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Botswana

History & Background

The Republic of Botswana was established in 1966 when Great Britain terminated its status as the colonial protector of Bechuanaland. Botswana is located in southern Africa, north of South Africa. It has a land area of 603,200 square kilometers. A landlocked nation, Botswana is completely dependent upon South Africa for access to ocean ports. Botswana is a member of the British Commonwealth and has a multiparty political system within a republican form of governance. In 1998 its economic growth rate was approximately 7 percent, with mineral resources being its principal exports.

The original inhabitants of Botswana were the Basarwa, more commonly known as the Bushmen. The Basarwa were nomadic hunters and gatherers who adapted well to harsh environments. Totally dependent upon the availability of water and game, the Basarwa were astutely cognizant of their environmental surroundings, and they developed ingenious techniques to extract what meager sustenance the land offered. They had no crops or domesticated animals and few possessions. Everything they owned was portable and necessary for sustaining daily existence. In 2000, approximately 60 percent of the 55,000 remaining Basarwa resided in Western Botswana. Their traditional way of life has been compromised by civilization, causing most to work on farms or cattle ranches; others live in settlements near water holes.

Sixty percent of Botswana's 1.4 million people claim Tswana heritage. The Tswana, a Bantu group, migrated into what is now Southeastern Botswana where environmental conditions were more hospitable to their sedentary way of life. They continued moving south and established village settlements in what is now the Transvaal Region of South Africa. Early in the nineteenth century, Zulu aggression pushed the Tswana towards the Western Kalahari where they regrouped and restructured their society around centralized towns surrounded by satellite villages. The Tswana are divided into eight principal groups governed by hereditary chiefs.

White Afrikaners, descendants of seventeenth century Dutch settlers, began colonizing the fertile lands of the Transvaal Region. British intervention protected the Tswana from Afrikaner domination. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Britain extended its political control over the area from the coastal colony of Cape Town deeper into the higher plateau of the Transvaal region. In 1881 Britain subdued the Afrikaners and granted them independence in exchange for their allegiance to the crown, but opportunistic Afrikaners continued to migrate into traditional Tswana lands and captured the town of Mafikeneg.

Tswana leaders, Chiefs Sechele I and Mosielele, sent emissaries to petition Britain for protection. Britain was concerned because of Mafikeneg's strategic location as a planned rail link connecting mineral rich Zimbabwe with the port city of Cape Town. Therefore, in 1886 Britain established a protectorate over Bechuanaland. In return, the Tswana chiefs granted Cecil Rhodes' British South African Company (BSAC) a narrow strip of land for a railroad corridor that would run through the heart of Tswana settlements. The tribal chiefs reluctantly accepted that the railroad would bring Western technology and Christianity, which would change their traditional way of life.

Their concerns increased when Britain considered granting control over all of Bechuanaland to Rhodes' company in 1895. Tswana chiefs Bathoen Khama III and Sebele, accompanied by sympathetic missionaries, sailed to England to meet with Colonial Minister Joseph Chamberlain. They argued that BSAC would corrupt Tswana society by bringing in alcohol. The London Missionary Society (LMS) and other Christian groups forced the government to relent and maintain its protective status over Tswana lands.

Administration of the protectorate was headquartered in Mafikneg, the South African town in the Transvaal. The British resident commissioner was responsible to a High Commissioner of Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland who, in turn, was accountable to the colonial office in London. Three advisory councils were established with the Tswana chiefs and their counselors in one group, white businessmen and farmers in the second, and a joint council of delegates from the other two. The tribes actively participated in the commercial economy evolving in the protectorate. Each chief was granted a tribal reserve with jurisdiction over all black residents with the authority to collect taxes. They retained a 10 percent commission of all monies collected, including the sale of cattle, draft oxen, and grain to Europeans.

The Anglican Church has always been an influential factor in Botswana's politics. This was especially evident during the protectorate period. Not satisfied with the slow rate of progress, the resident commissioner, Sir Charles Ray, tried to compromise the autonomy of the Tswana chiefs by proclaiming them local government officials who were accountable to colonial magistrates. It was feared, in 1923, that such arbitrary action would eventually lead to annexation by South Africa. The Church was a strong advocate for the chiefs; their involvement caused Ray to be removed from his position and the proclamation to be annulled. Botswana remained a British protectorate until independence was granted in 1966.

In 1997, about 27 percent of Botswana's 1.6 million people lived in urban areas. Because of Botswana's harsh environment, population density averages 2.3 persons per square kilometer. The dominant urban centers exist in the east while smaller cities are dispersed in the outlands bordering the Okavango Delta and Kalahari Desert. Approximately 4,300,000 people live in the eastern rim of the country along the railroad corridor connecting Zimbabwe with South Africa. In the 1800s, before protective status was conferred over the Tswana tribes and the railroad corridor created, the largest and most important towns were located in the east.

Until Botswana was granted independence, the affairs of the protectorate were administered from the South African city of Mafikeng. In 1964, with independence pending, it was decided to create a capital at the village Gaberones. The capital city, renamed Gaborone, was planned to accommodate 20,000 people; however, in 2000 it had almost 250,000 residents and was one of the world's fastest growing cities. Gabrone functions as Botswana's administrative, commercial, and industrial center. Typical of most large cities in developing countries, wealthier neighborhoods exist close to the city's center while shanty communities belonging to the urban poor and recent migrants are located in the outer suburbs.

According to the 1994 census, Botswana's birth rate was 45.6 per 1,000 persons, and the death rate was 11.1 per 1,000 persons. Approximately 40.6 percent of the population was less than 15 years of age, while 4.1 percent was 65 and older. Thus, Botswana's population could double by 2030. The rate of literacy has increased in Botswana. Adult female literacy increased from 44 percent in 1970 to 70 percent in 1998, and adult male literacy increased from 37 percent in 1970 to 67 percent in 1998.

Botswana is the country whose population has been most afflicted with the AIDS virus. A United Nations Development Report estimates that 36 percent of the country's population carry the virus. More conservative estimates place the figure in the high twenties. Botswana is making headway in fighting the disease by providing drugs to pregnant mothers. The United Kingdom Institute of Actuaries is making a detailed projection of what the epidemic may mean for Botswana and identifying the best ways to fund long-term health and social security costs. In 1999, the annual death rate from AIDS was 24,000. In 2000, life expectancy was 40.2 years for women and 39.9 years for the entire population. In 1993, there was 1 hospital bed per 434 persons. In 1994, there was an average of 1 physician for each 4,395 persons.

Diamonds were discovered in 1967, one year after Botswana gained its independence. Rather than lease extraction rights, the government negotiated a partnership with De Beers that gives 75 percent of the profits to Botswana. In 1966 mining contributed only 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP); in 1998 it comprised 36 percent of GDP. Mining has been largely responsible for Botswana's rate of economic growth, which averaged 7.3 percent between 1970 and 1995, the highest in the developing world. While mining should remain stable, diamond output is reaching its peak, and further production gains may be limited. Tourism is the second vital component of Botswana's economy, but it could decline in the twenty-first century because of political unrest in neighboring countries.

Economic planners are working to expand the manufacturing sector, but a disappointment occurred in 1999 when an automobile plant, Motor Company of Botswana, closed. Vehicles had been Botswana's second largest export earner and a flagship for industrial development. The Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority (BEDIA) was created in 1999 to expand exports by offering foreign companies attractive incentives to establish businesses in the country. Eleven new companies, mostly textile firms from India and Sri Lanka, created 3,000 new jobs, which helped alleviate the severe unemployment problem.

Botswana is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). A Trade Protocol went into effect late in 2000. The protocol's goal is to remove tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade in the region by 2008. Tariff reduction could become a problem because South Africa and the European Union have their own trade agreements. There is concern that the SADC countries may be flooded with cheaper European imports.

In 2000 Botswana's rate of inflation was more than 10 percent for the first time since 1995. Because the bulk of Botswana's consumer goods are imported from South Africa, increased costs in consumer prices in South Africa have an adverse effect on Botswana. The rising cost of international oil has also generated inflationary pressure. The government is maintaining a tight monetary policy and resisting pressure to deflate its currency. Fiscal policy will focus on improving control over government expenditures while increasing receipts. Proposals have been made to replace a sales tax with a value added tax and to charge user fees for health services and education.

Fiscal discipline has enabled Botswana's independent central bank to accumulate substantial foreign exchange reserves and maintain a disciplined monetary policy. In 2000 Botswana was one of only five African states classified by the World Bank as a lower middle-income country. The key challenges faced by government and economic planners are the high levels of poverty and unemployment and the rapid increase in the prevalence of HIV and AIDS.


Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceBotswana - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education