Tuesday, January 27, 2015


The tenor of this book-blog thus far may suggest willful pessimism, but then there is Botswana. Brought into existence by Seretsi Khama in 1966, out of the former British colony of Bechuanaland, it has been an “aspiring democracy” from the outset, though one may suggest dynasticism or perhaps nepotism by the fact that Seretse’s son Ian is the current President. Only 2 million people inhabit the land, including San and Basarwa (Bushmen is the name westerners generally use, but it is deeply insulting) out in the Kalahari and Chobe deserts; being the world’s biggest diamond producer gives it its wealth (now that white South Africa no longer has it under its thumb and steals the diamond profits). Apartheid never touched it, though AIDS did, and still does – one in three adults are believed to be infected. An independent judiciary and elections that are probably the most open, transparent and clean in the world, and simply, from personal experience, the nicest people I have ever met.

Thirty-five years ago, when I spent several months traveling through the country, the capital, Gaborone (pronounced Haberony) was still very much an African village, with an airport that was little more than a bus-stop with a runway, a traditional shopping mall made up of hawker stalls around a central plaza whose surface was dust and sand, and few asphalt roads anywhere; though the signs of development were visible in the street of the ministries, and the construction of a modern shopping mall that was in progress; not yet the grandeur of the BTV complex, but on its way. To cross the Kalihari to the world’s greatest and most isolated beauty spot, the Okavango Delta, was still very much a safari back then, on unmade roads in vehicles that were barely capable of managing it. Today you drive there on a four-lane highway, and stay in luxury hotels, rather than the rondavels, the mud huts, of yesteryear. 

Botswana has a flag, which is made of various shades of blue with two thin white and a large black stripe; but it is the Botswana “logo” which says most about the country: the heraldic zebra standing proud in the Kalahari desert, where the jackals of the diamond industry roam. And that word “Pula”, which is the equivalent of “dollar” in Setswana; a very beautiful word which inspired me to poetry when I first heard it, travelling at a time of not-untypical drought. Pula – may it rain.

While Botswana’s human rights record is generally sound, it cannot be good for a country that its ruling party has won all ten elections since independence in 1966, though there have never been any suggestions, even from the opposition, that the elections were rigged; it is simply an issue of stagnation through sameness, through repetition, through complacency. There are some controversies. One involves the forced relocation of 'bushmen' from their traditional hunting grounds, driven out by the diamond-jackals as they seek hunting grounds of their own. Waves of fleeing emigrants from Zimbabwe risk changing Botswana culturally too, though Botswana is almost unique in having a page on the CIA World FactBook, let alone the encyclopaedia of world history, in which, under the category “Transnational and International Issues”, there is simply the word “None”.

Marks For: Lots

Marks Against: Very few

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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