Botswana – Here comes the bad boy

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Botswana is a case apart. While all African nations fought hard, or at least challenged, the colonizers, many Tswana were not in a hurry to become independent. While the spirit of Negritude filled the like of Nkrumah and Senghor and the need to return to ancient African culture pushed Mobutu to forbid the use of Western names, Sir Seretse Khama, first President of Botswana, came home with a British (yes, also white) wife. When many leaders filled their mouths with wonderful speeches about Africa style solidarity and their coffers with State owned wealth, the leaders in Gaborone invested well for the common good. Botswana used to be one of the poorest countries on Earth. Once diamonds were discovered – only the beginning of a string of natural resources found in the Kalahari – it soon became an economic miracle.

Political stability helped. The Botswana Democratic Party has enjoyed a strong majority since independence. People consistently voted for the BDP, and the party helped itself with a few tricks. All past Presidents resigned ahead of the end of their terms allowing their deputies to fill in the gap and arrive to the elections from a position of power; an important incentive in this mostly rural, sparsely populated country. Whatever the case, Botswana has built an enviable reputation for good governance and political stability. Neighbouring countries looked up to the good record on civil liberties, a relatively free press and the status of being Africaís least corrupt country. Economic growth has been stable for most of its post independence history.

Gaborone, the Mall – People start questioning the status quo.

Gaborone, the Mall – People start questioning the status quo.

Lately, a few cracks opened here and there. The opposition, small and divided, pointed out to growing uneasiness among the people. The San – some of whom were illegally removed from their ancestral home to pave the way to mineral exploitation – sued the government and won in the courts their right to live in their lands. Traders complained about stagnation. All in all, the government kept going well and assured social stability employing about 40% of the workforce, often keeping them under occupied in remote offices yet out of the streets.

Now the cracks opened a little wider. Earlier this year, public sector workers were allowed to join the unions. They did, and soon afterwards demanded a 16% pay rise after a three-year wage freeze. The government refused and a battle ensued with workers entering into a two month strike. People were scared when students took to the street last April, and the government sent the normally unarmed police to disperse them with tear-gas and rubber bullets. The government closed all state school for a while. Worn down by almost two months without pay, the unions have agreed to accept the government’s 3% rise offer in June. Yet this was only a half victory for the establishment.

The workers’ determination encouraged the opposition to find a common ground. They are now forging an alliance that could shake the BDP’s grip on the country. Other events may come handy to push for a change. The diamond bonanza will not last forever. Production has already passed its peak and deposits will be exhausted by 2030. There are other mineral resources to fall back to, but double digit growth is out of the question. Botswana now boasts a 7% growth, but in future this will certainly go down. The government knows that the years of fat cows have ended, and now they have to manage a country with diminishing revenues.

Gaborone – Orapa House, where diamonds are classified.

Gaborone – Orapa House, where diamonds are classified.

Opposition parties are now moving the battle in parliament. Opposition MPs have been questioning new legislation that will make it more difficult for workers to strike. They also have been asking uncomfortable questions about corruption. MP Gilson Saleshando called for an investigation on suspended Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Ndelu Seretse, Permanent Secretary to the President Eric Molale and Director General of Intelligence and Security, Isaac Kgosi, accusing them of mismanagement of public funds. He also claimed that the Botswana Defence Force misuses public funds.



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