Botswana Delegation Focuses on Investment

In a continent often plagued by corruption and volatility, Botswana has managed to defy stereotypes thanks to healthy growth facilitated by its strong diamond trade and stable democratic government. 

However, the world’s recent economic woes have caused the land-locked southern African republic to seek ways to diversify its economy, opening up valuable investment opportunities for international companies, said David Cutting, who spent four years in Botswana as the CEO of Standard Chartered Bank‘s local subsidiary.

“It had been happily enjoying the fruits of diamond sales,” Mr. Cutting said of the world’s largest diamond producer by value. “So I think the crisis really jolted the country into recognizing the need to diversify the economy, and that’s why there’s this additional push for investment.”

Mr. Cutting was one of more than 150 people, including the country’s ambassador to the United StatesTebelelo Mazile Seretse, and minister of trade and industry, Dorcas Makgato-Malesu, who attended a July 20 session in Atlanta on doing business in Botswana.

“It’s a testament of what’s the potential when you look at who showed up today,” Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall told GlobalAtlanta at the session held at the Loews Atlanta Hotel inMidtown.

“This is yet another example of the potential that Atlanta has to play in the global economy,” said Mr. Hall, who is often involved in international trade missions.

While the sparsely populated Texas-sized country may not seem like a go-to destination for investment, its comparative stability makes it an ideal location for regional headquarters, said Mr. Cutting.

The country still has a ways to go to improve infrastructure, Mr. Cutting said, but the government has plans to build better railways and roads, particularly into neighboring countries, to reduce the costs of imports and exports.

Coupled with regional trade agreements including the Southern African Customs Union and theSouthern African Development Community, it’s becoming easier for Botswana to trade with its neighbors and use them as conduits to reach global markets.

And that makes it easier for foreign companies like AGCO Corp. to invest in the country, said Nuradin Osman, managing director for Africa and Middle East operations for the Duluth-based agricultural equipment manufacturer.

Mr. Osman told the assembly that AGCO has big plans for expansion in the continent of approximately 1 billion people and more than 50 countries. In Botswana alone, more than three-quarters of the population still work as farmers.

“For Botswana to grow, mechanization will play an increasingly important role,” Mr. Osman said.

He compared Africa’s potential to what the company experienced in Brazil, where AGCO started small but now maintains a 60 percent market share in tractors and harvesting equipment.

Mr. Osman said the company was eventually looking to find a hub in Africa to locally manufacture its products.

“So a product made in Africa, made for Africa, that is what our goal for the continent is,” he said. AGCO recently opened a model farm in Zambia to train farmers on its equipment and a parts warehouse in South Africa.

Beyond agriculture and diamonds, delegation leaders also stressed the importance of several other economic sectors they hope will take larger roles in Botswana’s economy, including education, health, transport, innovation and tourism.

Toward that goal, the government has set up six Strategic Centres of Excellence to serve to promote activities in their respective sectors.

Although each center works differently, they all offer programs designed to stimulate economic activity. For example, the Botswana Innovation Hub offers incentives to lure startups, universities and high-tech manufacturers in an effort to reduce the government’s heavy reliance on the diamond trade.

For the same reason, Botswana has also taken measures to promote inbound tourism, said Batlang Mmualefe, chief executive officer of the Botswana Tourism Organization.

“Even though the most tourists visiting Botswana are from neighboring countries, nearly two out of every five international visitors is from North America, and Americans are the largest group, so there’s a lot there,” he said.

In order to promote foreign tourism and economic investment, Botswana is looking to twin one of its cities with Atlanta, Ms. Seretse, the ambassador, said during a previous visit.

While in town, Ms. Seretse was also scheduled to attend the 20th annual convention of the National Black Chamber of Commerce July 19 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown.

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Photo by Chris Shattuck: Botswana’s ambassador to the United States, Tebelelo Mazile Seretse, addresses a session on doing business in the African country.

This story first appeared on GlobalAtlanta July 20.

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