Background Note: Botswana

PA Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Description: Historical, Political and Economic Overviews of the Countries of the World Date: Feb, 15 19932/15/93 Category: Country Data Region: Subsaharan Africa Country: Botswana Subject: Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics, Military Affairs, Cultural Exchange, State Department [TEXT]

Official Name:

Republic of Botswana


600,372 sq. km. (231,804 sq. mi.), about the size of Texas.
Capital--Gaborone (pronounced Ha-bo-ro-neh, pop. 134,000). Other towns--Francistown (65,000), Selebi-Phikwe (40,000), Molepolole (37,000), Serowe (27,000), Maun (27,000), Lobatse (26,000), Palapye (17,000), Jwaneng (11,000), Tlokweng (12,000).
Desert and savanna.
Mostly subtropical.
Noun and adjective--Motswana (sing.), Batswana (pl.).
Population (1991):
1.3 million.
Annual growth rate (1991):
Ethnic groups:
Tswana 55-60%; Kalanga 25-30%; Kgalagadi; Herero; Basarwa ("Bushmen"); Khoi ("Hottentots"); whites 5%.
Christianity 60%, indigenous beliefs 40%.
English (official), Setswana.
Attendance--93%. Adult literacy (1990, ages 15 and over)--23%.
Health (1991):
Infant mortality rate--43/1,000. Life expectancy--60 years.
Work force (1991):
223,000 in formal sector.
Republic, parliamentary democracy.
March 1965.
September 30, 1966.
Executive--president (chief of state and head of government), cabinet. Legislative--popularly elected National Assembly; advisory House of Chiefs. Judicial--High Court, Court of Appeal, local and customary courts.
Administrative subdivisions:
5 town councils and 10 district councils.
Main political parties:
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Independence Party (BIP), Botswana Peoples Party (BPP), Botswana Freedom Party (BFP).
Universal adult.
Blue field with horizontal, white-edged black band in the center.
GDP (1991):
$3 billion.
Annual growth rate (1991):
Per capita GDP (1991):
Natural resources:
Diamonds, copper, nickel, coal, soda ash, salt, gold, potash.
Agriculture (3% of GDP):
Livestock, sorghum, white maize, millet, cowpeas, beans.
Types--mining (45% of GDP): diamonds, copper, nickel, coal; beef; textiles; tourism.
Trade (1991):
Exports--$1.7 billion: diamonds, nickel, copper, meat products, hides and skins, textiles. Partners-- Switzerland, South Africa, Zimbabwe, European countries. Imports- -$1.6 billion: machinery, transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, chemicals, minerals, fuels. Major suppliers--South Africa, Zimbabwe, US, EC countries.
Annual avg. economic aid received:
$220 million.


Most Batswana live in the eastern part of the country, 50% within 100 kilometers of Gaborone. The nomadic population is about 10,000, and 15,000 Batswana work in neighboring African countries, mainly South Africa. Prior to European contact, the population of what is now Botswana lived as herders and farmers or as hunters and gatherers under tribal rule. European, especially English, missionaries arrived in the early 1800s, and David Livingstone traversed the country. In the late 19th century, hostilities broke out between the Batswana and Boer settlers from the Transvaal. After appeals by the Batswana for assistance, the British Government in 1885 put "Bechuanaland" under its protection. The northern territory remained under direct British administration and is today's Botswana, but the southern territory became part of the Cape Colony and is now part of the Cape Province of South Africa; the majority of Setswana-speaking people live in the "independent" homeland of Bophuthatswana, across the border in South Africa. Despite South African pressure, inhabitants of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Basutoland (now Lesotho), and Swaziland in 1909 asked for and received British assurances that they would not be included in the proposed Union of South Africa. An expansion of British central authority and the evolution of tribal government resulted in the 1920 establishment of two advisory councils representing Africans and Europeans. Proclamations in 1934 regularized tribal rule and powers. A European-African advisory council was formed in 1951. The 1961 constitution established a consultative legislative council. In June 1964, Britain accepted pluralistic proposals for self- government. The seat of government was moved to Gaborone in February 1965. The 1965 constitution led to the first general elections and to independence in September 1966. An independence leader was elected as the first president, re-elected twice, and died in office in 1980. The presidency passed to the sitting vice president, who was elected in his own right in 1984 and re-elected in 1989.


Botswana has a flourishing, multiparty, constitutional democracy. Each of the elections since independence has been freely and fairly contested and has been held on schedule. The country's small white minority and other minorities participate freely in the political process. There are eight political parties. In 1989, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won 31 of 34 National Assembly seats and the Botswana National Front (BNF) won 3. Opposition parties, with popular strength in urban areas, have moved toward a common front. The openness of the country's political system has been a significant factor in Botswana's stability and economic growth. General elections are held at least every 5 years. The next national election is in 1994. The president has executive power and is chosen by national election for a 5-year term. The cabinet is presidentially selected from the National Assembly; it consists of a vice president and a flexible number (currently 12) of ministers. The National Assembly has 34 elected and 4 appointed members; it will be expanded as a result of the 1991 census. The advisory House of Chiefs represents permanently the eight principal sub-groups of the Batswana tribe, and four other members are elected by the sub-chiefs of four of the districts. A draft of any National Assembly bill of tribal concern must be referred to the House of Chiefs. Chiefs and other leaders preside over courts of local custom and enforce traditional law. The roots of Botswana's democracy lie in Tswana traditions, exemplified by the Kgotla, or village council, in which the powers of traditional leaders were limited by custom and law. Botswana's High Court has general civil and criminal jurisdiction. Judges are presidentially appointed and may be removed only for cause and after a hearing. The constitution has a code of fundamental human rights enforced by the courts, and Botswana has a good human rights record. Local government is administered by 10 district councils and 5 town councils. District commissioners have executive authority and are appointed by the central government and assisted by elected and nominated district councilors and district development committees. There has been much debate about the marginalization of the minority Basarwa (Bushmen), and the government's development program for remote area dwellers is undergoing review. Although there is a government-owned newspaper and the government operates the only national radio network, there is an active, independent press. Foreign publications are readily available.
Principal Government Officials
President--Sir Ketumile Masire Vice President--Festus G. Mogae Ambassador to the United States-- B. Kingsley Sebele Ambassador to the United Nations-- L. J. M. J. Legwaila Botswana maintains an embassy at 3400 International Drive NW, Suite 7-M, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-244-4990; FAX 202- 244-4164). Its mission to the United Nations is at 103 E. 37th Street, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-889-2277; FAX 212-725- 5061).


Since independence, Botswana has had an impressive economic growth rate, reaching 9% in 1991. Recently, the government has maintained budget surpluses and substantial foreign exchange reserves. This record is a result of earnings from diamond mining, considerable international grant and loan aid, and prudent fiscal policy and economic management. Mining. Two large mining companies, Debeers Botswana Mining (Debswana) and Bamangwato Concessions, Ltd. (BCL), both partly government-owned, operate mining facilities in the eastern and central regions of the country. Since the early 1980s, the country has become the world's largest producer of quality diamonds. Three large diamond mines have opened since independence. DeBeers prospectors discovered diamonds in northern Botswana in the early 1970s. The first mine began production at Orapa in 1972, followed by the smaller mine at Lethlakane. What has become the single richest diamond mine in the world opened in Jwaneng in 1982. Botswana produced a total of 17.4 million carats of diamonds from the three Debswana mines in 1991. BCL, which operates a copper-nickel mine at Selebi-Phikwe, produced 48,300 tons of copper-nickel alloy for export in 1991. Botswana's major coal mine at Morupule had a 1991 output of 783,900 tons. Production and sale of soda ash from the Sua Pan operation in 1991 were below expectations due to technical problems, with only 62,000 tons produced (of a target 130,000) and only 32,000 sold. A small gold mine began production in 1992. Possible petroleum and natural gas deposits are being studied for exploitation.
More than two-thirds of the population live in rural areas and are largely dependent on subsistence crop and livestock farming. Although agriculture meets only 50% of food needs and contributes just 3% to GDP, it employs 80% of Batswana. Cattle raising historically dominated Botswana's economy and social structure. The national cattle stock fell from more than 3 million head at the onset of the 1981-86 drought to 2.3 mil-lion, was gradually rebuilt, then fell again due to drought in 1991-92. The Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) is government owned. It operates the largest African slaughterhouse--and some smaller ones--and is Africa's largest meat exporter.
Private Sector Development and Foreign Investment.
Botswana seeks to diversify its economy to reduce dependence on earnings from mineral exports, which are expected to begin leveling off. It emphasizes private sector development and foreign investment for much-needed managerial and technical expertise. Two important sectors are light manufacturing and tourism. National parks and wildlife areas--more than 17% of Botswana's land--offer potential for tourism development. US investment in Botswana is growing. In 1987, two American companies, H.J. Heinz and Colgate-Palmolive, set up facilities. Phelps-Dodge has bought into the nickel-copper mine at Selebi- Phikwe, and a Sheraton Hotel opened in Gaborone in 1991. A Lobatse brick-making plant in which Interkiln has major equity started up in 1992, and Lazare-Kaplan began a diamond-cutting and -polishing operation in Molepolole.
Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU).
Because of history and geography, Botswana long has had strong economic ties to South Africa. The Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU)--Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa--dates from the 1910 formation of the Union of South Africa. Under this agreement, South Africa levies and collects most of the customs, sales, and excise duties for the four countries, paying out a share of the collections to each based on their proportion of imports. Imports from outside the customs area are subject to common tariff rates and regulations. The customs agreement was renegotiated in 1989, and Botswana's share of revenue increased from $1.7 million in 1968 to almost $500 million in 1991, accounting for 25% of government revenues. Botswana's currency--the pula--is fully convertible and is valued against a basket of currencies heavily weighted toward the South African rand.
Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
Gaborone is host to the 10-nation Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Like its predecessor, the 9-nation SADCC (Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference) organized in 1980, member nations seek to accelerate regional economic growth and reduce their economic dependence on South Africa. Because the region is so dependent on South Africa's transport and communications network for imports and exports, the focus of SADC efforts has been the development of shorter and cheaper alternates, although its location makes this of limited relevance to Botswana.
Transportation and Communications.
Botswana has about 1,500 mi. of tarred roads, 950 mi. of engineered gravel roads, and 3,450 mi. of earth and sand roads. An "inner circle" highway connecting major towns and district capitals is being paved. The all-weather Trans-Kalahari Highway will soon stretch to the Atlantic coast at Walvis Bay. A rail line links major population centers to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Botswana depends on South Africa for more than 85% of its imports and transshipments and for beef and copper-nickel alloy export. Botswana has nine paved airfields and direct-dial telephone service; direct-dial access is being extended to remote rural areas.


The president is commander in chief of the Botswana Defense Force (BDF). A defense council is presidentially appointed. The BDF was formed in 1977 in response to the Rhodesian conflict and raids into Botswana. It has 6,500 members, 280 in the air wing. Botswana is modernizing and expanding the BDF and acquiring air defense and anti-tank weapons. The United States provides the most military aid--more than $30 million to date. About 500 BDF personnel have received training in the United States.


Botswana recognizes the importance of South Africa as the largest and most developed state in the region and maintains a range of diplomatic, economic (see "Economy"), and other relations with that country. Much foreign investment in Botswana is South African. Nonetheless, Botswana opposes apartheid in South Africa and does not recognize its "independent homelands." Botswana has formal diplomatic relations with most African countries and many European nations and Arab countries. Most ambassadors accredited to Botswana reside in Harare, Zimbabwe, or in Lusaka, Zambia. Botswana receives multilateral and bilateral aid from many sources. Botswana is a member of numerous international organizations, including the United Nations, and generally follows a nonaligned policy in international forums, voting with its African colleagues on most matters.


The United States considers Botswana a force for stability in turbulent Southern Africa. The Peace Corps program has 150 volunteers, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) mission provides development assistance and food aid. The US has an investment guarantee agreement with the government and encourages private sector growth in Botswana and expansion of US investment and trade. In FY 1992, total US aid was almost $28 million. US assistance has emphasized education and training in Botswana and abroad, including under-graduate and graduate study in the US. The United States operates a major Voice of America relay station in Botswana serving most of Africa and reaching the Middle East and into the Indian Ocean.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--David Passage Deputy Chief of Mission--Jimmy Kolker USAID Mission Director--Howard R. Handler Public Affairs Officer--Alice C. Lemaistre Peace Corps Director--Maureen Carroll Office of Military Cooperation--Maj. Gary Walker The US embassy is on Embassy Drive off Khama Crescent--PO Box 90, Gaborone (tel. 353-982; FAX 356-947). USIS is at the embassy. USAID is in Barclays House, on Khama Crescent--PO Box 2427, Gaborone. Peace Corps is at 133 Independence Ave.--PO Box 93, Gaborone. VOA Botswana Relay Station's address is Private Bag 38, Selebi-Phikwe.


US citizens do not need visas to enter Botswana. They may stay up to 90 days without a residence permit.
Tap water is potable in major towns. Due to schistosomiasis risks, seek advice before swimming in lakes or rivers. During the summer months in the south and year-round in the north, malaria prevention is recommended.
Botswana is served by Air Botswana, British Airways, UTA, Comair, Zambia Airways, and Air Zimbabwe. Rental cars are available in major towns. Traffic moves on the left.
Hotel facilities are comfortable in all major towns.


Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- February 1993 -- Managing Editor: Peter A. Knecht -- Editor: Marilyn J. Bremner Department of State Publication 8046 Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402. (###)