062_G19_InFocus_Botawana

Global

Rags to riches In 50 years Botswana has transitioned from being Africa’s poorest nation to its richest. The discovery of diamonds has played a big part, as has its corruption-free style of government Anver Versi Botswana, at least from the outside, has largely been spared the Chinese curse of ‘living in interesting times’. This southern African country, the size of France but with a population barely nudging the two million mark, has moved serenely from being the continent’s poorest nation at independence in 1966 to its richest (in terms of per capita GDP) and best governed. But as the country prepares for its next election in October this year, there are signs that, for the fi rst time since independence the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) may not get things all its own way. Botswana owes its world-record growth fi gures – averaging around seven per cent for almost three decades – to two factors: the intelligent exploitation of perhaps the world’s largest reserve of gem quality diamonds; and, perhaps more importantly, an exceptional cadre of political leadership. The latter has kept at bay the infamous ‘resource curse’ that has blighted so many African countries similarly endowed with valuable natural resources. Political power has been passed down from each of the previous three presidents to their successors, without rancour or drama or unseemly attempts to hang on to offi ce. The immediate past President, Festus Mogae, is one of a very select band of African leaders to have been awarded the US$5 million Mo Ibrahim Award for Leadership. As one of Africa’s ‘wise old men’, he is in constant demand to help diffuse tense situations or resolve crises all over the continent. Successive leaders (there have been four presidents so far: Sir Seretse Khama, Sir Ketumile ‘Quett’ Masire, Festus Mogae and the incumbent, Ian Khama) have carefully husbanded the enormous revenues realised from the sale of diamonds to develop their country and vastly improve the quality of life for their people. But this transition from a colonial backwater known as Bechuanaland – reluctantly kept under British protection only to prevent it falling into the hands of the Germans in neighbouring Namibia – to becoming the glittering African star it is today, was overseen by only one political party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The BDP, which evolved from the Bechuanaland Democratic Party, was founded by Seretse Khama in 1962. Khama, king of the Bamangwato, the greatest of the eight ‘recognised’ ethnic tribes of Botswana, was not only larger than life but also one of the most controversial fi gures of his time. He succeeded to the throne at the age of four and, while his uncle, Tshekedi Khama, ruled as regent, immersed himself in study to satisfy his exceptional curiosity. While in Britain to study law, he fell in love with and married Ruth Williams, an Englishwoman. This caused enormous furore in apartheid South Africa (which was poised to annex the protectorate); Botswana itself, where the regent Tshekedi demanded that Seretse renounce the marriage and return immediately; and also, to a much smaller extent, in Britain, which was alarmed by the South African reaction. Seretse did return and was allowed to plead his case in front of various chiefs who held, and hold to this day, considerable cultural and spiritual power over their tribes. They sided with him, infuriating the South Africans for whom this interracial marriage involving a high-ranking personage so close to home was unacceptable. Seretse and Ruth were sent into exile to Britain where, in Surrey, Ian Khama, the current President, was born. As a result of public pressure in the UK, Seretse’s exile was rescinded and he returned home to engage in politics. Bechuanaland narrowly escaped being incorporated into South Africa as a ‘homeland’ and Seretse formed a party to agitate for independence from Britain, although at the time, contemplating a land composed largely of the Kalahari Desert, even he wondered if this was not a case of descending into madness. His Botswana Democratic Party duly won the election and he became the country’s fi rst President. A year later, in 1967, diamonds were discovered in the land and everything changed. Botswana and De Beers formed a joint venture, Debswana, and between them have ruled the world’s President Ian Khama speaks at the Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court  four 62 l www.global -br ief ing.org th quar ter 2014 global © UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras In Focus Botswana


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