I’ve just come back from Botswana, after ten days in my element. There is nothing on this earth so stimulating, relaxing and mind-healing than tracking, observing, photographing, and learning about wildlife. The everyday chattering mind is switched off as the senses take over: the smells, the chorus of sounds, the intense eyesight concetration required – and the heat – all overwhelm thought in favour of experience. As any CBT therapist or Buddhist will tell you, this is entirely healthy.
Much of the rest of Black African life is not healthy at all, and being standard issue European white I returned with the usual odd stomach noises and bite-marks. But there is one very healthy thing about the culture of Botswana, and it’s an area in which the country represents a massive exception to the black African rule. Having gained its independence from Protection status in 1966, Botswana has seen almost half a century of unbroken stability.
No civil wars, no attempted coups, no political violence, full democracy, a genuinely libertarian Constitution and – the biggest surprise of all – an almost total absence of corruption.
I asked around a great deal about why this is – and Googled a lot too, the way you do. The reasons for the country’s success are an object lesson not just for Africans: our own multiculturalist enthusiasts could learn a great deal from it.
First and foremost, Botswana has a civic education system, in which all kids learn that there are tribes – and their justice is respected – but Botswana comes first. They also learn that a beautiful country with good laws and strong penalties for misbehaviour is worth far more than money.
Second, there are only three tribes in the country, and none have the upper hand.
Third, all the tribes learn and speak the national language – Swana – by law.
Fourth, since Botswana gained independence, there has only ever been one Party in power, the Botswanan Democratic Party. There are no restrictions on other Parties – and not so much as a hint of electoral unfairness.
Fifth, all the political leaders have set an example by being squeaky-clean in their personal and financial affairs. The mantra heard frequently – ‘corrupt people fear information’ – encourages a free press. (It is currently campaigning for stricter laws to keep money out of politics).
We are all human, and so of course there are scandals. But these tend to be unearthed – and swiftly dealt with. Minister of Infrastructure, Science & Technology Johnnie Swartz is, as I write, sueing several contractors for cutting construction corners and attempting to corrupt Government officials. Oh for a Johnnie Swartz to sort out our own Private Finance Initiative scams.
While in Northern Botswana, I spoke to a group actively engaged in the losing battle against AIDS. “Botswana is the only place on this continent where the money goes to the sufferers” said one. There is also a complete absence of AIDS denial, or myths about African medicine.
From here onwards, the Botswanan people are going to face some nasty dilemmas. The first of these are the shifting tectonic plates in the region, which have an alarming tendency to tilt the land and thus render wet areas dry, and vice versa. This was exacerbated over three decades of drought – but again, what’s notable is that is that Botswana made little or no use of aid agencies during this natural disaster.
Unemployment is very high – as it is throughout black Africa. But tourism is being encouraged: a new international airport is under construction near the existing one at Muan, following which direct flights to the North will become a commonplace. Tourism is not, however, being allowed to ruin a long-term, strictly enforced policy of conservation and zero-wildlife intervention. There are no fences and armed guides on Botswanan game drives: if you do something silly, you get eaten. Nobody is about to shoot a leopard to save you.
The temptation to solve the unemployment problem by allowing for mineral exploitation is ever-present. Surveys have concluded that the country is rich in both general and ‘IT’ minerals – and notably, Chinese faces have started to appear in the south of Botswana. But talk to the locals, and they are well aware of this. “We will not let the Chinese take over here,” one told me, “they’re here under our rules, and our rules will be conclusive, come what may”.
When Botswana gained independence in 1966, it was one of the poorest nations in the world. Forty-seven years on, Botswana has 80 percent clean drinking water and a 90 percent literacy rate.
Indigenous Botswanans are outgoing and almost universally friendly. Scattered here and there are old colonial whites (for some reason, the blokes all look like Sandy Gall) and they too seem both happy and relaxed. But this is not a multicultural country, and that’s its secret: one language, one culture, and no bribes. Everyone could learn a lesson from this. That, and the existence of political continuity with an absence of Coalitions.