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Botswana: An African Success Story
Though a large portion of Botswana lies in the Kalahari Desert, it's a diverse landscape made up of savannah, marshes and grasslands fed by a lush river delta.
It's an African success story, boasting a thriving economy and a robust democratic system. Its wealth and stability have been largely attributed to the fact that its rich diamond veins were only discovered after the British had left, denying colonial powers the opportunity to pillage its resources.
5 Facts About Botswana
- It has the largest elephant population in the world.
- It's the location of the Okavango Delta, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.
- It's Africa's oldest continuous democracy.
- 38% of the country is made up of national parks.
- It's the world's second-largest diamond producer.
1. Botswana's Elephant Population
With 1.28 elephants per square meter, Botswana has the continent's highest concentration of elephants. The country as a whole has an estimated 150 000 elephants, with Chobe National Park alone being home to around 50 000 (the elephants at Chobe have the largest body size of all elephant species).
The high population has been largely attributed to the low amount of poachers. The country's wildlife areas are difficult to access discreetly, being surrounded by war-torn regions. Elephants come to Botswana in order to escape the violence, further boosting the population.
Another significant factor is the anti-poaching task force established by the Botswanian government to patrol the national parks, one of many examples of the country's dedication to conservation.
Botswana's eastern Okavango region has as many elephants as people, which has unfortunately led to altercations between the two. The fear of being trampled is such that many villagers refuse to leave their homes after sunset.
The Ecoexist project was initiated in 2013 to foster harmony between humans and elephants. Effective measures include establishing the "Elephant Express," a group of minibuses that safely transport children and health workers between the developed areas and villages.
2. The Okavango Delta
The Okavango River, formed by rainfall in the Angolan highlands, flows through Botswana and into the Kalahari Desert, giving rise to a lush river delta that hosts an abundance of wildlife. It is the largest inland delta (meaning it has no outlet into the ocean) in the world.
Canoes navigate the myriad of waterways, which are occupied by crocodiles and hippos. Elephants migrate here to access drinking water and can often be seen standing neck-deep in the river. Lions, leopards, giraffes and other land animals roam the surrounding marshes and grasslands, which are flooded seasonally. A diverse range of birdlife populates the region.
The delta has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and falls largely under the protection of Botswana's Moremi Game Reserve.
3. Africa's Oldest Continuous Democracy
Since gaining independence in 1966, Botswana has held uninterrupted democratic elections. It benefits from strong leadership and robust institutions that have been well-preserved.
Robert Rotberg, in his article "The Roots of Africa's Leadership Deficit," attributes the country's success to a history of competent leadership. He writes: "the political and economic success of both countries is premised on good leadership; that is, their institutions were effective early because of sturdy leadership" (the other country he refers to is Mauritius).
4. Dedication to Conservation
Botswana takes conservation seriously, hence having one of the highest conservation land ratios in Africa.
Trophy hunting and elephant-back safaris are banned, and hunting is strictly regulated. The Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act, passed in 1992, includes a number of protective measures, such as making it illegal to destroy or damage any tree in a national park.
Tourism: Low-Volume, High-Value
Botswana also has a unique approach to tourism. Their policy is to limit the number of tourists entering the country while charging those who get in high prices for the privilege.
This helps preserve the environment while providing guests with an exclusive experience that they're willing to pay through the nose for, especially when visiting the gem that is the Okavango Delta.
5. Diamond Mines
The British were happy to leave Botswana in 1966, deeming it a backwater with no valuable resources to extract. Little did they know what lay beneath the earth.
Just a year later, a rich vein of diamonds was discovered at Orapa, at the edge of the Kalahari Desert. It was the first of many.
The country's economy, which at the time was dependent on cattle, grew to be one of the most productive in Africa. Botswana now earns one billion dollars a year from diamond mining, and the percentage of citizens living below the poverty line has decreased from 50% at the time of independence to 19% today.
"Well-Managed Good Luck"
Rather than nationalize the diamond mines, Botswana conducted careful negotiations with private mining companies, ensuring that profits would be equally shared between the companies and the state.
Keith Jefferis, an economist and former deputy governor of Botswana's Central Bank, said, "I sometimes class Botswana's history over the last 40 years as well-managed good luck."
Thus the efficient management of these precious jewels enabled Botswana to become a jewel of the African continent.
Quick Facts About Botswana
- Size: 600 370 km2
- Location: Southern Africa, between Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe
- Capital: Gaborone
- Population: 2,447,000
- Government: Multiparty Republic
- National Language: English (although a large portion of the population speak Setswana)
- Currency: Pula (Setswana for "rain")
- Year of Independence: 1966
Oishimaya Sen Nag. March 15 2019. 10 Interesting And Unique Facts About Botswana. WorldAtlas.
Calistus Bosaletswe. August 17 2022. All aboard Botswana's Elephant Express. BBC.
Leigh Kemp. Elephant Population of Botswana. Botswana Wildlife Guide.
Keneilwe Mooketsane, University of Botswana. David Sebudubudu, University of Botswana. July 2016. What has made Political Institutions in Botswana and Mauritius tick? ResearchGate.
Nurith Aizenman. June 29, 2016. When Botswana Sells Its Big Diamond, Who Will Benefit? NPR.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.