Over the years, the Botswana government’s efforts to either sell off or privatise ailing state-owned airliner, Air Botswana have stopped and started for various reasons. It’s been a while since the last bid, which has led to the nation thinking the government had abandoned the idea.
With the world now in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic and global economies at breaking point, Botswana is once again toying with the idea as part of efforts to stimulate the economy. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development has prepared a potentially game-changing draft for an Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan post-COVID-19, including the proposal to bring in strategic partners to run Air Botswana and Botswana Railways (BR). The recovery plan, which is being prepared in collaboration with entities such as Bank of Botswana, says certain Government-owned organisations including BR and the national airliner, should be considered for privatisation.
“Both have struggled to identify sustainable business models. In particular, there is an opportunity to bring in strategic Equity Partner to invest in and manage Air Botswana,” notes the draft plan.
The two biggest anticipated benefits from the exercise are the improvement of a critical service and reduction of spending to support Air Botswana. The economic recovery plan also suggests there is the need for an improved domestic schedule as well as the opening of local airspace beyond the national airliner.
“There are a number of ‘thin’ routes that require aircraft smaller than those operated by Air Botswana,” observed the Finance Ministry.
The recovery plan suggests that the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) should expedite the consideration of applications to provide scheduled air services on domestic routes and approval should not hinge on Air Botswana’s agreement. The government’s previous efforts to privatise the national airline have always fallen flat. The last privatisation bid involved luxury tour operator, Wilderness Safaris, which pulled out of the deal at the eleventh hour. This followed public outcry as the company was supposedly linked to the then President, Ian Khama.