Botswana – a dry, landlocked country in southern Africa – currently enjoys the highest per capita income in Africa, with estimates putting it at $18,021. In contrast, Nigeria – which holds the title of Africa’s biggest economy – has a per capita income of $6,351.
Botswana and Nigeria both make the bulk of export earnings from the sale of natural resources, but the average Batswana (not a typo, rather the correct term to refer to a citizen of Botswana) earns about three times as a much as a Nigerian. Botswana is also the African country with the highest ranking on the human development index (HDI).
By all accounts, Botswana has an inspiring story of succeeding against the odds and making the most of given opportunities. In 1966, when Botswana got its independence from the British, its per capita income was a modest $70. Botswana has since grown by leaps and bounds, transforming itself into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
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The topography of Botswana is mostly flat and dry, with 70 percent of its land mass in the Kalahari Desert. It is a mid-sized country bordered by South Africa to the south, Namibia to the west and Zambia to the north. Botswana has always had to grapple with perennial water shortages and the problems of droughts and desertification. Rainfall is typically low and surface water is scarce. Most of Botswana’s water supply comes from deep boreholes bringing up ground water to the surface.
Botswana is however blessed with vast mineral deposits. It is the world’s largest producer of diamonds, which accounts for 70 percent of its net export earnings and 33 percent of its GDP. To its credit, the government of Botswana has taken the necessary steps over the years to consistently exploiting these diamond deposits as responsibly and transparently as possible, thereby delivering real and measurable benefits to the people of Botswana.
With revenue from the sale of diamonds, the government has embarked on extensive social and economic development programmes in education, health and public infrastructure. Today, the adult literacy rate in Botswana stands at 81.2 percent, one of the highest on the continent.
Botswana is also responding adequately to its HIV/AIDS pandemic; its prevalence rate of 1 in 4, or about a quarter of the population infected, makes it one of the highest in the world. The government, however, is handling the situation with a progressive approach and a policy that provides free anti-retroviral treatment and ensures non-discrimination towards infected persons.
Botswana remains a unique African success story largely because despite its vast mineral deposits, the country has escaped the “resource curse” or the “Dutch disease” that has plagued the vast majority of African states blessed with substantial amounts of non-renewable natural resources like mineral deposits. Its leaders know better than to depend exclusively on these finite resources for its earnings and have actively diversified the nation’s economy. A thriving livestock industry ranks as Botswana’s second biggest export; tourism and the allied service sector are other important contributors to the economy.
Some observers may consider Botswana to have been lucky so far, since it has never had to contend with internal strife or civil wars. Botswana boasts a stable multi-party democracy, with complete observance of the rule of law and ranks as the least corrupt country in Africa according to the transparency international index. It has also suffered little to no foreign interference, external aggression or the spillover from wars (including any influx of refuges) from its closest neighbours.
While all of these are contributing factors, Botswana has succeeded primarily because it has managed to build solid institutions, which are absent in other African countries. The rule of law is firmly entrenched in the fabric of both the nation’s public and private sector, while a lot of the impunity that characterizes government and power elsewhere in Africa is largely absent in this Batswana society.
Indeed, the government of Botswana has largely fulfilled its fundamental role of providing and protecting its people. It has continued to serve the interests of its citizens, many of whom should feel nothing but pride when they sing the Botswana national anthem “Fatshe leno la rona,” which translates to mean “This Land of Ours.”