History of a stable story
In just a few years, Botswana has become the most stable and thriving country on the African continent. Botswana represents, according to the World Bank, “one of the true successes of economic and human development in Africa”. Its history also takes us back to the beginnings of human habitation on the African continent.
Since several African nations gained their independence in the 1960s, Africa has undergone major transformations, moving from the independence euphoria and pessimism of the 1970s and 1980s to the optimism of the 1990s that has led some media to speak of “Afro-realism”. We have moved from headlines such as “Africa, the hopeless continent” to “Africa emerges, the hopeful continent”.
The problems are not over, but the hopes have been increasing so that more than one country has managed to advance for the good of the population in general. One such country is Botswana.
Upon independence from the United Kingdom in September 1966, Botswana’s future was not very promising; five decades later, it is considered one of the most stable and thriving countries on the African continent. Botswana is the only African country that has not suffered any coup d’état, maintaining exemplary stability. In its 2017 report, the World Bank ranked Botswana among the 16 countries with the greatest political stability and absence of violence in the world and the first among the African people.
For the United Nations, Botswana is “one of the true successes of Africa’s economic and human development”. Greg Mills of the Brenthurst Foundation, an independent South African economic research group, says that Botswana’s transformation is “the result of a long-term vision, political stability and prudent governments”. Situated in southern Africa, the Republic of Botswana is bordered to the north by Zambia and Angola, to the south by South Africa, to the east by Zimbabwe and to the west by Namibia. Its area is as large as that of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), with a population of 2,370,000 inhabitants since the Kalahari desert occupies 70% of the territory (with only 4% of the remaining area suitable for agriculture). In the north are the marshy basins of the rivers Makgarikgari and Okavango that irrigate a large expanse of savannas, where livestock and agriculture are the main economic activities. Although English is the official language, Setsuana, Cannabis, San (Bushman), Khoi-khoi (Hotentote) and Ndebele are spoken. Its inhabitants are mostly Christians (76%), of which 6% are Catholics; 20% are faithful to the traditional religion and the rest are minorities Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims.
At the origin of the first African peoples
To get to know Botswana you have to delve into its past, a past that goes back millennia, to the dawn of humanity, when man took his first steps through the savannas of southern and eastern Africa. These peoples inhabited the great plains, moving with the seasons through meadows and mountains through the great wetlands that covered the north of Botswana. Thirty thousand years ago, the Bushmen, the main hominid group in southern Africa, evolved into an organized society of hunter-gatherers; anthropologists believe they are the ancestors of today’s Bushmen living in Botswana. With the Neolithic, some of these peoples adopted a pastoral lifestyle, sowing and grazing cattle on the banks of the Okavango River. Some migrated west to central Namibia, and in 70 B.C., others reached the Cape of Good Hope.
Between 200 and 500, the Bantu came to these lands from the north and east of the continent. One of the first and most powerful groups to inhabit this region was the Sotho-Tswana, formed by three peoples: the northern Basotho who settled in South Africa; the southern Basotho who settled in Leshoto; and the western Basotho who occupied what is now Botswana. By the year 600, groups of nomadic herders began to arrive from Zimbabwe; in the 13th century almost all of eastern Botswana was under the influence of Great Zimbabwe, one of Africa’s most legendary ancient kingdoms. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, Great Zimbabwe absorbed many tribal territories in northeastern Botswana; several hundred years later, the region was part of the Monomatapa kingdom that succeeded that of Great Zimbabwe.
From the 18th century onwards, the British, Dutch and Portuguese arrived. The British tried to unite the continent from South Africa to Egypt and the Portuguese wanted to unite their colonies of Angola and Mozambique through Botswana. The fact is that this region became a real crossroads between the different strategic colonial interests, and between these and the Tswana tribes. In 1840, came the Boers or Afrikaners who were Dutch settlers fleeing the English established in Cape Town.
The Boers, who were farmers, disputed the scarce fertile lands to the Tswanas, provoking conflicts between them and the Zulu whom the white settlers had expelled from southern Africa.
Many Tswana began working on the Boers’ farms, but it was an uncomfortable association plagued with revolt and violence. In 1895, three tribal Tswana kings went to London seeking support against the Boers and against German expansion from Namibia.
Botswana became a British protectorate under the name Bechuanaland, but the Tswana kings had to grant, in exchange for protection, that the British Company of South Africa build a railway between their lands and Zimbabwe. British tutelage prevented these lands from being absorbed by South Africa, but facilitated economic domination by the Boers. Great Britain colonised Botswana until, giving in to the nationalist movement, which began in the 1950s, it granted independence on 30 September 1966.
Magazine Africana from the Sector of Spain, n° 197 of June 2019