These days, we’re hearing only bad news on Radio Africa. Zimbabwe is collapsing into a mess of despotism and state-induced hunger. The violence in the Republic of Congo simmers on. The genocidal war that the Sudanese government wages in Darfur is spilling across the border into Chad and destabilising that country. Ethiopia and Eritrea look like they’re about to resume their border war. Nigeria – which with its oil resources should be an economic powerhouse – is mired in poverty, corruption and intermittent sectarian violence.
Different analyses are offered by left and right. The left often blames the continent’s woes on its colonial past and the borders drawn by Europeans around the modern day states that have nothing to do with the ethnic make up of the region. However Somalia, the one country in Africa that could truly claim to be a nation state in terms on homogeneity, common language and religion is one of the continent’s worst basket cases, is riven by inter-clan violence and has in effect been a failed state since the early 1990s. In any case, a massive redrawing of borders to create nice neat nation states as we have in Europe would be a nightmarish exercise. Also, given the nomadic nature of many farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, the final result would probably still be unworkable.
The right argues for more free market reform, breaking down of trade barriers and cutting of state expenditure. However, cutting social spending in countries where people are already barely surviving will obviously drive them below subsistence level. This has (unsurprisingly) tended to provoke widespread opposition and undermined or at least discouraged further attempts at economic reform
Then there are those further to the right who take an unabashedly racist standpoint and argue that Africans are incapable of developing advanced societies and no amount of aid or economic reform will change this. This writer has had sharp exchanges recently in other forums with some of these individuals; one of whom was advocating the recolonisation by the European powers of most of Africa.
In response to these latter types, there is one country that disproves their chauvinistic theories.
When it became independent in 1966, Botswana was a desperately poor country; one of the poorest in the world. Its people worked overwhelmingly on the land and education levels were very low – even by African standards. Yet today, through sound economic management, Botswana is a middle-income country with a per capita GDP of more than $11,000 in 2006; higher than some members of the European Union. It is ranked as the best credit risk in Africa; it was recently once again assigned "A" grade credit ratings by Moody's and Standard & Poor's. This puts it on a par with or above many countries in central Europe, East Asia, and Latin America Botswana also has an extremely low level of foreign debt – only one quarter that of the Republic of Ireland when expressed as a percentage of GDP.
Botswana is rated as Africa's least corrupt country with lower levels of graft than many European and Asian countries. The WEF (World Economic Forum) has ranked Botswana as one of the two most economically competitive nations in Africa. Inflation is kept low and the government has built up foreign exchange reserves (over $7 billion in 2005/2006) to cover almost two and a half years of imports at current prices.
Botswana’s achievements don’t just lie in the economic sphere. For four decades – right from the point of independence – it has been a stable democracy with unbroken civilian rule. While chaos reigned on its borders, while South Africa and Rhodesia festered under minority rule and Angola and Mozambique fought brutal wars of liberation against their Portuguese overlords, Botswana managed to maintain its internal stability. Later, as SWAPO (South West African Peoples Organisation) fought to free Namibia from South African control and the newly independent Zimbabwe sank into internal strife and despotism, Botswana somehow succeeded in maintaining stability, democracy and growth in what was becoming a very dangerous neighbourhood.
In the field of education, literacy – in excess of 80% is one of the highest in Africa and unusually for an African country, female literacy is actually higher than that of the males. Also, young people have a literacy rate well in excess of 90% which to all intents and purposes puts them on a par with their European and North American peers.
Earnings from the export of diamonds are what lie at the heart of Botswana’s success. However, the government is wisely trying to diversify away from over reliance on this one commodity. Tourism is becoming increasingly important as visitors flock to see the spectacular Kalahari Desert and the country has won praise for its conservation practices and extensive nature reserves.. Also, the recent discovery of uranium bodes well for the Botswana’s continued success.
There are problems up ahead. The ruin of Zimbabwe has driven thousands of refugees across the border into Botswana. Also, in common with its neighbours, Botswana faces major challenges with its AIDS epidemic. However, unlike for example South Africa, the
government is seriously trying to combat the epidemic, with free antiretroviral drug treatment and a nation-wide scheme to prevent mother-to-child transmission. It is widely recognised that Botswana has one of Africa's most progressive and comprehensive programs for dealing with the disease.
All in all, Botswana shines out amid the doom and gloom of Africa as a sign that Africans can build successful societies that offer their people a decent life.