Myth of Botswana's Success Exploded

Cape Times (South Africa), April 9, 2009 | Go to article overview

Myth of Botswana's Success Exploded


This book wipes the lustre off Africa's sparkling success story, Botswana. Through the pages of a relatively slim volume, Australian Professor Kenneth Good, who was declared an "undesirable immigrant" and deported from Botswana in June 2005, painstakingly unearths a different reality to this much-vaunted case of African exceptionalism.

Good is no crude Afro-pessimist. At the time of his expulsion, he had lived and taught in Botswana for 14 years. He evinces a deep affection for the country, but an equally deep |antipathy for its political leadership, which borders on the visceral.

From the perspective of the government of Botswana, the feeling is mutual. Yet, this book is no polemical exercise. During his tenure at the University of Botswana, Good earned a reputation as a critical, yet |rigorous, scholar and despite his politics being to the left of many of his students, he was widely respected as an academic and teacher.

Good's devastating analysis of the pathologies of Botswana is based on a number of formulations. The first is the role of diamonds (which he terms an "inherently fraudulent commodity") and, more particularly, the relationship between De Beers and the Botswanan government.

Botswana's diamond deposits are the most lucrative on earth. Indeed, the original Orapa mine was so profitable that De Beers was able to recover its investment within two years of the mine opening. To its credit, the Botswanan government had the gumption to raise its shareholding in |Debswana from 15 percent to 50 percent and to force a dividend policy that maximised revenues to its fiscus.

Good contends that the very lucrativeness of Botswana's diamond industry, and the corporatist relationship forged with De Beers, serves as a disincentive to economic diversification and political accountability. Indeed, De Beers is portrayed by Good as co-conspirator in much that is odious in Botswana.

Yet, it could be argued that this quintessential corporatist relationship has, in fact, provided the very platform for Botswana's economic growth and stability. This is in stark contrast to the criminal and |illicit practices in Angola, Sierra Leone and the DRC, which fuelled the global trade in blood diamonds.

Moreover, far from suffering from the resources curse, Botswana is a functioning and peaceful state that has an unbroken history of free and fair elections, combined with the highest economic growth rates globally for the three decades since its independence in 1966. So where's the problem?

For Good, the devil is in the detail. Yes, the macroeconomic and political data make for textbook reading, yet scratching beneath the statistical overburden reveals less-than-alluring facets of the Botswanan political economy.

For example, Botswana exhibits higher levels of inequality than all other African countries, save for Lesotho and Namibia. For the period 1993-2003, some 50 percent of the Botswanan population lived on less than $2 a day. Recently, the country's Human Development Index was placed lower than Myanmar/Burma.

Unemployment remains persistently high at 24-40 percent and, at 40 percent of the adult population, Botswana suffers from the world's highest HIV infection rates.

The power of presidentialism and single party dominance is the second pillar of Botswana's malady, according to Good. Presidents have the power to nominate their successor in Botswana and while this has ensured that the country avoids the fissile conflicts of South African presidential succession races, it also means that its democracy is locked into a formulaic, attenuated and elite-controlled configuration. …

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