Project: The African AIDS Pandemic

Botswana's neighbors lag behind politically, socially

by John Carr

Although unemployment and HIV/AIDS affect the economy, Botswana is considered to be politically and socially stable; unfortunately, Botswana's neighbors cannot make this claim.

Botswana is landlocked between four countries: to the west is Namibia, to the north is the Caprivi Strip of Namibia and Zambia, to the east is Zimbabwe and to the south is South Africa. Another close neighbor is Angola to the northwest across, the narrow Caprivi Strip.

South West Africa was renamed Namibia in 1968 by the United Nations. This dry land borders the Atlantic Ocean and is inhabited by the Bushmen and several smaller tribes. Europeans first explored the land in the late nineteenth century when Germany claimed South West Africa. South Africa occupied the lands during and after World War I. Then after World War II, the land was annexed by South Africa without the support of the international community. A rebellious group of guerilla militants — the South-West Africa People’s Organization — launched a rebellion in the 1960s; however, independence did not come until 1988. Although the people of Namibia share many customs as Botswana, the country is much poorer.

The Caprivi Strip is a narrow piece of land belonging to Namibia, sandwiched between Botswana and Angola. This primitive strip was originally part of the Bechuanaland Protectorate. In 1890, however, Germany acquired the land from Britain in exchange for Britain's keeping Zanzibar. It was not until World War II that the people of the Caprivi Strip learned they were under German control. Most people immediately left the area, refusing to submit to German rule. By passing through this land, it was obvious there was little to no technology in this region including no running water, electricity or towns other than small, stick-built villages.

Zimbabwe, previously Rhodesia, is the country to the east of Botswana. Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe rose to power in 1980 after overthrowing the white government, led by Ian Smith. In 2000, under his leadership, thousands of white farmers were killed and their lands redistributed. Thus, the “bread basket of Africa” as it was called twenty years ago, is now starving, with an average life expectancy of 36 years, the world's worst inflation at 1,000,000 percent, and shortages of gasoline, hygiene products, and Coca Cola. A piece of lemon pie in a small café in northern Zimbabwe cost 3.5 million Zimbabwe dollars! Slums are being bulldozed under the notion if there are no poor people left alive, there will be no poverty and the 80 percent unemployment might decrease.

While in Zimbabwe, I was warned not to speak of Mugabe. Our hired driver, Tom, said “Do not say anything else about Mugabe,” he said. “Spies are everywhere. Opposition is immediately electrocuted in a little room across town.” Even so, most Zimbabweans and other southern Africans generally oppose Mugabe. While we were in transit, Tom said “I cannot stop on this road. The elephants will attack the car. The people are poaching these elephants. When they are poached they become very mean.” There are not many animals left in Zimbabwe, they have all been killed.” I noticed that ivory products were for sale in all the markets.

South of Botswana is South Africa, which also is suffering from government corruption, massive migration and outrageous crime. Amazingly, in 2002, the president of South Africa declared HIV/AIDS was a hoax and revoked several HIV/AIDS programs, which led to the death of thousands. Since apartheid ended in 1994, the country has suffered from power outages, massive migration from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, brain drain, and outrageous crimes rates. Electricity in Johannesburg and other metropolitan areas goes out several hours a day.

Tony, a white business owner I met in Rustenburg, said “The government does nothing. It is like you buy a car 14 years ago and do nothing to it but drive it. It is going to fall apart.” I met Tony after losing an ATM card outside his service station to a couple of scoundrels. Tony said he could call the police and report the crimes that are caught on camera, but that the police would do nothing. When I met him, he was running across the lot swinging a broom at running teenagers. He said, “I try to give them jobs, they do not want them. They just want to steal. ” Still, he believes things will get better in South Africa with time.

Angola is recovering from a nearly 30 year civil war ending in 2002. Angolan rebel forces have repeatedly tried to obtain the Caprivi Strip. As recently as a few years ago, several passing tourists were killed by these rebels. Police in camouflage uniforms have road blocks to record who went in and out.

All of Botswana's neighbors are affected by HIV/AIDS, which exacerbates many of these problems. Perhaps, the best country to fight HIV/AIDS effectively would be one without massive migration, famine or civil conflict.

Botswana is surrounded by a large amount of conflict; however, the country has been fortunate to avoid such problems. Botswana’s economy thrives while the country makes enough food to feed all of its citizens. Botswana also has never had a large civil war.