Magazine article New African

Botswana: 'How We Created an African Success Story'

Magazine article New African

Botswana: 'How We Created an African Success Story'

Article excerpt

"I must say I do not agree with the characterisation of Botswana's development experience as a miracle-somehow suggesting some divine intervention or inexplicable reason for what was achieved. Natural resources, no matter how lucrative, cannot develop a country without political stability, sound economic management and prudent financial husbandry," says Festus Mogae, Botswana's president, in a major lecture at the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University, England. Below is the full text.

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It gives me great pleasure to return to my alma mater, the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, an institution from which I graduated in 1970. My studies at the Institute of Development Studies, and subsequent interactions in the course of my work with faculty members and other alumni, have contributed to my professional growth as a development practitioner.

For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with my country, Botswana is a landlocked, semi-arid country of some 582,000 sq km in size, which is about the size of Kenya or France or Texas, and hosts a population of just under two million people. It shares borders with Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Zambia. The country attained self-governance in 1965 and independence in September 1966 after 80 years as a British protectorate. In 1966, the total population was estimated at just under 600,000. From independence, Botswana has been a non-racial multi-party democracy operating within the framework of a democratic constitution, which enshrines freedom of speech, of association, and of worship, and affords all citizens equal rights.

At the time of independence, Botswana was one of the least developed and poorest nations in the world, with a per capita income estimated at between US$70 and $90. The majority of the population was dependent on subsistence agriculture with beef production as the mainstay of the economy, amidst a series of recurring prolonged droughts.

There were 29,000 people in salaried employment and 30,500 migrant workers, of which 18,000 were employed in South African mines. Remittances of migrant labour were about 17% of total exports. The literacy rate was low and access to health, sanitation, water, telephone, electricity, public transportation and other services was negligible.

There was virtually no infrastructure, apart from Cecil Rhodes' railway line completed in 1897. There was less than 10km of tarmac road in the entire country. Availability of skilled and professional personnel was no better, with the country having less than 50 university graduates. The institutional machinery to run the operations of government was weak. Almost everything had to be started from scratch. Prospects for rapid development were bleak given the fact that for all its capital budget and even a major portion of the recurrent budget, Botswana depended on British foreign aid. This posed a major developmental challenge for the newly independent nation. At the time there was a lot of scepticism on the wisdom of this territory seeking self-government and independence.

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In Botswana, everyone is free to air their opinions, no matter how different, something deeply embedded in our cultural heritage. Post-independence leaders built on this heritage. Botswana prides herself in that to this day, the country has never had a single interruption to democratic rule or a political prisoner! The opposition conducts its business freely and without hindrance. Typical of opposition parties, they are kept out of power increasingly by their own fragmentation.

Botswana has had nine multi-party elections since 1965 and the Botswana Democratic Party, the party that I lead, has been returned to power on all occasions. Although independent election observers have always pronounced the elections free and fair, some critics consider uninterrupted rule by one party as detracting from a true democracy. …

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