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Botswana - Introduction

Botswana was long touted as an African success story in terms of equality, human rights and economic development, but democracy gradually eroded since the current President Ian Khama took office in 2008. Botswana is heading in an authoritarian direction, with growing surveillance, reduced opportunities for freedom of expression and reprisals against anti-government views. Botswana faces major economic problems. Over a fifth of its population of two million live in absolute poverty and subsist on less than two dollars a day, despite the country's large diamond resources.

Cattle were traditionally seen as a symbol of wealth. Cattle can be the center of music, dance, and festivals. Now Botswana is synonymous with diamonds. Beef production remained Botswana’s chief export product until it was relegated to second by diamond export in the late 1970s, and to third by tourism in 2004.

Botswana’s primary natural resource is diamonds. Diamonds have been the key to Botswana’s economic stability. At current extraction rates, diamonds are expected to last for another 40 years. Although diamond mining supports the nation, accounting for one third of the gross domestic product (GDP), most Botswanans make their living from agriculture.

Botswana is widely credited as being one of the most prosperous and least corrupt states in Africa. Botswana is well known for having one of the world’s highest economic growth rates since it gained its independence in 1966. Between 1965 and 2005, real annual economic growth averaged 9 percent per year. The economic downturn hit diamond production and sales hard, with production falling by almost 50% in 2009.

In November 2000, a French risk analysis firm rated Botswana as the only country in Africa where the financial, commercial, and political risks for foreign investors and exporters was comparable to Western democracies.

'Bechuana' is synologous with 'Batswana', the correct term for the people of Botswana. The term "Batswana" refers to the ethnic group of people who speak the Setswana language and share the Sotho-Tswana culture, while in its common contemporary usage, it refers to all citizens of the Republic of Botswana, regardless of their ethnic background. The singular is "Motswana": a citizen of the country. "Tswana" is used as an adjective - for example "Tswana state" or "Tswana culture".

Seventy-five percent of the Botswanan people belong to one of eight principal Bantu-speaking tribes related to the Sotho people. These principal tribes are the Kwena, Ngwato, Ngwaketse, Kgatla, Tawana, Lete, Tlokwa, and Rolong. They consider themselves of one ethnic group, Tswana; this is the main reason why Botswana is one of the few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where tribalism is not a major problem.

English is the official language of Botswana. Setswana is the native language and is the commonly spoken language. Although there are several different tribes, almost all understand Setswana. English is taught at secondary schools and higher, but primary school is taught in Setswana.

An independent, self-sustaining Republic of Botswana seemed an illusion in the 1960s. The country was underdeveloped even by African standards of the time. Botswana was characterised by lack of a modern road network, with just six kilometers of tarred road in a country the size of France, Texas or Kenya, no modern portable water or electrical facilities across the country and poor human development depicted by low literacy levels.

One of the world's most impoverished nations at the time of independence, the discovery of commercially exploitable diamonds in 1967 paved the way for economic prosperity, with Botswana becoming a shining example of an African success story. From as far back as 1960s, Diamonds have been a source of hope to Botswana, most importantly transforming Botswana from an undeveloped country in 1966 to the middle income status of today.

Botswana became an independent republic in September 1966. Formerly known as the Bechuanaland Protectorate, the country had been under British sovereignty since 1885. It is an entirely landlocked country in sourthern Africa bordering Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, and the disputed territory known as the Caprivi Strip.

Botswana's economy remains highly dependent on diamond revenues, and repeated efforts to create alternative types of economic growth and job creation have failed. In the short term, Botswana's main vulnerability is its dependence on regional dynamics. As a landlocked and agriculturally un-productive country, Botswana is economically dependent on South Africa for food, petroleum, and electricity. An economic or political crisis in South Africa would have significant effects in Botswana.

Government revenues, primarily derived from the mining sector, have been used to fund extensive social provision, particularly in the form of public education, health provision, water supplies, roads and other infrastructure. Given that the level of social and physical development was extremely low at the time of independence, considerable achievements have been made in achieving virtually universal primary and junior secondary education, health care (88% of the population live within 8km of a health facility, and trained health personnel attend to 99% of births) and access to clean water supplies (97% of the population have access to safe drinking water). It is only the most remote areas that state provision of these basic services may not be available.

A number of large-scale crime organizations operate across Botswana. They include Eastern European, Nigerian, and Angolan syndicates. However, the most prevalent gangs are indigenous, South African, or Zimbabwean. These groups engage in a variety of enterprises, from weapons trafficking to currency smuggling. Independent gangs of wildlife poachers and armed bandits operate along Botswana’s borders, particularly on the western border with Namibia.

The concept of community is very important in Botswana. Until recently, most infrastructure such as schools and roads were built through local organizations. Members are expected to work for the community, and the more a person does for their group, the higher their status is within it. For this reason, education, integrity, and generosity are highly valued. Family members with jobs are expected to support those without, and traveling relatives are housed as long as necessary. Botswanans value an absence of conflict, therefore public criticism and raising one’s voice in anger are inappropriate.

Handshaking in Botswana is longer and softer than in the United States. When meeting with someone, it is considered impolite to rush into business. In casual conversation feel free to discuss heath, family, weather, life in America, sports, music, art, and positive aspects of Botswana. Avoid talking about politics, colonialism, sex, and religion, and criticizing political leaders.

People tend to be very affectionate towards others and have no problems kissing, holding hands, and embracing without sexual implications. Americans speak louder than is acceptable in Botswana. If concerned about voice level, match the level of the person with whom you are speaking. Personal space is much closer in Botswana. Stepping back to adjust the space will result in a step close by the other person to close the gap.

Eye contact is important to be aware of while in Botswana. It is disrespectful to make eye contact with a superior. Visitors must not hold a long gaze at anyone in a position of respect or authority. You will have difficulty making eye contact when talking with a Botswanan, who wishes to show you respect.

If invited to a meal, keep in mind that it is usually communal. Use the right hand to get food. Meals consist of porridge, which is made from sorghum, maize, or millet. Tea made from sorghum is common for breakfast. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are added to the Botswana diet. When eating from a large bowl, eat the portion in front of you and do not take a bigger portion than others. Be sure to leave a small amount of food on your plate to indicate you are full. Eating everything will make it appear that you are still hungry. On some occasions small gifts are customary; be prepared for this. Refusing a gift can be taken as an insult.

Most secondary roads are either graveled or hard packed earth. Vegetation can grow up to and over the edges of roads, particularly during the rainy season, causing a lack of visibility at bends and concealing hazards at the side of the road. Driving can be challenging and sometimes dangerous. Some vehicles are not roadworthy, and not all drivers are properly trained or experienced.

A few examples of likely hazards are: inexperienced and irresponsible (often drunk) drivers, wandering livestock/wild animals, long distances, high temperatures, low to no light, and intense rain. There are a high number of traffic accidents often owing to poor driving habits, long, tedious stretches of two-lane highways (often without shoulders), excessive speeds, poor/nonexistent street lighting, non-functioning traffic lights, drunk drivers, and animals on the roads.

Cows, donkeys, and goats are often found feeding along, crossing, or standing in the road. Calves, foals, and young goats represent a particular danger, as they are skittish in nature and may suddenly rush into the road. Alcohol and excessive speed are significant contributing factors in most accidents, particularly in the evenings, on weekends, and at month’s end (payday). Skid marks, vehicle debris, and drivers impacting light poles, traffic lights, and signs are evident throughout the city streets.

Sanitation is extremely poor throughout the country. Local food and water sources (including ice) are heavily contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, parasites, and viruses, to which most Americans have little or no natural immunity. If local food, water, or ice from unapproved sources is consumed, diarrhea can be expected within days. Hepatitis A and typhoid/paratyphoid fever can cause prolonged illness in a smaller percentage of unvaccinated personnel.

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Page last modified: 31-03-2017 19:44:30 ZULU