Republic of Botswana

POPULATION: 2.039 million (2014)

AREA: 231,804 sq. mi. (600,372 sq. km)

LANGUAGES: English, Setswana (both are official)

NATIONAL CURRENCY: Pula

PRINCIPAL RELIGIONS: Christian 50%, traditional 50%

CITIES: Gaborone (capital), 134,000 (1999 est.); Serowe, Francistown, Lobatse, Selibi-Phikwe, Kanye, Maun, Molepolole, Ramotswa, Mochudi, Ghanzi

ANNUAL RAINFALL: Varies from 18–25 in. (460–625 mm) in the extreme northwest to less than 5 in. (125 mm) in the extreme southwest

ECONOMY: GDP $15.81 billion (2014)

PRINCIPAL PRODUCTS AND EXPORTS:

  • Agricultural: livestock, sorghum, maize, millet, pulses, peanuts, beans, cowpeas, sunflower seeds
  •  Manufacturing: meat processing, diamond processing, soda ash
  • Mining: diamonds, nickel, copper, coal, salt, potash

GOVERNMENT: Independence from Great Britain, 1966. President elected by National Assembly. Governing bodies: National Assembly, elected by universal adult suffrage, and House of Chiefs.

HEADS OF STATE SINCE INDEPENDENCE:

  • 1966–1980 President Seretse Khama
  • 1980–1998 President Quett Ketumile Joni Masire
  • 1998– President Festus Mogae

ARMED FORCES: 8,500

EDUCATION: Compulsory for 7 years; literacy rate 70%

Republic of Botswana

The country of Botswana is located in the center of southern Africa, surrounded by ZIMBABWE, ZAMBIA, NAMIBIA, and SOUTH AFRICA. Since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1966, Botswana has emerged as one of the most successful new nations in Africa.

Geography and Economy

Botswana is a dry land dominated by the KALAHARI DESERT, which occupies the western two-thirds of the country. Drought is a permanent feature of the climate. Almost all of Botswana’s surface water lies in the rivers of the Okavango Delta in the northwest. Most of the vegetation consists of dry grasses, which are used for grazing cattle. Gaborone, the capital, is located in the southeast near the border with South Africa.

Before the discovery of diamonds in the 1970s, Botswana’s economy was based on livestock and money sent home by migrant laborers. Revenue from diamonds, however, has made Botswana the world’s fastest-growing economy. The country has managed its wealth well, avoiding the cycles of boom and bust common to many mineral-based economies. It has a small but well-functioning infrastructure, and the government has actively promoted the growth of industry and commerce. As a result, average income is much higher than in most developing countries.

Most of the people of Botswana, who are known as Batswana, still live in rural areas and make their living by farming and raising livestock. The country relies heavily on South Africa for industrial goods, and the gap between the rich and the poor is among the highest in the world. Despite these difficulties, Botswana’s economy is considered a model of success for developing countries.

History and Government

The people of the area now known as Botswana had little or no contact with Europeans until the late 1800s. At that time fighting broke out with Afrikaners (or Boers), Dutch settlers from what is now South Africa. In 1885 KHAMA III, chief of the Tswana people, asked Britain for help against the Afrikaners, and the region (then known as Bechuanaland) came under British protection.

After World War II, Bechuanaland, like many other African territories, sought independence from colonial rule. The independence movement gained momentum in the 1950s under the leadership of SERETSE KHAMA, a descendant of Khama III. By 1960 the people of Bechuanaland had gained the right to form independent political parties.

The most influential of the early political parties was the Bechuanaland People’s Party (BPP). Supported by urban migrant workers, the BPP called for immediate independence and a socialist form of government. Seretse Khama, who felt that the BPP was too extreme, formed the rival Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP). The BDP’s followers were mostly rural, and its leadership consisted mainly of cattle owners who had inherited their wealth. Like the BPP, the party sought independence, but it was not interested in socialism. The BDP overwhelmingly won the first multiparty national elections in 1965. The following year, Bechuanaland achieved independence and renamed itself the Republic of Botswana.

Following independence, Botswana opposed South Africa’s apartheid government. However, it did not support UNITED NATIONS sanctions against South Africa because it was dependent on trade with that country. During the 1970s Botswana had a tense relationship with the racist state of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and it offered a haven to Rhodesian refugees. Rhodesia occasionally raided Botswana in pursuit of these refugees. During the 1980s South Africa accused Botswana of protecting anti-apartheid terrorists, and South African forces attacked Botswana in 1985. Since that time the conflict between Botswana and South Africa has calmed down, and the two countries have established diplomatic relations.

Political power in Botswana is shared by a directly elected National Assembly and a president chosen by the assembly. Elected councils oversee affairs at the district, town, and city level, but all these councils depend on the national government for funding. A body called the House of Chiefs, made up of the hereditary leaders of the main Tswana tribes, advises the assembly and carries out local political and judicial functions.

The political situation in Botswana has been remarkably stable since independence, with free and open elections. This has been made possible largely by the fact that the BDP has little effective opposition. The strength of Botswana’s diamond-based economy has also helped the party maintain political power. The Botswana National Front (BNF) has been the main opposition party since independence. Although the party achieved some success in local elections, it has not gained much power nationally.

Peoples and Cultures

The main language groups in Botswana are Bantu and KHOISAN. Among the Bantu speakers, the Tswana are the most numerous as well as the largest single group in Botswana. The Tswana are divided into smaller local groups, each with its own chief. Tswana families often have three homes: one in a village near schools and shops, one near a water hole where they keep their cattle, and one near their farmland. In the village, the Tswana practice a democratic form of leadership based on discussions in the kgotla, a central meeting place. Women usually work the land where crops are planted, and men generally tend the herds at the cattle post. The Tswana place a high value on cattle, which are often used as a form of payment. Other Bantuspeaking groups include the Herero and Mbanderu, who also raise cattle, and the Mbukushu, whose livelihood is based on fishing and farming.

The Khoisan peoples of Botswana can be divided into northern, southern, and central language groups. Many of them work herding cattle for Tswana landowners. The northern Khoisan are known as the !Kung, and the main southern group is the !Xo. Cattle and goat herding people called the Khoikhoi also live in the south near the border with Namibia. The central Khoisan group includes a great number of peoples who have adopted Tswana customs, including the herding of cattle. In addition, Botswana contains a substantial white population, many of whom are ranchers living near the South African border or in the central-western Kalahari. (See also Apartheid, Bantu Peoples, ClimateColonialism in Africa, Deserts and Drought, Livestock Grazing, Refugees.)