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new internationalist
issue 224 - October 1991

Country profile: Botswana

photo: VIERENTIA BEUKES / CAMERA PRESS Africa seems bedevilled with economic stagnation, political strife and poor levels of healthcare and literacy. But Botswana presents a different picture, coming a long way since independence in 1966 when it was one of the world’s poorest countries.

Then it seemed it was a poor country with a wealth of attractions for (Western) visitors, from the Kalahari desert to the lush vegetation and wildlife in the swamps of the Okavango Delta whose delicate ecological balance fascinates conservationists.

But while these spots remain relatively unchanged, the pace of the whole country has altered. A visitor going to Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, cannot fail to notice this is one sub-Saharan country that is prospering. The sound of drills and sight of new glass buildings, schools and clinics are apparent everywhere in a town which is growing daily.

The prosperity lies not only in the new buildings. Strong emphasis on social development, particularly in education and health, has pushed up standards the length and breadth of the country – especially for women. Some 80 per cent of the population are now within 15 kilometers of a health facility, and infant mortality rates (a key indicator of development) are amongst the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa.

But it has been the towns and the formal sector that have benefitted most from the increased wealth. For the three-quarters of the population living in the countryside farming and rearing livestock, incomes are meagre.

Yet despite the discrepancies of wealth, links between town and country are strong. Most households have traditionally maintained several homes: one in the village for social and civic purposes; one at the ‘lands’ or farms; and a further one at the cattle post. People shuttle between these locations. In recent years, for those who can afford it, a house in town has been added to the bases. But the migration into towns has pushed up prices and rents, reflecting the ‘boomtown’ atmosphere.

The urban drift has made things difficult for many women in rural areas. As men go to the towns, traditional family networks break down. Many women, particularly single mothers, are unable to survive in the countryside without that support. Arable farming needs labour (which they can provide), but also cattle for ploughing – and the cattle belong to the men. So women also drift to the cities and end up as squatters, as tenants in rooms or if they are lucky as small plot-holders.

Even the Okavango Delta has not been sidestepped by the march of change. A proposal to drain some of its water for industrial use was heatedly debated before being thrown out. For the time being the Delta is safe. The hope is that Botswana’s political stability will endure and achieve a balance for its people that mirrors nature’s harmony in the Delta.

Gwenda Brophy



LEADER: President Dr Quett Kimule Joni Masire

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $1,010 (US $19,840)
Main exports: Diamonds, beef. Since independence in 1966 the country has exploited its mineral wealth. The mining sector has become dominant; the country is the world's largest exporter of diamonds in terms of value and the third by volume. The economy has been growing at around 10 per cent per annum over the last two decades, and has been the fastest growing economy in the world over the last decade.
Main imports: Petroleum, capital goods, machinery.

PEOPLE: 1.3 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality 58 per 1,000 live births (US 10 per 1,000)

CULTURE: Semi-nomadic people; much of the population moves between village, cattle post, and lands.
Languages: Setswana, English
Religion: Traditional, and some Christianity.

Sources: Population Reference Data Sheet, 1990, Population Bureau; World Bank Report 1990; State of the World's Children 1991; State of World Population 1991.

Last profiled in August 1987



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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Improving but still wide disparity.

1987: [image, unknown]

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LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
70% Improving; education prioritized.

1987: [image, unknown] [image, unknown]

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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
But dependent on the price of diamonds.

1987: [image, unknown] [image, unknown]

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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
One of the few multi-party democracies in Africa.

1987: [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]

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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Many traditional attitudes still need to change.

1987: [image, unknown] [image, unknown]

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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
58 years; relatively high for sub-Saharan Africa. (US 76 years).

1987: [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]



Politics now

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The Botswana Democratic Party
in power since Independence


NI star rating

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previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page [image, unknown]

New Internationalist issue 224 magazine cover This article is from the October 1991 issue of New Internationalist.
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