Botswana: An African Model for Progress and Prosperity

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The southern African nation of Botswana defied the global economic downturn of the 2007-2009 recession. Instead, it exemplifies the recent transition of economic growth in favor of low-income countries as it jumped from recording one of the world’s lowest per capita income figures of $70 to a middle-income level category of $16,300 within a few decades. Botswana is leaning towards becoming the Singapore or Hong Kong of southern Africa. More importantly, Botswana’s progression of economic growthmanship has become the envy of its neighbors, as well as a source of inspiration, which they should consider emulating.

What factors explain this impressive performance in the 46 years since independence from Great Britain?

Botswana’s democracy appears to be firmly rooted. The first President, Sir Seretse Khama, was a former tribal chief who in 1948 shocked his tribe and scandalized the British colonialists by marrying a British woman. The British, under pressure from South Africa, banished the couple from its protectorate, Bechuanaland, later Botswana. The British made up to him for the banishment with a knighthood, Sir Khama  protested against the apartheid policies adopted in South Africa in the 1950’s. He was determined when he returned from exile to establish an independent nation with democratic institutions that would stand in stark to contrast to South Africa. As it turned out, educated people in Botswana and others now remark on how they stand in contrast to much of black Africa.

Common wisdom on the Botswana Miracle suggests that the country provides a model for others to follow. Others certainly can learn valuable lessons from Botswana in many regards. The country‘s economic policies are exemplary. The Government Of Botswana has taken preventative measures to avoid Dutch Disease; built a cushion of financial reserves to counter fluctuations in international prices for primary exports and to strengthen its currency; taken steps to anticipate future troubles, and relied on experts to plan responses to possible disasters; historically focused on education; and avoided extreme foreign debt. The regularity of Botswana‘s elections since gaining independence in 1966 is commendable. Efforts to foster a sense of national unity, especially by Botswana‘s first president Sir Seretse Khama proved successful in many regards during the nation building furthermore Botswana has been fairly successful in developing initiatives that protect the environment, especially through the use of Community-Based Natural Resource Management, which often focuses on combining eco-tourism, conservation, and the livelihoods of indigenous groups.

The discovery of diamonds in 1972 and the mining production that followed created an opportunity for Botswana to support the robust economic and industrial drive of diamond commerce throughout the latter part of the 20th century. According to the CIA World Factbook, diamond activities contribute to 38 percent of national GDP, generate nearly 80 percent of export income and 50 percent of government revenue (CIA World Factbook). Botswana is now in the process of thinking ahead and addressing the next phase that will transform and expand their economy throughout the 21st century; a shift that is guided very much by fairly recent access to technology, communication capabilities and globalization. Eco-tourism, financial and support services, outsourced business process ventures and manufacturing, along with mining and exporting coal are all promising areas of growth.

Economically, Botswana has performed very well since 1966, maintaining one of the highest economic growth rates in the world.61 The Economist notes that Botswana had the fastest growing income per person over the thirty-five year period prior to 2002.

According to the global corruption watchdog Transparency International, Botswana scored 6.1 (0=highly corrupt, 10=least corrupt) on the 2011 CPI (Corruption Perception Index), ultimately ranking them the least corrupt nation of all 54 African countries, and a noteworthy 32nd place from the top in a worldwide comparison. Is this an African success story? In many ways it is. Botswana’s distribution objectives include free basic and post-secondary education, zero-cost healthcare and land plots for residence and farming purposes. Can the Botswana success model  be replicated in other parts of the Continent?

3 comments

  1. Botswana where I have worked fits with one of Mancur Olson’s clearest thoughts on the conditions of economic growth and prosperity i.e. (a) having a small population and (b) that population being homogeneous. This is a development on Olson’s Logic Collective Action in which the smaller the group (population) and the more they have compatible shared interests (shared incentives) which should minimise or eliminate free-riding (getting something for nothing) the better the economy will perform. Multi-ethnic societies like Nigeria (250 ethnic groups at least in 6 distinct geopolitical zones) with a mammoth population (at least 160 million) can never emulate Botswana, according to Olson’s logic and I agree.

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