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The child of two worlds salutes Botswana @50 - By Jane Nannono

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The child of two worlds salutes Botswana @50 - By Jane Nannono

I am a Ugandan who has for the last twenty one years lived and worked in Botswana.


Botswana, my second home recently celebrated a very big milestone as a nation- the Golden Jubilee as a sovereign state. It was a time to celebrate and reflect as well.


Botswana gained its independence from Great Britain on the 30th September 1966. By then it was one the poorest and least developed countries in the world. It had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita income of only $70.


As of today, according to World Bank Reports, Botswana has one of the fastest growing economies with a GDP per capita income of  $ 16,400- Middle Income level in 2013 and has already moved into the ranks of the Upper –middle-income- something Uganda is aspiring for and working towards by 2020. Foreign reserves stood strong at USD 7.5 billion at the end of 2015.


Botswana is a role model of good governance, impressive economic growth and prudent management of its natural resources for the good of every citizen. The quantum leap, if I may be allowed to call it that, from the poorest to the upper Middle income has surprised the people of Botswana as much as all the other countries of the African continent. It serves as a reminder to us all that good leadership and good governance can either make or break any nation.


Botswana is three times the size of Uganda and two thirds of it is taken up by the Kalahari Desert. It is prone to extended droughts. It has a population of 2 million people, compared to 34 million in Uganda.

At Independence, it largely depended on the remittances of its migrant workers in the mines in South Africa and then in the early 70’s it struck diamonds, not gold, and it has never looked back. Poverty rates declined from 50% at Independence to just over 19% in 2014.


 Since 1990, Botswana has been the world’s largest producer of hard diamonds but, as most of us have come to learn, rich mineral wealth does not necessarily translate into great economic success. I am not an economist but having lived in Botswana for 21 years this is what I know for sure: The Batswana are fiercely patriotic. They are very proud to be Batswana and would do anything demanded of them to defend their nation through non-military means. Even most of those who go out on government scholarships for masters or PhDs will return willingly to serve their country.


They are Community–orientated and have high ethical values. They have a system of traditional consultation and seeking consensus of opinion at the Kgotla-a public meeting or community council of the village. Guided by the village chief, they are united and proud, sharing common goals based on a common heritage and a desire for stability. They harness the diversity of cultures, languages and traditions. Deep consultations take place at the Kgotla and everyone is free to speak her/his mind and all leaders are held accountable. 75-80% of all civil and minor criminal offences are still settled in these traditional law courts. The House of Chiefs (Ntlo ya Dikgosi made up of 35 members) plays an active advisory role to the government and consider themselves as the voice of the people of Botswana.  The Family still remains the central institution for support and the development of the society.


In 1996 President Ketumile Masire’s government, in consultation with the people, intentionally drew up a blue print- Vision 2016: Towards prosperity for all- to create the Botswana they wanted to live in in the 21st century.

The leaders at the time of independence, like any good marathon runner started the race: they started by looking at the outcome they wanted at fifty. They looked into the culture and traditions and picking out the most essential ideals that could be used to create a Botswana where people could develop economically. It is therefore not surprising that the four national founding principle are democracy, development, unity and self-reliance. In the Tswana culture it is accepted that the big battle should be fought with words. No nation grows on hand outs. Those who have should help those who do not have.


From the onset, they opted for multiparty democracy since all of them had had their education in Apartheid South Africa, next door and had experienced firsthand the brutality of the regime. (The first Secondary School in Botswana was opened on the eve of Independence in 1966.)


All the four presidents have been simple people, courageous, caring for their people and committed to lead. They set very high standards, were open, accountable, men of integrity who served the interests of their people and always listened to the demands of their people.


Little wonder then, that soon after retirement,  Festus Mogae won the 2008 prestigious multimillion-dollar, Mo Ibrahim African leaders’ award for Good Governance and Sir Ketumile Masire himself is on the panel of judges for this award.


The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is housed in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. Transparency International has ranked Botswana as the country with the lowest perceived corruption in Africa.

These four presidents Sir Seretse Khama, Sir Ketumile Masire, Festus Mogae and Seretse Khama Ian Khama (incumbent) have managed the resources from the diamond exports prudently and responsibly to benefit all their people and invested in infrastructure.


My story would be incomplete if I did not briefly comment on the health care system of Botswana. Botswana is among the six countries that have honoured the Abuja declaration of 2001 – a commitment to spend a minimum of 15% of the annual government budget on Health care by 2016. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic ravaged Botswana and was threatening to wipe away all the gains of the thirty years, the health budget was increased to 41% to offer better care to all and to cater for the orphans created by the epidemic.


Uganda spent 8% of the annual budget on health care in 1998, 12% in 2005 and 8% in 2015. Kenya’s health spending was 5% in 2006 while Rwanda’s health care spending was 23.7% of its budget in 2014.

UN reports indicate that the Life expectancy at birth in Botswana in 2014 was 56 for males and 52.3 for females. 95% plus people live within 5Km of a functional health clinic. 97 % women deliver in a health facility assisted by trained, skilled workers. Tarmac roads extended from 5Km at Independence to 5,000 Km today, the majority done during the highest rate of economic growth 1975-1999.


As Botswana celebrates its first 50 years and uses its experience to plan and make the next 50 years better, it is faced with two main challenges:


First, diversifying the economy: there is urgent need to break the dependency on diamonds- a nonrenewable resource.  In 2009, when the world economy slowed down and the demand for diamonds declined, the Botswana economy was hit badly and did not recover until 2013.  Tourism and beef exports are picking up.


Second, sustaining the gains of prosperity, political stability and democracy- sometimes referred to as ‘Africa’s success Story’ or ‘ An African Exception’ in the 21st century, where the third industrial revolution has reduced the world to a Global village.


It goes without saying that as we celebrate achievements unequalled in Africa, we are celebrating the four pragmatic and prudent managers of their generation- the four Presidents who lifted all their people up and these people who trusted them and forged ahead with them.


We all have many great lessons to learn from this small, landlocked country. Happy Birthday Botswana, you have done us proud. I drink to your continued health and prosperity.


P.S – For all those fascinated by the written word, Sir Ketumile Masire’s Memoirs of an African Democrat, makes an interesting and humorous read.






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Great for Botswana! They are showing us a good example of how good governance is important for sustainable development.
I hope many of our other African leaders especially in the great lakes region are learning from Botswana.

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