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Botswana, one of Africa’s most stable countries, is the continent’s longest continuous multi-party democracy. It is relatively free of corruption and has a good human rights record.


Botswana is flat, and up to 70% is covered by the Kalahari Desert. It is bordered by South Africa to the south and southeast, Namibia to the west and north, and Zimbabwe to the northeast. Its border with Zambia to the north near Kazungula, Zambia is poorly defined but at most is a few hundred metres long.
A mid-sized country of just over two million people, Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Botswana was one of the poorest countries in Africa when it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, with a GDP per capita of about US$70. Botswana has since transformed itself, becoming one of the fastest-growing economies in the world to a GDP (purchasing power parity) per capita of about $14,000,[1] and a high gross national income, possibly the fourth-largest in Africa, giving the country a modest standard of living. The country also has a strong tradition as a representative democracy.

When the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 out of the main British colonies in the region, the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Basutoland (now Lesotho) and Swaziland (the “High Commission Territories”) were not included, but provision was made for their later incorporation. However, their inhabitants began to be consulted by the UK, and although successive South African governments sought to have the territories transferred, the UK kept delaying; consequently, it never occurred. The election of the Nationalist government in 1948, which instituted apartheid, and South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 1961, ended any prospect of incorporation of the territories into South Africa. An expansion of British central authority and the evolution of tribal government resulted in the 1920 establishment of two advisory councils to represent both Africans and Europeans. Proclamations in 1934 regulated 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, the UK accepted proposals for a democratic self-government in Botswana. The seat of government was moved in 1965 from Mafikeng in South Africa, to the newly established Gaborone, which sits near its border. The 1965 constitution led to the first general elections and to independence on 30 September 1966. Seretse Khama, a leader in the independence movement and the legitimate claimant to the Ngwato chiefship, was elected as the first President, going on to be re-elected twice.
The presidency passed to the sitting Vice-President, Quett Masire, who was elected in his own right in 1984 and re-elected in 1989 and 1994. Masire retired from office in 1998, and was succeeded by Festus Mogae, who was elected in his own right in 1999 and re-elected in 2004. The presidency passed in 2008 to Ian Khama (son of the first President), who had been serving as Mogae’s Vice-President since resigning his position in 1998 as Commander of the Botswana Defence Force to take up this civilian role.

The Situation

The politics of Botswana take place in a framework of a representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Botswana is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Parliament of Botswana. The most recent election, its tenth, was held on 16 October 2009.
Since independence was declared, the party system has been dominated by the Botswana Democratic Party. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. According to Transparency International, Botswana is the least corrupt country in Africa and ranks similarly close to Portugal and South Korea. Nevertheless the country is considered to have the most secretive public institutions in Africa.

Botswana faces two major environmental problems: drought and desertification. The desertification problems predominantly stem from the severe times of drought in the country. Three quarters of the country’s human and animal populations depend on groundwater due to drought. Groundwater use has eased the effects of drought but has taken a toll on the land. Groundwater is retrieved through drilling deep boreholes which leads to the erosion of the land. Surface water is scarce in Botswana and less than 5% of the agriculture in the country is sustainable by rainfall. Due to this 95% of the country raises cattle and livestock as a means for an income. Approximately 71% of the country’s land is used for communal grazing, which has been a major cause of the desertification of the country.
Since raising livestock has proven to be profitable for the people of Botswana, the land continues to be exploited. The animal populations have continued to dramatically increase. From 1966 to 1991 the livestock population has increased from 1.7 million to 5.5 million: Similarly, the human population has increased from 574,000 in 1971 to 1.5 million in 1995, nearly a 200% increase. “Over 50% of all households in Botswana own cattle, which is currently the largest single source of rural income”. “Rangeland degradation or desertification is regarded as the reduction in land productivity as a result of overstocking and overgrazing or as a result of veld product gathering for commercial use. Degradation is exacerbated by the effects of drought and climate change”. Environmentalists report that the Okavango Delta is drying up due to the increased grazing of livestock. The Okavango Delta is one of the major semi-forested wetlands in Botswana and one of the largest inland deltas in the world; it is a crucial ecosystem to the survival of many animals.

The Bank of Botswana serves as a central bank in order to develop and maintain the Botswana pula, the country’s currency. Since independence, Botswana has had one of the fastest growth rates in per capita income in the world. Botswana has transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country. By one estimate, it has the fourth highest gross national income at purchasing power parity in Africa, giving it a standard of living around that of Mexico and Turkey.
According to the International Monetary Fund, economic growth averaged over 9% per year from 1966 to 1999. Botswana has a high level of economic freedom compared to other African countries. The government has maintained a sound fiscal policy, despite consecutive budget deficits in 2002 and 2003, and a negligible level of foreign debt. It earned the highest sovereign credit rating in Africa and has stockpiled foreign exchange reserves (over $7 billion in 2005/2006) amounting to almost two and a half years of current imports.
An array of financial institutions populates the country’s financial system, with pension funds and commercial banks being the two most important segments by asset size. Banks remain profitable, well-capitalized, and liquid, as a result of growing national resources and high interest rates.

Fun Trivia Facts
  • Full name: The Republic of Botswana
  • Population: 2 million (UN, 2012)
  • Capital: Gaborone
  • Area: 581,730 sq km (224,607 sq miles)
  • Major languages: English (official), Setswana
  • Major religions: Christianity, indigenous beliefs
  • Life expectancy: 54 years (men), 51 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Pula = 100 thebe
  • Main exports: Diamonds, copper, nickel, beef
  • GNI per capita: US $7,470 (World Bank, 2011)
  • Internet domain: .bw
  • International dialling code: +267
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