U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Botswana, July 1996
Bureau of African Affairs
Prepared and released by the Bureau of African Affairs,
Office of Southern African Affairs
Official Name: Republic of Botswana
Area: 582,000 sq. km. (224,710 sq. mi.), about the size of Texas.
Cities: Capital--Gaborone (pronounced ha-bo-ro-neh, population
(1996): 174,583. Other towns--Francistown (84,075), Selebi-Phikwe
(44,581), Molepolole (42,169), Kanye (34,202), Serowe (31,782),
Mahalapye (30,294), Lobatse (29,172), Maun (28,969), Mochudi
Terrain: Desert and savanna.
Climate: Mostly subtropical.
Nationality: noun and adjective--Motswana (sing.), Batswana (pl.).
Population (1996 est.): 1.49 million.
Annual growth rate (1996): 3 percent.
Ethnic groups: Tswana 55-60 percent; Kalanga 25-30 percent;
Kgalagadi, Herero, Basarwa ("Bushmen"), Khoi ("Hottentots"), whites:
Religions: Christianity 60 percent, indigenous beliefs 40 percent.
Languages: English (official), Setswana, Ikalanga.
Education: Adult literacy (1990)--74 percent.
Health (1991): Infant mortality rate--43/1,000. Life expectancy--60
Work force (1995): 234,500.
Type: Republic, parliamentary democracy.
Constitution: March 1965.
Independence: September 30, 1966.
Branches: 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, industrial/labor court.
Administrative subdivisions: 5 town councils and 9 district councils.
Main political parties: Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)--31 seats,
Botswana National Front (BNF)--13 seats, Botswana Peoples Party
(BPP), Botswana Freedom Party (BFP).
Suffrage: universal adult (21 years).
Flag: blue field with horizontal, white-edged black band in the center.
GDP (1995): $4.5 billion.
Annual growth rate (1995): 3.1 percent.
Per capita GDP (1995): $3,000.
Natural resources: Diamonds, copper, nickel, coal, soda ash, salt, gold,
Agriculture (4 percent of GDP): Livestock, sorghum, white maize,
millet, cowpeas, beans.
Industry: Types--mining (33 percent of GDP): diamonds, copper,
nickel, coal; manufacturing (assembly), textiles, construction, tourism,
Trade (1995): Exports--$2.2 billion: diamonds, vehicles, nickel,
copper, meat products, textiles, hides and skins. Partners--Switzerland,
South Africa, Zimbabwe, EU. Imports-$1.5 billion: machinery,
transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, chemicals, minerals,
fuels. Major suppliers--South Africa, Zimbabwe, EU, US.
Annual avg. economic aid: $20 million.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
The Batswana, a term inclusively used to denote all citizens of
Botswana, also refers to the country's major ethnic group (the
"Tswana" in South Africa), which came into the area from South
Africa during the Zulu wars of the early 1880s. Prior to European
contact, the Batswana lived as herders and farmers under tribal rule.
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
administration and is today's Botswana, while the southern territory
became part of the Cape Colony and is now part of the northwest
province of South Africa; the majority of Setswana-speaking people
today live 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, and the 1961
constitution established a consultative legislative council.
In June 1964, Britain accepted proposals for democratic self-
government in Botswana. The seat of government was moved from
Mafikeng, in South Africa, to newly-established Gaborone in 1965.
The 1965 constitution led to the first general elections and to
independence in September 1966. Seretse Khama, a leader in the
independence movement and the legitimate claimant to traditional rule
of the Batswana, was elected as the first president, re-elected twice, and
died in office in 1980. The presidency passed to the sitting vice
president, Ketumile Masire, who was elected in his own right in 1984
and re-elected in 1989 and 1994.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
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 two
main rival parties and a number of smaller parties. In 1994, the
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won 27 of 40 contested National
Assembly seats and the Botswana National Front (BNF) won 13. The
opposition out-polled the ruling BDP in most urban areas. 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 1999.
The president has executive power and is chosen by the national
election following country-wide elections. The cabinet is presidentially
selected from the National Assembly; it consists of a vice president
and a flexible number of ministers, currently 11. The National
Assembly has 40 elected and 4 appointed members; it is expanded
following each census (every 10 years).
The advisory House of Chiefs represents 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 customary, traditional courts, though all persons
have a right to request that their case be considered under the formal,
British-based legal system.
The roots of Botswana's democracy lie in Setswana 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 9 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 ongoing debate about the political, social and economic
marginalization of the Basarwa (Bushmen). The government's policies
for remote area dwellers continue to spark controversy and to be
revised in response to domestic and donor concerns.
Although there is a government-owned newspaper and the government
operates the only national radio network, there is an active,
independent press (mostly weekly newspapers). Foreign publications
are sold without restriction in Botswana.
Principal Government Officials
President--Sir Ketumile Masire
Vice President--Festus G. Mogae
Ambassador to the United States--Archibald Mogwe
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, averaging over 10 percent per year from 1976 through 1991.
Growth in formal sector employment has averaged about 10 percent
per annum over Botswana's first 30 years of independence. Recently,
the government has maintained budget surpluses and substantial
foreign exchange reserves totaling about $4.6 billion in 1996.
Botswana's impressive economic record has been built on a foundation
of diamond mining, with prudent fiscal policies international financial
and technical assistance, and careful foreign policy insuring success.
Two large mining companies, Debswana (formed by the government
and South Africa's Debeers in equal partnership) and Bamangwato
Concessions, Ltd. (BCL--also with substantial government equity
participation) operate in 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 Lethakane. What has
become the single richest diamond mine in the world opened in
Jwaneng in 1982. Botswana produced a total of 16.8 million carats of
diamonds from the three Debswana mines in 1995.
BCL, which operates a copper-nickel mine at Selebi-Phikwe, has had a
troubled financial history but remains an important employer.
Similarly, a soda ash operation at Sua Pan, opened in 1991 and
supported by substantial government investment, has been a continual
More than one-half of the population lives in rural areas and is largely
dependent on subsistence crop and livestock farming. Agriculture
meets only a small portion of food needs and contributes just 4 percent
to GDP--primarily through beef exports--but it remains a social and
cultural touchstone. Cattle raising in particular dominated Botswana's
social and economic life before independence. The national herd was
approximately 2.5 million in the mid-1990s, though the government-
ordered slaughter of the entire herd in Botswana's northwest
Ngamiland District in 1995 has reduced the number by at least
200,000. The slaughter was ordered to prevent the spread of "cattle
lung disease" to other parts of the country.
Private Sector Development and Foreign Investment
Botswana seeks to diversify its economy away from minerals, the
earnings from which have leveled off. In 1994/95, non-traditional
sectors of the economy grew at over 5 percent, partially offsetting a
slight decline in the minerals sector. Foreign investment and
management have been welcomed in Botswana as keys to
diversification, and light manufacturing, tourism, and financial services
have all generated opportunities for profit.
U.S. investment in Botswana is growing. In the early 1990s, two
American companies, Owens Corning and Lazare Kaplan, made a
major investments in production facilities in Botswana. A brick-making
plant in Lobatse started in 1992 with participation by Interkiln
Corporation of Houston. An American Business Council (ABC) with
over 30 member companies was inaugurated in 1995.
Because of history and geography, Botswana has long had deep ties to
the economy of South Africa. The Southern Africa Customs Union
(SACU), comprised of Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, and
South Africa, dates from 1910. Under this arrangement, South Africa
has collected levies from customs, sales, and excise duties for all five
members, sharing out proceeds based on each country's portion of
imports. The exact formula for sharing revenues and the decision-
making authority over duties (held, until at least 1996, exclusively by
the government of South Africa) have become increasingly
controversial, and the members began renegotiating the arrangement in
1995. While the Customs Union has benefited Botswana through duty-
free access to the much larger South African market, SACU has also
made prohibitive the import of non-South African capital and
consumer goods. Following South Africa's accession to the World
Trade Organization (WTO--Botswana is also a member), many of the
SACU duties are declining, making American products more
Botswana's currency--the pula--is fully convertible and is valued
against a basket of currencies heavily weighted toward the South
African rand. Profits and direct investment can be repatriated with
virtually no restriction from Botswana.
Gaborone is host to the 12-nation Southern Africa Development
Community (SADC). A successor to the Southern Africa Development
Coordination Conference (SADCC), which focused its efforts on
freeing regional economic development from dependence on apartheid
South Africa, SADC incorporates South Africa and has a broad
mandate to encourage growth, development and integration in southern
Africa. The Regional Center for Southern Africa (RCSA), which
implements USAID's Initiative for Southern Africa (ISA), is
headquartered in Gaborone as well.
Transportation and Communications
A sparsely populated, arid country about the size of Texas, Botswana
has nonetheless managed to incorporate much of its interior into the
national economy. An "inner circle" highway connecting all major
towns and district capitals is almost completely paved, and the all-
weather Trans-Kalahari Highway will connect the country (and through
it South Africa's commercially dominant Guateng Province) to Walvis
Bay in Namibia upon completion before the turn of the century. A
fiber-optic telecommunications network has been completed in
Botswana connecting all major population centers.
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 over 8,000 members.
Botswana is modernizing and expanding the BDF and plans to acquire
modern air and armor capabilities. Following positive political changes
in South Africa and the region, the BDF's missions have increasingly
focused on anti-poaching activities, disaster-preparedness, and foreign
peace-keeping. The United States has been the largest single
contributor to the development of the BDF, and a large segment of its
officer corps has received U.S. training. It is considered an apolitical
and professional institution.
Botswana has put a premium on economic and political integration in
southern Africa. It has sought to make SADC a working vehicle for
economic development, and it has promoted efforts to make the region
self-policing in terms of preventative diplomacy, conflict resolution
and good governance. It has welcomed post-apartheid South Africa as
a partner in these efforts.
Botswana has formal diplomatic relations with most African countries
and many European nations and Arab countries. A number of
ambassadors accredited to Botswana reside in Harare, Zimbabwe, or in
Lusaka, Zambia. Botswana receives development aid from many
sources. It is a member of international organizations such as the
United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). In 1996,
it will complete a two-year term on the UN's Security Council, where it
established a record of consensual, constructive participation.
Botswana joins the African consensus on most major international
The United States considers Botswana a force for stability in Africa,
and it has been a major partner in development from the country's
independence. U.S. Peace Corps will close out its presence in
December, 1997, bringing to an end thirty years of well-regarded
assistance in education, business, health agriculture and the
environment. Similarly, the US Agency for International Development
(USAID) ended a longstanding partnership with Botswana in 1996,
after successful programs emphasizing education, training,
entrepreneurship, environmental management and reproductive health.
Botswana will continue to benefit along with its neighbors in the region
from USAID's initiative for southern Africa. The United States
operates a major Voice of America (VOA) relay station in Botswana
serving most of the African continent. In 1995, the Centers for Disease
Control (CDC) initiated a tuberculosis monitoring program in
Principal US Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Gillian Milovanovic
USAID Regional Center Director--Valerie Dickson-Horton
Public Affairs Officer--Steve Lauterbach
Peace Corps Director--Francis Hammond
Office of Defense Cooperation--Ltc. James Smaugh
The US Embassy is on Embassy Drive off Khama Crescent--PO Box
90, Gaborone (tel. 267-353-982; fax 267-356-947). USIS is at the
Embassy. USAID is located at the former Barclay's Training Center,
off the Molepolole Road on Lebatlane Road. Peace Corps is located on
the Old Lobatse Road.
Immigration: US citizens do not need visas to enter Botswana. They
may stay up to 90 days without a residence permit.
Health: Tapwater is potable in major towns. Due to schistosomiasis
risks (and crocodiles), seek advice before swimming in lakes or rivers.
Malaria prevention is recommended year-round in the north and during
the late summer months (January-May) in the south in years with good
Transportation: Botswana is served by Air Botswana, British Airways,
Comair, and Air Zimbabwe. Rental cars are available in major towns;
personal taxis are difficult, at best, to find, and most visiting
businesspersons rent a car with driver. Traffic moves on the left.
Accommodations: Hotel facilities are comfortable in all major towns
with some world-class accommodations in the wildlife areas of
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