Africa/Middle East - Issue 100 - Magazine | Monocle

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Broadening horizons

Botswana [Economy]

When Botswana found massive underground diamond deposits 50 years ago it catapulted one of the world’s poorest nations to upper-middle income status. Yet the gem trade, like crude oil, has lost some of its sheen as prices have declined. Botswana’s diamonds are mined by Debswana, a public-private partnership with global gem titan De Beers. When De Beers moved its international sales force to the country the national rough-diamond trade hit €4.7bn a year – and, since 2014, cutting and polishing firms have opened in the capital Gabarone, creating some 3,700 jobs.

However, this hasn’t been enough to tackle Botswana’s pressing need to diversify. Tourism brings in some revenue but while majestic national parks teeming with the Big Five do draw in visitors, the emphasis so far has been on smaller and more exclusive safari lodges. It means that unemployment and inequality remain stubbornly high.

“Government has to change its approach towards the private sector,” says Keith Jefferis, the country’s leading economist and former deputy governor of the Bank of Botswana. “It needs to facilitate more, rather than control.” He gives the example of the state-owned Botswana Development Corporation, which offers loans to start-ups but also has its own investments; these have sometimes competed with the private sector rather than complemented it.

For Botswana to succeed it must also be more outward-looking. In September last year a deal was signed to build a €560m railway to a proposed port close to Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, meaning landlocked Botswana’s mineral mines will have easier access to global markets. “We reached upper middle-income status by investing wisely with the proceeds of the resources under our soil,” says Jefferis. “Productivity and competitiveness now need to be the base for growth.”

In the zone?

Tangier [China relations]

Vast factories on the shores of the Suez Canal, new economic zones in Kigali: grand announcements about Chinese projects in Africa have become old hat. When Morocco announced its plan for a Chinese-built city on the outskirts of Tangier last year, large enough for 300,000 people, it was met with scepticism; such Special Economic Zones have developed a reputation for promising much but delivering little.

Tangier has plenty going for it though; perched on the Med at the gateway to Europe, it’s also the last stop on Morocco’s new high-speed rail, due to open in 2018. A new plan for this faded town could tap in to its potential.

Structured learning

Kibera [Education]

Design is rarely a consideration when building schools in slums. In Kibera, a vast, dense wedge of rusting tin and fetid alleys circumscribed by Nairobi’s highways, forest and upmarket housing estates, they are commonly daunting and dark structures.

Kibera Hamlets is different: designed by Spanish architecture firm SelgasCano, the brightly coloured scaffold and corrugated plastic structure is light and bright. In a previous incarnation the structure was on display at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, but it was designed to be a slum school and was installed in Kibera in 2016. Rohan Silva, co-founder of London creative workspace Second Home, covered the €50,000 relocation costs. “Poor people don’t have any less right to great architecture and good design than anyone else,” he says.

When the well runs dry


In an effort to protect the economy from falling oil prices, Algeria has raised the minimum age of retirement to 60. News of the new law was met with protests across the capital.


Alain Aoun



Lebanon is at a crossroads: after years of political deadlock there’s a new president in place and a general election slated for May. Aoun is a prominent member of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) party and nephew to the president.

Will the May elections actually happen?
They should. No one can bear the consequences of a third extension [of parliament’s term] and it would be a big blow for our democratic system after the municipal and presidential elections were finally held.

What is FPM’s agenda?
A new electoral law, decentralisation, fighting corruption, infrastructure projects and gas exploration.

Can a new government really effect change?
The previous one needed a consensus of all ministers to make decisions; now there’s no need for that consensus. It will be more productive.

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