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Botswana: the only real democracy in Africa

By Guy Hallowes - posted Friday, 10 August 2018

For reference I ran a joint venture between the South African Breweries and the Government of Botswana from 1978 to 1982, which consisted of a brewery and soft drink plant, a distribution business, a group of hotels and a sorghum (traditional) beer business. We never had anything but support and goodwill from the Government.

Botswana is a landlocked country about the size of France, situated between South Africa to the south and east, Zimbabwe to the east Namibia to the west and Zambia to the north. The country is mostly a waterless savannah with a population of about 2.3 million people. It is host to the unique Okavango delta, in the north of the country. The country is one of the largest diamond producers in the world, with two massive diamond mines- Orapa and Jwaneng.

To understand the county's progress towards democracy we need to go back to the nineteenth century, when Khama 3rd was the hereditary chief of the largest tribe in country, the Bamangwato, or Ngwato, of what was to be known as Bechuanaland,.


The Ngwato were and still are a relatively small tribe who had to live by their wits; they tended to avoid violence.

Khama 3rd became very nervous about the establishment of the Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal in the mid eighteen hundreds and the discovery of diamonds in what is now Kimberley in 1866, with the resultant influx of white settlers to the south and east of his domains. He approached the British Cape Government for protection. The British Protectorate of Bechuanaland was established in 1885 and this was extended to the Chobe river in 1890.

The British South Africa Company controlled by Cecil Rhodes extended the already existing railway from Vryburg in South Africa to Bulawayo in what became Rhodesia. This was of huge benefit to Khama 3rd and to the Ngwato, absolutely ensuring the protection of his domains from the potentially predatory Afrikaners in the Transvaal republic to the east. The railway is still the most reliable form of rail transport from South Africa to what is now Zimbabwe, including the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg).

Seretse Khama, born in 1921, the grandson of Khama 3rd, has had the most important influence of anyone on the development of the country. The Ngwato ensured that Seretse had a good education, since he was the likely successor to the hereditary chieftainship of the tribe. He attended school in South Africa and then went to Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape in the days before it was ruined by the Apartheid regime. He then went on to Oxford and studied to become a barrister at the middle temple in London. He fell out with both the leadership of the Ngwato and the British Government when he married an English girl, Ruth Williams in 1947. They were exiled to Jamaica. They were allowed to return to what was still Bechuanaland in the mid-fifties. Seretse turned to politics and eventually became the first Prime Minister and then the first President of the Republic of Botswana on achieving independence in 1966.

The keys to the establishment and the maintenance of democracy in the country were and still are:

  • Sir Seretse's establishment of a 'No Corruption' regime. He employed a Kenya born Afrikaner- Phil Steenkamp-as his head of the civil service. One of his responsibilities was the elimination of corrupt practices.
  • The insistence that a President will only be allowed to serve two terms-eight years.
  • The economic development of the country which was materially helped by the discovery of diamonds and the establishment of the Botswana Meat Commission which has a licence to export beef to the European Union. Not to mention a copper mine in Selibe-Pikwe and the continued development of a viable tourist industry, and now some more major investments in the coal mining industry.
  • The country also had a philosophy of maintaining high employment. I was told that the government would prefer to have two people employed at 50 Pula a month than one at a 100 pula a month for example.


In terms of the UN corruption index Botswana had the best record of any country in Africa at 35 of the 176 countries measured.

For reference Kenya comes in at 145 and Zimbabwe at 154.

New Zealand is the least corrupt country in the world. Australia comes in at 13, Britain at 10 and the USA at 18.

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About the Author

Sydney-based Guy Hallowes is the author of Icefall, a thriller dealing with the consequences of climate change. He has also written several novels on the change from Colonial to Majority rule in Africa. To buy browse and buy his books click here.

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