By Davis Arthur-Yeboah
Formerly known as the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland, the Republic of Botswana gained its independence on September 30, 1966 with Sir Seretse Khama as its first president. Botswana’s primary source of national income is diamonds which account for over 40% of the country’s GDP. In 2013 alone, revenue from diamond exports alone amounted to over US$1.6 billion, helping Botswana’s economy grow at an average of 5%, the fastest in the world over the past decade (2005-2015).
With recent falls in revenue from diamond sales, Botswana has incurred small but notable budget deficits of about 4.5% of GDP after three years of surpluses of about 3.7% according to data from the World Bank. The country has been described as one of Africa’s most stable countries and the continent’s longest continuous multi-party democracy.
On April 1st, 2008, Ian Khama, son of Botswana’s founding president Sir Seretse Khama and his wife Lady Ruth Khama become interim president of Botswana when President Festus Mogae stepped down. Although not elected through elections, Mr. Khama proposed policies that aimed at fundamentally changing the country. For instance, the Khama administration proposed a 70% levy on alcohol to curb alcoholism, especially among the youth. Only after opposition to and consultation with the brewery industry was the levy reduced to 30%. On October 20th 2009, Mr. Khama’s was sworn in as president for his first full term after his Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won elections in the parliamentary republic and proceeded with his vision for the country. That year the president appointed Ms. Magaret Nasha as Botswana’s first Speaker of Parliament and appointed two other women to his cabinet.
Although rainfall is unreliable, the Khama administration is investing in the agriculture and tourism sectors in an effort to reduce the country’s reliance on diamonds and other minerals. Reforms in the financial sector, including the mainstreaming of non-financial banking institutions as well as the abolishment of foreign exchange controls have helped boost Botswana’s banking sector into one of the best on the African continent while being generally compliant with international standards on transparency, financial supervision and economic freedom. However, there still is significant state involvement in the economy. The government owns 50% of Debswana, the largest diamond mining company in the country and much of credit to entrepreneurs and investors is sourced through subsidies and loans from the central bank which maintains high interest rates.
Botswana’s health state under president Khama is also commendable. President Khama inherited a country with an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 25.4% among adults 15-49. With improvements in HIV/AIDS education and access to contraceptives and antiretroviral therapy, Botswana’s HIV prevalence had fallen to 21.9% in 2013 with about 40% of adults having access to antiretroviral therapy financed by the government and NGOs (UNAIDS “Gap Report”, 2014).
His foreign policy is commendable, he is one of the most respected African leaders globally, Khama got international praise for condemning Africa’s worst authoritarian leaders. His modest lifestyle when compared with many of the leaders of African countries made him stand out, he sometimes rides around in his motorbike, and still flies himself around the country. He is a trained pilot. Under his watch, Transparency International, the global civil society organization leading the fight against corruption.in 2016 rated Botswana as the least corrupt country in Africa.
These gains notwithstanding, Botswana faces a number of problems; HIV/AIDS prevalence is the third highest in the world after Lesotho and Swaziland. Falling revenue from diamond exports threatens to stifle progressive investment and economic growth. Income inequality in Botswana is also quite high despite a fall in poverty rate from 50% at independence to a little over 19% today (World Bank data). Botswana is still one of few African countries with an enviable record of peaceful transition of power and generally free and fair elections. Judging from recent trends, this enviable record is expected to continue in elections scheduled for 2019 which will be the end of President Khama’s second and final term following his re-election in October of 2014.