When Dorcas Makgato-Malesu was young, she proudly marched past Botswana’s first president in the capital, Gaborone, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom.
Her patriotism for her country has since seen her campaign tirelessly to improve conditions for its citizens both in the private sector and as a government minister. For the past four years, she has been Botswana’s High Commissioner to Australia.
As former Minister for Health, and then Minister for Trade and Industry, she helped make the country a more attractive place for global businesses and spearheaded attempts to introduce more sustainable business practices. She challenged mining companies and her government colleagues to find ways to protect the environment without jeopardizing the economy.
One of her biggest successes was to strengthen ties with neighboring countries and establish Botswana as a major player in the diamond industry. Makgato-Malesu, who is a also a Ducere Global Leader Faculty Member, says her aim is to leave a “noticeable and enviable mark” on the country’s industrial base as it matures.
Part of that has been to manage international investment and ensure it benefits local people.
“With foreign direct investment, you’re able to bring in your money and, equally, you’re able to take it out and repatriate your profits,” Makgato-Malesu says. “You have to create a balance so that you don’t come, mine, make money, leave and leave nothing on the ground. There has to be something that stays in there. So the first criteria is that it must be strategic to our economic diversification.”
As more equity entered the economy, she made sure it created sustainable, skilled jobs, brought sufficient capital and introduced emerging technologies. Another critical factor was encouraging a greater range of industries as the country was overwhelmingly dependent on mining, especially diamonds.
“Branding is key to drive the message to consumers because generally they’re unaware. Africa is often bundled as one country instead of a continent.”
Although she made significant inroads, she knows there is still work to do to communicate Botswana’s attributes to the global business community.
“I think branding is key for us to continue to drive the message to the consumers because generally they’re unaware. Africa is often bundled as one country instead of a continent,” she says.
“So you have to distinguish yourself while still associating with Africa. You want to be able to say Botswana diamonds are Botswana diamonds. This is how they are different from others.”
Makgato-Malesu’s influence has made Botswana be seen differently in other ways too. “We have a high credit rating from Standard & Poor’s. We compete well,” she says. “In terms of corruption, we are rated by Transparency International as the least corrupt country in Africa.”
The same patriotism that once saw her march past the president still shines brightly.
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