Project: The African AIDS Pandemic

Africa's oldest democracy boasts stable economy

by John Carr

A sign to a 24-hour private clinic in
Gaborone, Botswana

As Africans migrated south and east across the continent, those who settled in Botswana area were the San people. The San tribes adapted to the harsh conditions of living in the Kalahari Desert. Following the San tribes were the Tswana tribes, who still constitute 50 percent of the population.

In the early nineteenth century, militant Zulus from the south posed a serious threat to the people and resources in the Botswana area. The Zulus, a tribe in South Africa, are notorious for military expansions and ruthlessness during battle. In the late nineteenth century, another threat emerged from the Boers from Transvaal. The people in the lands of Botswana feared colonization. So in 1885, because of hostile migration, the three leaders Khama III, Sebele and Bathoen, coined “the three Wiseman” by the people of Botswana, asked the Britain for protection. On March 31, 1885, the British government established the area as a protectorate of Bechuanaland.

The Bechuanaland Protectorate, along with the lands of Swaziland and Lesotho (Basutoland), were to be incorporated into the Union of South Africa eventually. However, this provision lacked details and Britain delayed their annex despite pressure from the South African government. With the institution of apartheid in 1948 and South African separation from the British Commonwealth in 1961, the annexing of these lands was obliterated.

For several decades Botswana remained politically stable. Tribal governments and European-African counsels would occasionally meet to discuss issues. However, in the 1960s, when the British Empire was beginning to crumble, Botswana obtained its independence. In 1961, Botswana was granted a constitution from Britain; by 1965, an internal government was operating. On September 30, 1966, the country became the Republic of Botswana after gaining complete independence.

Two years after independence, large diamond deposits were discovered in southern Botswana. The diamond mines fueled the economy. When the diamond market dipped in 1999, however Botswana’s economy followed along resulting in the first budget deficit in 16 years. Still, despite occasional blemishes in the economy, Botswana remains one of the most stable and strong economies in Africa.

Botswana is the oldest democracy in Africa. The first president and leader of the independence movement was Seretse Khama. He served three terms and died in office in 1980 when vice president Ketumile Masire took over. He was reelected twice and retired in 1998 when vice president Festus Mogae took office. President Mogae is an Oxford graduate in economics. He is respected by his people and the international community. His economics have kept Botswana flourishing, notably his privatization efforts of diamond mines and industry.

Inaugurated April 2008, Ian Khama, the son of Serestse Khama, is the current president of Botswana.