Background Notes: Botswana

Contributed By RealAdventures

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Motswana (sing.), Batswana (pl.).
Population (1996 est.): 1.49 million.
Annual growth rate (1996): 3%.
Ethnic groups: Tswana 55%-60%; Kalanga 25%-30%; Kgalagadi, Herero, Basarwa ("Bushmen"), Khoi ("Hottentots"), whites 5%-10%.
Religions: Christianity 60%, indigenous beliefs 40%.
Languages: English (official), Setswana, Ikalanga.
Education: Adult literacy (1993)--68.9%.
Health (1991): Life expectancy--60 years. Infant mortality rate--43/1,000.
Work force (1995): 234,500.

The Batswana, a term inclusively used to denote all citizens of Botswana, also refers to the country's major ethnic group (the "Tswana" in South Africa), which came into the area from South Africa during the Zulu wars of the early 1880s. Prior to European contact, the Batswana lived as herders and farmers under tribal rule.

In the late 19th century, hostilities broke out between the Batswana and Boer settlers from the Transvaal. After appeals by the Batswana for assistance, the British Government in 1885 put "Bechuanaland" under its protection. The northern territory remained under direct administration and is today's Botswana, while the southern territory became part of the Cape Colony and is now part of the northwest province of South Africa; the majority of Setswana-speaking people today live in South Africa.

Despite South African pressure, inhabitants of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Basutoland (now Lesotho), and Swaziland in 1909 asked for and received British assurances that they would not be included in the proposed Union of South Africa. An expansion of British central authority and the evolution of tribal government resulted in the 1920 establishment of two advisory councils representing Africans and Europeans. Proclamations in 1934 regularized tribal rule and powers. A European-African advisory council was formed in 1951, and the 1961 constitution established a consultative legislative council.

In June 1964, Britain accepted proposals for democratic self-government in Botswana. The seat of government was moved from Mafikeng, in South Africa, to newly established Gaborone in 1965. The 1965 constitution led to the first general elections and to independence in September 1966. Seretse Khama, a leader in the independence movement and the legitimate claimant to traditional rule of the Batswana, was elected as the first president, re-elected twice, and died in office in 1980. The presidency passed to the sitting vice president, Ketumile Masire, who was elected in his own right in 1984 and re-elected in 1989 and 1994.

Botswana has a flourishing multiparty, constitutional democracy. Each of the elections since independence has been freely and fairly contested and has been held on schedule. The country's small white minority and other minorities participate freely in the political process. There are two main rival parties and a number of smaller parties. In 1994, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won 27 of 40 contested National Assembly seats and the Botswana National Front (BNF) won 13. The opposition out-polled the ruling BDP in most urban areas. The openness of the country's political system has been a significant factor in Botswana's stability and economic growth. General elections are held at least every five years. The next national election is in 1999.

The president has executive power and is chosen by the national election following country-wide elections. The cabinet is presidentially selected from the National Assembly; it consists of a vice president and a flexible number of ministers, currently 11. The National Assembly has 40 elected and four appointed members; it is expanded following each census (every 10 years).

The advisory House of Chiefs represents the eight principal sub-groups of the Batswana tribe, and four other members are elected by the sub-chiefs of four of the districts. A draft of any National Assembly bill of tribal concern must be referred to the House of Chiefs. Chiefs and other leaders preside over customary, traditional courts, though all persons have a right to request that their case be considered under the formal, British-based legal system.

The roots of Botswana's democracy lie in Setswana traditions, exemplified by the Kgotla, or village council, in which the powers of traditional leaders were limited by custom and law. Botswana's High Court has general civil and criminal jurisdiction. Judges are presidentially appointed and may be removed only for cause and after a hearing. The constitution has a code of fundamental human rights enforced by the courts, and Botswana has a good human rights record.

Local government is administered by nine district councils and five town councils. District commissioners have executive authority and are appointed by the central government and assisted by elected and nominated district councilors and district development committees. There has been ongoing debate about the political, social, and economic marginalization of the Basarwa (Bushmen). The government's policies for remote area dwellers continue to spark controversy and to be revised in response to domestic and donor concerns.

Although there is a government-owned newspaper and the government operates the only national radio network, there is an active, independent press (mostly weekly newspapers). Foreign publications are sold without restriction in Botswana.

President--Sir Ketumile Masire
Vice President--Festus G. Mogae
Ambassador to the United States--Archibald Mogwe
Ambassador to the United Nations--L. J. M. J. Legwaila

Botswana maintains an embassy at 3400 International Drive NW., Suite 7-M, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-244-4990; fax 202-244-4164). Its mission to the United Nations is at 103 E. 37th Street, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-889-2277; fax 212-725- 5061).

Since independence, Botswana has had an impressive economic growth rate, averaging over 10% per year from 1976 through 1991. Growth in formal sector employment has averaged about 10% per annum over Botswana's first 30 years of independence. Recently, the government has maintained budget surpluses and substantial foreign exchange reserves totaling about $4.6 billion in 1996.

Botswana's impressive economic record has been built on a foundation of diamond mining, with prudent fiscal policies, international financial and technical assistance, and careful foreign policy ensuring success.


Two large mining companies, Debswana (formed by the government and South Africa's Debeers in equal partnership) and Bamangwato Concessions, Ltd. (BCL-also with substantial government equity participation) operate in the country.

Since the early 1980s, the country has become the world's largest producer of quality diamonds. Three large diamond mines have opened since independence. Debeers prospectors discovered diamonds in northern Botswana in the early 1970s. The first mine began production at Orapa in 1972, followed by the smaller mine at Lethakane. What has become the single-richest diamond mine in the world opened in Jwaneng in 1982. Botswana produced a total of 16.8 million carats of diamonds from the three Debswana mines in 1995.

BCL, which operates a copper-nickel mine at Selebi-Phikwe, has had a troubled financial history but remains an important employer. Similarly, a soda ash operation at Sua Pan, opened in 1991 and supported by substantial government investment, has been a continual money loser.


More than one-half of the population lives in rural areas and is largely dependent on subsistence crop and livestock farming. Agriculture meets only a small portion of food needs and contributes just 4% to GDP--primarily through beef exports-but it remains a social and cultural touchstone. Cattle raising in particular dominated Botswana's social and economic life before independence. The national herd was approximately 2.5 million in the mid-1990s, though the government-ordered slaughter of the entire herd in Botswana's northwest Ngamiland District in 1995 has reduced the number by at least 200,000. The slaughter was ordered to prevent the spread of "cattle lung disease" to other parts of the country.

Private Sector Development and Foreign Investment

Botswana seeks to diversify its economy away from minerals, the earnings from which have leveled off. In 1994-95, non-traditional sectors of the economy grew at over 5%, partially offsetting a slight decline in the minerals sector. Foreign investment and management have been welcomed in Botswana as keys to diversification, and light manufacturing, tourism, and financial services have all generated opportunities for profit.

U.S. investment in Botswana is growing. In the early 1990s, two American companies, Owens Corning and Lazare Kaplan, made major investments in production facilities in Botswana. A brick-making plant in Lobatse started in 1992 with participation by Interkiln Corporation of Houston. An American Business Council (ABC) with over 30 member companies was inaugurated in 1995.

Because of history and geography, Botswana has long had deep ties to the economy of South Africa. The Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU), comprised of Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa, dates from 1910. Under this arrangement, South Africa has collected levies from customs, sales, and excise duties for all five members, sharing out proceeds based on each country's portion of imports. The exact formula for sharing revenues and the decision-making authority over duties (held, until at least 1996, exclusively by the Government of South Africa) have become increasingly controversial, and the members began renegotiating the arrangement in 1995. While the Customs Union has benefited Botswana through duty-free access to the much larger South African market, SACU has also made prohibitive the import of non-South African capital and consumer goods. Following South Africa's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO-Botswana is also a member), many of the SACU duties are declining, making American products more competitive.

Botswana's currency--the pula--is fully convertible and is valued against a basket of currencies heavily weighted toward the South African rand. Profits and direct investment can be repatriated with virtually no restriction from Botswana.

Gaborone is host to the 12-nation Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). A successor to the Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), which focused its efforts on freeing regional economic development from dependence on apartheid in South Africa, SADC incorporates South Africa and has a broad mandate to encourage growth, development, and integration in Southern Africa. The Regional Center for Southern Africa (RCSA), which implements the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Initiative for Southern Africa (ISA), is headquartered in Gaborone as well.

Transportation and Communications

A sparsely populated, arid country about the size of Texas, Botswana has nonetheless managed to incorporate much of its interior into the national economy. An "inner circle" highway connecting all major towns and district capitals is almost completely paved, and the all-weather Trans-Kalahari Highway will connect the country (and through it South Africa's commercially dominant Guateng Province) to Walvis Bay in Namibia upon completion before the turn of the century. A fiber-optic telecommunications network has been completed in Botswana connecting all major population centers.

Botswana has put a premium on economic and political integration in Southern Africa. It has sought to make SADC a working vehicle for economic development, and it has promoted efforts to make the region self-policing in terms of preventative diplomacy, conflict resolution, and good governance. It has welcomed post-apartheid South Africa as a partner in these efforts.

Botswana has formal diplomatic relations with most African countries and many European nations and Arab countries. A number of ambassadors accredited to Botswana reside in Harare, Zimbabwe, or in Lusaka, Zambia. Botswana receives development aid from many sources. It is a member of international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). In 1996, it will complete a two-year term on the UN's Security Council, where it established a record of consensual, constructive participation. Botswana joins the African consensus on most major international matters.

The United States considers Botswana a force for stability in Africa, and it has been a major partner in development from the country's independence. U.S. Peace Corps will close out its presence in December 1997, bringing to an end 30 years of well-regarded assistance in education, business, health, agriculture, and the environment. Similarly, the USAID ended a longstanding partnership with Botswana in 1996, after successful programs emphasizing education, training, entrepreneurship, environmental management, and reproductive health. Botswana will continue to benefit along with its neighbors in the region from USAID's initiative for Southern Africa. The United States operates a major Voice of America (VOA) relay station in Botswana serving most of the African continent. In 1995, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) initiated a tuberculosis monitoring program in Botswana.

Ambassador--Robert Krueger
Deputy Chief of Mission--Gillian Milovanovic
USAID Regional Center Director--Valerie Dickson-Horton
Public Affairs Officer--Steve Lauterbach
Peace Corps Director--Francis Hammond
Office of Defense Cooperation--Ltc. James Smaugh

The U.S. Embassy is on Embassy Drive off Khama Crescent-PO Box 90, Gaborone (tel. 267-353-982; fax 267-356-947). USIS is at the Embassy. USAID is located at the former Barclay's Training Center, off the Molepolole Road on Lebatlane Road. Peace Corps is located on the Old Lobatse Road.

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