Botswana is a sub-Saharan country located in Southern Africa. The Republic of Botswana was formerly known as the British protectorate of Bechuanaland. Its citizens are known as Batswana. On September 30, 1996, it gained independence and has held free and fair elections since.
The country’s geography is flat. The Kalahari Desert covers approximately 70 percent of Botswana. South Africa borders it to the south and southeast, Namibia to the north and west, and Zimbabwe to the northeast.
Botswana is a small landlocked country with a population of 2,360,770 as of March, 2019, based on the latest United Nations estimates. Botswana population is equivalent to 0.03% of the total world population.
At the time of its independence, it was one of the poorest African countries with a per capita GDP of $70. Since independence, it is one of the world’s fastest growing economies with 9 percent annual growth rates.
While the country has a good track record of governance, it still has high levels of poverty, low human development indicators, and rampant inequality. Two thirds of the citizens have been significantly helped by the economic growth, but one third remains behind.
Education spending is 10 percent of GDP, which has led to improvement and free and universal education. Despite this, the education system has not created the skilled workforce necessary to keep pace with growth. The country has consistently seen 20 percent unemployment. Rural poverty has much higher rates than urban areas. Botswana has one of the highest income inequality rates in the world. This has been worsened by the HIV/AIDS crisis with the second highest adult prevalence rate in the world.
Fighting occurred between Botswana’s Tswana tribe and invading Ndebele tribes in the 19th century. There were also clashes with Boer settlers from the east in Transvaal. The Batswana leaders appealed, leading the British to put the area under its protection as Bechuanaland on March 31, 1885. With the northern territory under the protectorate, the southern part of modern day Botswana was part of the Cape Colony. Most people today who speak Setswana live in South Africa.
In 1910, the Union of South Africa formed out of the region’s British colonies. Basutoland, Swaziland, and Bechuanaland were not included. A provision was made for later incorporation. Later South African governments tried to incorporate the remaining areas, but the British delayed. South Africa’s election of the Nationalist government in 1948, leading to apartheid, and the country’s withdrawal from the British Commonwealth in 1961 ended the incorporation prospects.
In 1920, the expansion of British central authority and tribal government evolution led to advisory councils representing Africans and Europeans. In 1934, proclamations regularized tribal power and a European-African counsel was formed in 1951. The constitution, established in 1961, set up the consultative legislative council.
In June, 1964, Britain accepted Botswana’s proposals for self-government. The government seat moved in 1965 to Gaborone near the border with South Africa. General elections and independence took place on September 30, 1966. Seretse Khama was elected the first president and re-elected twice. Khama led the independence movement.
After that time, the sitting vice president, Quett Masire, became president. In 1984 and 1994, he was reelected. In 1998, Masire retired and the presidency passed to Festus Mogae, the vice president. He was similarly elected and reelected in 1999 and 2004. Ian Khama, the first president’s son, then became president in 2008.
Botswana’s dispute concerning the Caprivi Strip on its northern border with Namibia was subject to an International Court of Justice in December, 1999. The ruling stated Kasikili Island was part of Botswana.
Politics and Government
Botswana is a representative democratic republic. The president is the head of state and head of government. Botswana is a multi-party system. Legislative power is in the Parliament and government.
The Botswana Democratic Party has dominated the party system since independence. There is an independent judiciary. Transparency International listed Botswana as Africa’s least corrupt country. It also ranked similarly to South Korea and Portugal. Fatshe leno la rona is the nation’s anthem. The country is administratively divided into 16 districts.
Environment and Geography
Botswana is the world’s 47th largest country with an area of 600,370 sq. km (231,804 sq mi). It is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Texas. Botswana is generally flat but has gently rolling tableland. The Kalahari Desert covers 70 percent of Botswana. The largest inland delta in the world, the Okavango Delta, is in the northwest. The Makgadikgadi Pan is a large salt deposit in the north.
The Limpopo River Basin sits partly in Botswana in the country’s southeast. In the north, the Chobe River is a boundary between Botswana and Namibia. It meets with the Zambezi River at Kazungula.
Botswana has diverse wildlife, including those found in deltas, deserts, grasslands, and savannahs. The endangered African Wild Dog has one of its few remaining populations in Chobe National Park. The park also has one of the largest African elephant concentrations in the world.
Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve are tourist attractions. Botswana also has other reserves, including the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, and Nxai National Park. The Mokolodi Nature Reserve, a private reserve, is near Gaborone.
Drought and desertification are two of the country’s biggest environmental problems. 75 percent of the country’s human and animal populations are now dependent on groundwater. Groundwater use has eased the effects of the drought, but has led to drilling. The deep holes required leads to land erosion. Less than 5 percent of Botswana’s agriculture is sustained by rainwater. Now, 95 percent of the country raises livestock for income. Desertification has resulted from 75 percent of the land being used for communal grazing.
From 1966 to 1991 livestock have increased in population from 1.7 million to 5.5 million. The human population has similarly increased from 574,000 in 1971 to 1.5 million in 1995. Livestock grazing has caused the Okavango Delta to begin to dry up.
Botswana’s Department of Forestry and Range Resources is implementing a project to introduce native vegetation. This is thought to help with land degradation. In return for the government focusing on land conservation, the U.S. recently agreed to reduce Botswana’s debt.
Botswana’s development problems have been caused, according to the United Nations Development Programme, by poverty. UNDP supported a project in southern Botswana to attempt to draw from local knowledge in support of land management.
Botswana had no armed forces when it gained independence. In 1977, attacks from Rhodesian and South African forces led to the Botswana Defense Force being created. The BDF has 12,000 members with the president as the commander in chief.
The BDF’s mission has focused on eliminating poaching, disaster preparation, and peacekeeping. The BDF’s largest foreign contributor is the U.S., which has even trained many in its officer corps.
Botswana has had one of the world’s fastest growth rates since its independence, with an average of 9 percent growth from 1966 to 1999. It is now a middle-income country and its standard of living is that of Mexico’s and Turkey’s.
The country has negligible foreign debt despite consecutive budget deficits. Its credit rating is the highest in Africa.
The government owns 50 percent of Debswana, Botswana’s largest diamond mining company. 40 percent of the government’s revenues are from minerals. Uranium was discovered in 2007 in significant quantities. Botswana is the regional headquarters of a number of large international mining companies. Recent concerns that diamond mining could dry out in the country over the next 20 years, the government is seeking to end its economic dependence on them.
Botswana has one of Africa’s most competitive and advanced banking systems. Entrepreneurs have good access to credit. There are eight total licensed banks. State owned financial institutions and incentives allow government involvement in finance. Recently, a single financial regulatory agency was established. The country’s stock exchange is growing.
The government respects the constitution’s prohibition on the nationalization of private property and judicial independence. While there is a serious backlog of cases, the legal system is generally adequate to secure financial transactions.
Foreign investment is generally encouraged, but some sectors are reserved for citizen participation. Regulations can be slow, but are transparent.
The main national ethnic groups are Tswana, Kalanga, Bushmen, and AbaThwa. The Bambukushu, Basubia, Bayei, Baherero, and Bakagalagadi are the remaining ones. Whites and Indians are also present but in small numbers. The white population typically speaks English or Afrikaans and is approximately 3 percent of the population.
Because of the economic problems in Zimbabwe, the number of that country’s citizens in Botswana has risen to the tens of thousands.
Fewer than 10,000 Bushmen live as hunter gatherers. The government has been trying to move the San from their area since the mid-1990’s. This has led to international condemnation.
The rate of HIV/AIDS is 24 percent of adults as of 2006. The government instituted a program in 2003 to distribute information and medications to stop the virus.
English is the official language in Botswana. Setswana is also widely spoken. The prefixes in Setswana are more important than in other languages. The prefix “Bo” refers to the nation and “Ba” refers to the people. The people as a whole are known as the Batswana and an individual is “Motswana.”
Lesotho is considered a sister country and was inhabited by a related tribe, the Sotho. Setswana speakers can understand their language, Sesotho.
70 percent of the citizens are Christian. Most of these are Anglicans, Methodists, and the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa. Other sects exist in smaller numbers. Indigenous religions make up 23 percent of the populations. 5,000 Muslims, mostly of South Asian origin, reside in Botswana. 7,000 Baha’is and 3,000 Hindus also reside in the country.
Botswana had the highest life expectancy of African countries until HIV/AIDS began to reduce it in the late 1980s. As the result of the strain and spending HIV/AIDS has placed on the health system, economic development spending has been cut. One study showed a drop in life expectancy from 65 to 35 years attributable to HIV/AIDS.
After Swaziland, Botswana has the highest HIV infection rate in the world. The government recognizes the problem and has instituted programs to distribute medications and prevent mother-to-child transmission.
Since independence, Botswana has made progress in educational development. The nation has increased attendance and graduation rates. The diamond discovery has led to an increase in education funding. Students are guaranteed at least 10 years of education. Beyond this, secondary education is not free or compulsory.
Botswana has six technical colleges. Graduating students can also take teaching or nursing vocational courses. The University of Botswana, Botswana College of Agriculture, and the Botswana Accountancy College are the best universities. Primary schools still lack resources, with poorer pay for teachers. The government hopes that investments in education will make the country less dependent on diamonds for growth.
The government provides full scholarships for citizens enrolled in universities.
Football is the most popular sport. Cricket, tennis, softball, Rugby union, volleyball, and golf are also popular. The International Cricket Council has Botswana as a member.
Bridge has a strong following since being first played 30 years ago. British teachers informally taught it to students, The Botswana Bridge Federation organizes tournaments.
In addition to being the name of the local language, Setswana also describes Botswana’s culture. Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith has written novels about Botswana.
Local music is vocal without drums. String instruments are also heavily used. Folk instruments include the Setinkane, Segankure/Segaba, and the modern guitar.
Women in the northern village of Etsha and Gumare are known for crafting baskets from Moola Palm and local dyes. The three types of baskets are storage baskets with lids, open ones for carrying on the head, and smaller ones for grain processing. These are being increasingly produced for commercial purposes.
Other artistic areas include Oodi Weavers and Thamaga Pottery in southeastern Botswana. 20,000 years ago, Khoisans in the Kalahari Desert also made paintings of hunting as well as animal and human figures.