Location/Culture Reports

Location Report – Botswana

Botswana has a serious HIV/AIDS problem: 38% of the adult population is affected by the disease.
Setting: Botswana is land-locked nation, roughly the size of Texas, in south-central Africa. Four decades of democratic government and progressive social policies have created one of the most stable societies in Africa. Mineral extraction, principally diamond mining, dominates economic activity, though tourism is a growing sector due to the country's conservation practices and extensive nature preserves. Botswana has a serious HIV/AIDS problem: 38% of the adult population is affected by the disease.

History: The history of Botswana is characterized by migrations of peoples into the country from every side, particularly from the east and south. The aboriginal inhabitants of Botswana are the San, or bushmen, and the Hottentot (Khoe) peoples. The San have inhabited the Kalahari Desert for over 30,000 years. During this time, other tribes have come and gone from the region, and settled their differences by peaceful fragmentation: the dissatisfied population usually dispersed to a new location away from the offending population.

By 1800, most of the arable land had been settled, and the Europeans were beginning to expand from the south, leading to a new period when fragmentation was no longer possible, and conflicts between tribes began to increase. After 1818, a highly structured society developed, led by regional hereditary monarchs in centralized towns and surrounding satellite villages. Christian missionaries began to arrive around this same time, but largely failed to convert the population to Christianity.

Europeans then exerted their influence, and the next century saw the country handed back and forth between the Dutch and the British, with the Brits ultimately gaining control. In the same wave of change that brought independence to much of the African continent, Botswana became independent in 1966. The very next year, the discovery of enormous diamond reserves in Botswana transformed the poor country's economic prospects. Today it enjoys one of the highest economic growth rates of any country in the world, and has been a stable democracy for almost 40 years.

Nature: The landscape of Botswana is predominantly flat to gently rolling tableland; the Kalahari Desert is to the southwest. In all, 37% of the land is in either protected national parks or wildlife management areas. Chobe National Park is Botswana’s best big game park, and home to giraffe, elephant, zebra, impala, tsessebe, roan, sable, wildebeest, kudu, buffalo, waterbuck, warthog, eland, and accompanying predators including lion, hyena, jackal, bat-eared fox, and cheetah.
Through fiscal discipline and sound management, Botswana has transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country.
The People: Botswana has maintained one of the world's highest economic growth rates since independence in 1966. Through fiscal discipline and sound management, Botswana has transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country. Diamond mining has fueled much of the expansion, while tourism, subsistence farming, and cattle raising are other key sectors. Religion in the country is largely indigenous beliefs (85%) or Christian (15%). Literacy rates are higher among women (83%) than men (77%). Despite an average birthrate of over three children per woman, the population is declining due to the overwhelming number of deaths from AIDS.

The San, or bushmen, number about 60,000 today, constituting a small but fascinating cultural minority in the country, and they have lived a way of life that has changed little since the Stone Age. Traditional folklore is filled with supernatural explanations of natural events, orchestrated by N!odima, the good guy, and Gcawama, the mischievous trickster.

Interesting tidbit: The San (bushman) of life was highlighted in the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, and N!xau, a San from the Kalahari Desert, was paid $300 for his role, but let the money blow away because he did not understand that the paper had value.

Links:
Official Botswana Tourism Site
Lonely Planet
Geographia