Friday, July 13, 2012

Seven Steps to Heaven

-The Gaborone North/Phakalane disaster and bureaucrazy!

It is not possible to talk about the past without giving some kind of historical overview – the “climate of the day”, so to say. Let me begin like this:

We are going to talk about the times from Independence to about mid-80-ies. The president, Sir Seretse Khama (SSK), studied Law and other things (e.g. John M Keynes macro-economic theories) in the 60-ies, well ahead of the later neo-conservative Chicago-school of old economical “axioms” from late 1800 and early 1900.

In fact – SSK was a social democrat and made a few study tours to Scandinavia to find out how this policy worked – the so called “middle way” - more sustainable to developing countries than later “hard core” neo-classical economics. He even made a deal with the Swedish government to have physical planners seconded to Botswana via SIDA.

As social democrats are inherently from the Keynesian side of the macro-economic border, a few planners arrived here in the late 70-ies, like myself (arriving in mid January - 79) to make physical plans for future Botswana the “middle way”, developmental, that is.

Now, remember, this is the time when Keynes was swapped as an economic/political conservative named Milton Friedman of the Chicago School of Economics became the economic hero of the day – waiving a diploma from the Nobel Prize Committee for his economic ideas! A paradox, so to say! But such things happen often in our modern “global” world.

Henceforth, a “re-born” old economic paradigm was bit by bit presented by “tamed” economists from IMF and World Bank (plus WTO) and become the basis for future planning of “new” macro-economics. Often called neo-liberal or neo-conservative, sometimes even neo-classical. Make your choice and remember that this happened in the late 70-ies and early 80-ies here.

SSK died in July 1980 and social planning was soon forgotten – then market planning (sellers market) became dominant (for BHC, too). As I know it, the SSK followers were educated in another era of neo-conservative economics with figure-heads like Reagan and Thatcher. 

Consequently, social planning was out and market planning was the new thing. Our Botswana social planning balloon burst all of a sudden.

Except for Sir Ketumile, no IMF and World Bank educated local economist in government had the slightest idea about the economic history of developing countries. How the developed countries reached their goals.

This was a sad time for Botswana, in my opinion – the old “develop-mentalist” (middle way) concept, very much designed for developing countries, was abandoned – a concept  that once worked so well for western countries (based on financial regulations, protected markets, and a piece of social welfare - still in use here and there, even in USA).

And here we are, today – the prevailing situation – a macro-economy that doesn’t work well for developing countries not then or now when we are facing a world of less abundance (i.e. limited growth and need of a steady state economy).

However, the many bursting economic (and real estate) global bubbles we have experienced are seemingly making some developing countries re-thinking. And as far as I can see, we are also giving now prevailing “axioms” a second thought. But how is the “free-market” responding? Well, it is still relying on eternal growth when we clearly see that resources are finite (oil, for instance).

To make a long story short, there is an upcoming disaster called Phakalane in the papers, now becoming a kind of myth – the above writings are part of the explanation to current predicament for this township, initially presented as an “an independent township” by the landowner.

However, we mustn’t forget that Phakalane was given an approval by the Minister of the time – consequently, the authorities must live up to this approval! When a Minister uses his veto against a decision of his Town & Country Planning Board, it implicitly means that the TCPB advice wasn’t correct in his mind! Land policy must include the landowners views – we have to try it, he implicated – remember SSK had before his depart accepted this – that must have been the Ministers thinking!

To be loyal and obedient to government decisions by the civil servants is basic in most countries. But here in Botswana it appears that we have “factions” even in the civil servants daily work – no impartiality! And the servant’s memory (probably also envy) is as long as the old road to Ghanzi.

Back to the old times – in May 1979 (not 1978 as the applicant for the change of land of his farm is indicating in his autobiography – let’s call him DM forthwith), I was told by my Director/DTRP (Mr York-Smith – YS) that DM had asked for an appointment and YS would, unfortunately, be very busy in a meeting with the Minister (and his deputy, principal planner Mr O Andersson, OA, unfortunately needed a sudden sick leave due to his Bell’s Paisy). So Mr Wareus (JW), after just a couple of months at DTRP (not even domesticated, then, see DM’s book) and not even allocated a proper office (JW had only a corner in the drawing office for laying out Gaborone West) had to meet DM and tell him that his case was OUT as the forefathers had deemed his land agricultural!

DM is telling us in his book that JW was an arrogant Swede. Maybe so, but a lot embarrassed also. My brief by YS and OA was just brief – “it’s against GoB policy to encourage private townships that doesn’t take into account the housing policy by GoB on agricultural land – DM is speculating!

More importantly – after I had been appointed by YS and OA, I was called to a meeting with some very important directors for other government departments (Dir S&L and BHC – Mr Dickson, no x, DM, and Mr Richardson) and told that the entire housing policy of GoB would disintegrate and fall apart if the new town was approved (as cross-subsidies from high cost to low cost would not be possible - no high cost left in town). Consequently, I was very nervous when I met DM.

However, I tried my own way when I had the meeting and made it clear to DM that some kind of “deal” with Council and GoB was needed, as, in my experience from earlier work in Sweden, private initiatives were acceptable but must follow established policies. I “arrogantly” told DM this experience as an advice for the future of his new town concept.

But I realized, then, that I was the department’s sacrificial lamb! Last arrival, first to go, if something was not to the liking to YS or the Office of the President, who gave the orders regarding DM’s application.

I gave DM my best advice - he should negotiate with the authorities but he was adamant that he only needed an approval. His idea was an “independent” township, with its own water, sewer, power a s o. My “arrogant” question was – has that ever happened anywhere?

The difference between long-term loans for infrastructure and quick bucks for selling even fine plots is enormous, financially seen. So much I had learnt from the earlier introduction of neo-conservative economic in other countries (including US of A).

And I pointed to a book I had on the table ( The Suburban Dream – recently arrived to my office), indicating that not even in the US of A, suburban townships could be built on private money, only, too much upfront and too much interest to pay over long time. But DM was true to his “perseverance” attitude and cut the meeting short after I had advised him that a satellite town might, in my opinion, be possible in the Mmamashia area – he just had to negotiate with the Kgatleng Council (and Chris Fleetwood-Bird who had the same idea and had started to by some land in that area). But DM didn’t want a change the already expensive drawings. A sad story for me as a town planner, indeed.

However YS became furious due to my proposal to DM and I was about to be sent home for this – I could stay probably because of the urgency of Gab West and by time being “domesticated” according to DM.

I was, however, called to an interrogation, probably with the PS (can’t find any note about it in my diary) and told that I shouldn’t have given DM a finger about a “satellite town” – a finger I have been sucking ever since then.

So it goes when policy, politics and forward planning are misunderstood, neglected and not adhered to. Other farm owners in Mokolodi, Notwane, Gaborone North and Tlokweng South were/are more careful and are now making necessary deals with authorities. More of “let time be ripe”. That’s how it works in a steadfast bureaucrazy.

Now we have to support the Phakalane development as an approved fact – it has become an essential part of our City – SSK never noticed (in the 70-ies) that the upper classes in Sweden had already found their favourite “suburbs”, that government supported with trams and railways that never became economically “balanced”. But the well-to-do were very essential for the running of the country – so it is here, too, even if Marx might rotate in his grave.

Hence, we must accept this fact, although it’s still not too late for Phakalane to accept that we will, sooner or later, create a satellite to Gaborone City at the Mmamashia Junction. Phakalane has to become more than a sprawling suburb with bedrooms and sleeping places for people working in the City. It must be part of a satellite town, as independent as possible.

Discuss and negotiate, make a deal with the owners of Gaborone North, Ruretse and the Kgatleng Council and the City Council– my last advice in this matter! Just the same as my first advice in 1979, by the way.

And my firm belief in the future for Greater Gaborone – satellite towns – will be further discussed in this column.

Bureaucratic Stairs
M C Escher 1960

Jan Wareus