Botswana @ 40

The country has achieved four decades of uninterrupted democratic civilian rule since independence from Britain in 1966, and continues to be one of the best managed and most stable economies in Africa, with a vibrant mining industry and growing per capita income.

Formerly known as the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, the country has followed a flawless path of peaceful and democratic civilian rule since 1966, building one of the strongest economies in Africa and playing a significant role in regional organizations like SADC and the African Union.

The country is heavily dependent on its mining industry, which has some of the finest diamonds in the world. Diamond mining dominates Botswana’s economic activity and the country’s tourism industry has been growing through the years.

Botswana is a landlocked nation mainly made up of the Kalahari Desert. Sometimes referred to as “the Switzerland of Africa”,the country has treaded a path that many African countries would want to follow since its independence.

It is classified as the safest credit risk in Africa, and has maintained one of the world’s highest growth rates since 1966, transforming itself from one of the poorest countries to one of the richest middle income economies on the continent, with a per capita GDP of US$ 9,500 and a Gross National Income of US$5 billion.

Diamonds, which have significantly fuelled Botswana’s expansion, account for at least 39 per cent of the country’s GDP and 90 per cent of its export earnings, as it continues to fortify its position as one of the world’s biggest diamond producers.

Besides diamonds, Botswana produces nickel, copper, salt, soda ash, potash, silver, beef and has a vibrant tourism sector, with attractions like the Okavango Delta and vast wildlife reserves in the north.

Formerly known as Bechuanaland, the republic of Botswana was established in 1966 after the abolishment of its “British Protectorate” status which ended with the holding of general elections in 1965. Until then, it had survived the ravages of colonial molestation that affected its neighbours.

As a British protectorate, it was effectively shielded from the encroachment of German expansion from South-West Africa, now Namibia, and Boers from South Africa’s Transvaal. The status however, did not alter the unidirectional flow of resources, thus inviting the winds of nationalism.

The flame of nationalist politics started flickering in the late 1950s, with the founding of the Bechuanaland Protectorate People’s Federal Party (BPFP) formed under the leadership of Mr Leetile Disang Raditladi in 1959.

A wave of nationalist consciousness whipped up by increasing politicisation of the Africans, signified by the formation of a dozen political parties in a space of six years, culminated in a general election victory for Seretse Khama (father to the current Vice President)’s Bechuanaland Democratic Party, now Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).

Some of the founding members of the BDP, which became very popular in the country, were Quett Ketumile Joni Masire who was the party’s vice president, Tsheko Tsheko, Goareng Mosinyi, Moutlakgola Pelgrave Nwako, Archie Tsoebele and Dabadaba Sedie.

BDP’s traditional arch-rival, Dr Kenneth Koma, launched the Botswana National Front (BNF) which has established itself as the country’s official opposition in 1965, and the party has made a consistent parliamentary appearance in the past 40 years.

With a stable nationalist foundation, resonating with constructive political debate and a flourishing democracy, Botswana developed into a presidential democratic republic with progressive social policies that have invited significant foreign capital investment, making its economy one of the most vibrant on the continent.

The country’s development slate has however been deformed by the high levels of unemployment, leading to abject poverty among most Batswana. The opposition BNF has been calling for further diversification of the economy and creation of more jobs.

While the Harvard trained President Mogae’s government has been praised for its progressive policies and its clout in luring foreign investment, it has been criticised for overdependence on diamond mining and calls have been made for the need to invest in other sectors of the economy to enhance security.

With a population of a little above 1,8 million people, the country has not been spared from the ravaging effects of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, which affects about 38,8 per cent of the population.

The United Nations Programme on AIDS estimates that more than one in every three adults in Botswana are either infected with HIV or are already suffering from AIDS, a development that has dealt a major blow to the country’s human resources.

With the highest infection rate in the world, Botswana has an estimated 330 000 people between 15 and 40 years of age infected with HIV, and the country spends at least US$128 per capita on health. The government however has one of the most progressive and comprehensive programs for dealing with the disease in Africa.

Massive brain drain has impacted on the country’s health delivery, as an average of 50 doctors leave the country annually to seek greener pastures. The country has no medical school and trains its doctors in other countries.

The challenges facing Botswana are the reduction of HIV and AIDS infections and greater diversification of the economy to create employment creation and alleviate poverty.

October 2006
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