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Botswana’s New President Seeks To Wean Country Off Dependence On Diamonds

Botswana’s new president, sworn in on Sunday as the country’s leader, said he would give priority to tackling youth unemployment and diversifying its economy.

Retired teacher Mokgweetsi Masisi, who takes over from former army general Ian Khama, inherits a state with a reputation as one of Africa’s rare political and economic success stories.

But he faces a huge task in attempting to reduce its dependence on the diamond trade while creating more jobs after collapsing commodity prices tipped it into recession in 2015.

“We still seek to build a Botswana in which sustained development is underpinned by economic diversification,” Masisi told a cheering crowd in parliament. “One of my top priorities … will be to address the problem of unemployment especially amongst the young.”

Botswana, with a population of some 2 million, has a jobless rate of around 20 percent, with youth unemployment thought to be much higher.

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As part of efforts to branch out of diamonds, Mr. Masisi also said his government would scale up access to technical education and set up initiatives in tourism, mining, beef and financial services.

But the country’s opposition predicted little change, saying Masisi as deputy president was instrumental in an economic strategy that had failed to adapt the economy to the needs of a new generation of finance and science graduates.

“There is no need to celebrate, the change of guard will just be cosmetic. As vice president he… failed even at the time he was at the ministry of education,” said a spokesman for the UDC opposition coalition, Moeti Mohwasa.

Viewed by the markets as more business-friendly than his predecessor, Masisi will serve as leader until national elections in October 2019, for which the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is expected to name him as its presidential candidate.

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Written by How Africa

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