronavirus, Botswana finds herself in a difficult situation during the course of this pandemic which—if not navigated through with care—can turn out to be catastrophic. In order to be able to do the bare minimum of keeping her citizens fed and alive, the country will have look within its own borders for its breadbasket.

South Africa, after seeing that her ability to fend from outside her borders was impaired, decided to offer debt relief fund for her SMMEs, allowing them to continue operations during the course of the pandemic and also giving those who are unable to operate the lifeline to not go down during the crisis. This is an applaudable and welcome move by the South African government which should be mimicked by Botswana should the virus outbreak hit the country hard too.

To again emulate her due south neighbor, the country's wealthy individuals can also consider pitching in to assist the government in assisting SMMEs. The Rupert and Oppenheimer families, in comparison,—in a bid to assist the South African government in helping SMMEs—each donated 1 billion rands in that respect.

The coronavirus pandemic is turning out to indiscriminately be a challenge for any and every country. From rich and largely developed western economies to "third world" economies, the virus is proving each and every day that as much as globalization is a welcome development, individual countries should not let it shift their focus from having rigid intra-border industries and markets which can enable the country to fend for itself should its ability to rely on the rest of the world be impaired.

It is during this time that the Botswana government should realize its inability to provide for its people effectively and efficiently should push come to shove and hence the importance of SMMEs in helping offer assistance to the same government to keep the country going in an exigency. This realization during this coronavirus crisis should show the government the importance of removing the bureaucratic red-tape and other barriers that impede the growth of SMMEs in the country.

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