Uniting exporters under one roof

The Botswana Exporters and Manufacturers Association (BEMA) has been advocating for among others, the interests of the manufacturing industry for the past two decades.

The organization clearly still has a lot to do in order to grow the local manufacturing industry and expand the country’s export base away from diamonds and beef.

In this Interview with The Voice reporter, KABELO ADAMSON, the organization’s Chief Executive Officer, Mmantlha Sankoloba explains what the Association has achieved over the years and the challenges that are stalling the progress of the manufacturing industry in Botswana.

Q. Kindly explain the role of BEMA.

A. BEMA is an association that exists to facilitate exporters and manufacturers in any way you can think of as facilitation in terms of ensuring that their issues are addressed and they are taken to the relevant people.

These are issues that may affect them or anything that has to do with business as well as to solicit business for them.

Just recently we had a meeting with Ackermans South Africa in which the apparel retail store were looking for suppliers of textiles locally, so we ensured that such message reaches our members.

We also create networking platforms where we ensure that members interact at any level with other stakeholders or even amongst themselves to ensure that there is that inter-linkage amongst the members.

Q. Since this is a member association, how many members do you currently have?

A. Currently, we have close to 250 members but we hoping by end of the year we would have doubled that number.

Q. And which sectors do these come from?

A. Anything manufacturing really, be it soft and hard manufacturing.

We have the likes of BMC, Flo-Tek who produce pipes.

We also have agro-processing and agro products.

We also have the millers and textiles companies and anything one may think of that has to do with manufacturing as well as the service providers

Q. And the organization itself, when was it established?

A. BEMA started in 1995. A very passionate and visionary woman called Eitlhopha Mosinyi started it and initially it focused mainly on textiles but eventually it evolved to incorporate other manufacturing sectors.

It transformed from Exporters Association of Botswana to be Botswana Exporters and Manufacturers Association (BEMA).

Q. The organization has been in existence for so long now, what has it achieved over this period?

A. We have achieved quite a lot over the years.

First of all we have gradually established ourselves as the go-to-business membership organisation in the country and have deliberated and communicated a lot of propositions to the government, for example the most recent one that I can speak about is the exporters’ incentives, which we have compiled together with our members to ensure that that the interests of the members are documented and listened to properly.

We have submitted that to the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry.

We sit in different committees at government level, the most recent one being the Export Development Apex, which is one of the developments that came with the current minister to ensure that we communicate issues of export at the highest level.

There are quite a number of other issues usually highlighted by individual members such as for example, a complaint that a tender that has been put out does not support the notion of the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD).

In such cases we would act with speed to ensure that such tenders do not see the light of the day and advise the affected parties about the need to comply with the EDD.

Q. Small businesses are facing their own challenges, how does BEMA assist them?

A. There is quite a lot, but one of the programmes we are working on and we should be launching soon is the mentorship programme because we have realized that within our membership, although there is potential to go somewhere, there is need for growth and for smaller companies to be mentored in terms of how they can perfect their art.

We have established companies that are willing to assist the smaller ones in this programme.

Issues like branding and marketing are where most of them are still behind.

You might have an interesting product, but how do you get the consumer to buy your product, so, it’s one of the areas that need to be addressed.

Q. At the moment beef and minerals, diamonds, in particular, are known major exports, which other areas does BEMA consider as potential for exports?

A. I think there is a lot of potential everywhere, it is just that those are more traditional and have been around for so long and we have so much established resource factor on them, for example, minerals, we have diamonds and those are resources that we have had for years and we have been relying on beef also.

But we do we have other products as I mentioned earlier; we have the likes of Flo-Tek who are exporting to the region pipes and water tanks made here.

We have the likes of Lobatse Canvas who are also exporting their products.

These are export products but they are not talked about every day.

There is Nortex which supplying all the hotels around, but these are just some of the few that are exporting.

All we need perhaps is to try to diversify more and even expand what we already have and capacitate the people.

There are also arts and crafts that have been exporting, although in a small capacity.

What is needed maybe is to try to consolidate them and form a cluster and maybe they can even export more and create more jobs.

Q. Obviously there are challenges facing the manufacturing sector, share with us some of them.

A. The challenges are quite diverse because we are dealing with different sizes of companies.

We are dealing with the small-scale business that are grappling with issues of who funding while medium scale entities who are bedeviled by issues of unreliable supply of electricity and water for example, so the problems and challenges are diverse. On the other hand, you will have a large-scale company battling with cumbersome processes of transporting their goods across the borders.

The challenges depend on the level of development you are in or the size of your company, some will tell you that in terms of service delivery there is no speed.

So, there are limitations everywhere depending on where you are in terms of the size of your company.

Q. But are you engaging with stakeholders to address these challenges?

A. Definitely. That it is part of our mandate. We do have continued dialogues and meetings with the ministry.

As I said, we sit in different technical committees at ministry level, at the national level where such issues are articulated, but you will find the level of speed at which these issues are addressed is very slow.

Perhaps because some of the issues are not directly under the ministry of trade, like for example the issue of water is totally under a different ministry.

It is quite difficult to get these people to try and address these issues.

Q. When did you join BEMA?

A. I joined BEMA in 2016 and had previously worked there where I was taught everything and after a few years I joined Woolworths and thereafter joined Limkokwing University for a couple of years. After that I went on to run my own businesses, a human resource consultancy company

Q. Thank God It’s Friday, what are your plans?

A. I do cycling and horse riding with my girls from time to time on weekends; we also have a group called soul sisters where we do some charity work.

We collect clothes and donate to the needy.