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« Nigerians in Exile | Main | Obasanjo's Historic Visit to Amichi »

January 22, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #4 of 54: Botswana

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji (Seatle, Washington) --- 4. BOTSWANA

Formal Name: Republic of Botswana.

Term for Citizens: Tswana.

Capital: Gaborone.

Population: 225,000

Independence Achieved: September 30, 1966, from Britain.

Major Cities: Gaborone.


Botswana encompasses an area of 231, 804 square miles. Botswana is in South Africa. It is bounded by Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. The Okavango River creates the Okavango swamps. The river often floods and forms shallow lake over the swamp area. In the east of the country, Chobe, Shasti, and Limpopo rivers and their tributaries provide adequate water supple for the country. 80% of the people live along these rivers. The southern part of the country is mostly desert, Kalahari, and semi desert grassland. The Khoi people generally live in and around the desert areas of Botswana.


The population of Botswana is estimated at 1, 785,000.

Ethnic Groups: Tswana, Khoi and others.

Languages: Tswana, Khoisan. English is the official language.

Religion: Christianity and indigenous African beliefs.

Education: Primary education is available to all pupils of school age. Literacy rate is estimated at 79.8%.

Economy: There is some mining of coal, copper, and gold. The majority of the people raise cattle and goats and plant crops for food. Many Tswana men seek employment in South Africa. Tourism is a strong industry. Excellent hotels and resorts have been built and attract people from all over the world to them. GDP estimate: $15.1 billion; Per Capita GDP: $4, 340. Monetary Unit: Pula (BWP)

History and Government:

The British established the colony of Bechuanaland in 1884. When South Africa attained union Status in 1910 it made attempts to absorb Bechuanaland but the later resisted and remained part of the British Empire. It gained its independence in 1966. The country is made of eight semi-independent kingdoms whose people speak dialects of the same language. Government tends to be a compromise between the eight groups. However, the country appears a stable polity. It is attracting international capital and has developed an internationally known tourism industry. The country is divided into nine districts, and five town councils.


Botswana, compared to other African countries, has had stable politics and sustained economic growth. When the country received its independence from Britain in 1966, a real election that was not marred by rigging brought to power Mr. Seretse Khama and his party, Botswana Democratic Party. Mr. Khama was reelected to office until 1980 when he died in office. His Vice President, Ketumile Masire, became the President and subsequently was elected on his own rights. He retired from office in 1998 and his Vice President, Festus Mogae, became the president and was subsequently reelected. Mr. Mogae was reelected in 2004 and his five-year term in office ends in 2009.
All these seeming musical chairs apparently were, in fact, legitimate elections that happened to see one party and its leaders continually get elected to office without rigging elections.
Botswana’s success in the practice of democracy, apparently, is attributable to its population make up. One group, the Setswana, make up half of the population. That group, apparently, had historical democratic antecedents. Every indication suggests that the Setswana ruled themselves democratically before the Europeans descended on them. Apparently, they transferred their well-developed sense of democracy to post independent Botswana. The other ethnic groups in Botswana are individually numerically too small to exercise negative influence on this Setswana’s democratic tendencies.

Botswana is 70 deserts, Kalahari Desert, and is sparsely populated (total population is estimated at 1.8 million). Other than the Setswana the other groups are very small, some only a few thousands. (The San, Bushmen, were the earliest people to live in the region; the Setswanas migrated into the region as a result of Zulu pushes in the 1820s.)

In the nineteenth century, the Boer farmers from South Africa began migrating into what is now called Botswana. The local Setswana population pleaded with the British for protection. Britain declared the area the protectorate of Bechuanaland. Prior to independence, in 1965, Southern Bechuanaland merged with South Africa and is now part of the Northwest province of South Africa, whereas Northern Bechuanaland became today’s Botswana. The majority of Setswana people live in South Africa rather than in Botswana. The former capital of Bechuanaland, Mafikeng, is now in South Africa. Gaborone, the current capital of Botswana, was selected during independence.

There seems real democracy with multi parties competing for political office in Botswana. The Botswana government permits freedom of press. The government operates Botswana Television, BTV and two Radios, Radio Botswana, 1 and 2, (2 is for the capital area) and one daily newspaper. Private and other interests operate newspapers, such as the Botswana Guardian, Botswana Gazette, Mmegi/The Reporter and the Midweek Sun and private radio stations such as Ya Rona FM and Gabz FM.

The key political parties in Botswana are Botswana Democratic Party, BDP, Botswana National Front, BNF and Botswana Congress Party, BCP. In the last general election, in 2004, elections are held every five years, BDP won 44 of the 57 contested seats of the National Assembly (4 seats are appointed by the majority party); BNF won 12 seats and BCP won 1 seat.

The National Assembly elects the President of Botswana for a term of five years. He now has two terms limit (the first two presidents did not have term limits.) The president has executive powers and selects his vice president and ministers from the National Assembly.
In addition to the National Assembly is the Council of Chiefs. The Council of Chiefs comprises of the traditional chiefs of the various ethnic groups that make up Botswana. The council of Chiefs has advisory functions rather than legislative ones. The National Assembly gives Bills, particularly those relating to chieftaincy issues, to the Council of Chiefs for advice.
The traditional chiefs operate local authority courts in their area of jurisdiction although any citizen can ask to be tried in the imported British legal system that prevails in Botswana.

For administrative purposes, Botswana is divided into nine districts: Central, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kgatleg, Kweneng, Northeast, Northwest, Southwest and Southern, and five town councils. The Central government appoints a District commissioner for each of the districts; the commissioners have executive powers; locally elected district councils and district development committees assist them.
Each of the districts has a magistrate court as court of first instance; cases are appealed to Court of Appeals, High Court, at the national capital.

Botswana’s economy is heavily tied to South Africa’s economy. This means that if there is a hiccup in the South African economy, Botswana has fever. This situation was even more so before South Africa became freed from Afrikaans control. South African politicians had the ability to destroy Botswana’s economy and could have wrought havoc on it when in the 1970s and 1980s Botswana became a haven for anti apartheid workers.
Botswana’s economy is largely dependent on Diamond…Botswana is the world’s largest exporter of Diamonds. Other minerals exist in minor proportion. Cattle raising exist. Tourism is the second largest source of revenue for the country.
For an African country, Botswana has a well-developed tourism industry, world-class hotels and resorts etc. The government, in cooperation with the private sector, has well managed game preserves. The Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta, is a well developed tourist attraction in Northwest Botswana.
Botswana’s economy is the fasted growing one in Africa. Her income per capita, $4,340, is one of the highest in black Africa. As a result of her good economic performance, those trying to escape from Zimbabwe’s poverty flood Botswana. Botswana had to build an electric fence at its border with Zimbabwe to check the deluge of economic refugees flowing from Zimbabwe into its territory.
Despite its excellent economic growth, in recent years, 9% annually, Botswana remains a poor country. Moreover HIV-AIDS is ravaging the country. Botswana has the highest HIV-AIDS infected population in the world, 37% of the population (more than one in every three persons is infected). This means that the future of Botswana is not very bright given the coming demise of nearly half of its population from the AIDS plague. However, unlike poorer African countries, Botswana is making AIDS treatment drugs freely available to those with the disease.

All said Botswana is a thriving democracy in the South African region; its economy, though dependent on diamond and tourism, is doing well. However, since only one political party, Botswana Democratic Party, a party dominated by the majority Setswanas, has ruled the country since independence, it remains to be seen if a different party can win the national election, and, if so, whether power can be successfully transferred to it. Thus, the last test of democracy, transfer of political power to different parties, has not been met yet in Botswana.

Posted by Administrator at January 22, 2006 10:58 PM


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