Ten Thousand Maniacs!
However, France isn’t a country that I want to dwell on today. Within the past few days, I got a visitor from my 75th country, Botswana. Another milestone of sorts and, in a way, quite an appropriate one since Botswana is in southern Africa.
Botswana is the only country in southern Africa that I haven’t visited. Not only is it an anomaly by African standards, it is spectacularly beautiful, two reasons why I’d really like to visit.
Since independence from Britain in 1966, Botswana has had Africa’s longest continuous multi-party democracy, making it one of the continent’s most stable countries. Before independence, Botswana was a British protectorate that was formed in 1885 to prevent territorial encroachment of the Boers from the Transvaal and German expansion from South West Africa (Namibia). Diamonds were discovered in 1967 and have transformed Botswana into the world’s largest producer of diamonds, bringing in sufficient wealth to transform the country into a middle-income nation. It has enjoyed very healthy economic growth rates for four decades and is acknowledged by corruption watchdog, Transparency International, as the least corrupt nation in Africa. It has a good human rights record and was a source of refuge for victims of apartheid during the apartheid era despite needing to be wary of its actions owing to its economic dependence on South Africa.
Botswana protects some of Africa's largest areas of wilderness. The Kalahari Desert, home to a dwindling band of Bushman hunter-gatherers, makes up much of the territory and most areas are too arid to sustain any agriculture other than cattle. This area includes the spectacular Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta, an area that is carefully managed yet promoted as a prime destination for ‘eco-tourists’.
So far I’ve painted a rosy picture of the country but there are some problems worth mentioning.
The country needs to diversify its economy away from its dependence on diamonds, something that it's putting a lot of effort into. Until 2004, Botswana had the world’s highest rate of HIV-Aids infection and it's estimated that one in three adults is infected. This is being tackled with one of Africa's most advanced treatment programmes. And despite being known for its good human rights record, Botswana has had some very unwelcome publicity in recent years as regards its treatment of the San (the preferred term for Bushmen). Botswana has been accused of forcibly removing the last remaining San from their ancestral lands in the Kalahari.
‘The bushmen, or San, were hunter gatherers who lived in the desert of southern Africa for thousands of years. Their traditional way of life has all but disappeared in recent years, and the Botswanan government wants the few hundred still living in the vast central Kalahari game reserve to move to nearby towns.‘
Survival International, a British-based group, say that the government wants them to move so that they can exploit diamond reserves in the Kalahari. On a different rights issue, while Botswana, not known for its clubs, bars and shops, is not your typical gay destination (spot the homophobic stereotyping!), it must be remembered that as with many African countries, homosexuality is illegal. The most recent case of homosexuality to be tried before the courts in Botswana arose in 1994 but was only finalised in 2003.
Gaborone may have changed a lot from its dusty, desert beginnings in the last 40 years, but Botswana isn't a country that you visit for urban delights - you go there for the Kalahari and the Okavango Delta.
On the literary front, Botswana has been in the news a lot in recent years with the massive popularity of Alexander McCall Smith's ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series, a series of books featuring Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's leading, and only, female private detective.
But while Alexander McCall Smith was born in neighbouring Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), he’s not Botswanan. Botswana’s most famous literary figure, despite having been born in South Africa, was probably Bessie Head. She was the daughter of a wealthy white woman and a black servant. Her works deal with issues of discrimination, refugees, racialism, African history, poverty, and interpersonal relationships. Other Botswana authors are listed here.
Have I encouraged you to visit the place? No? Well, if these things matter to you, you may be interested to know that the BBC has commented on the fact that the AON Insurance company lists Botswana as one of a handful of countries where the threat of terrorist attack is low. You can see how Botswana compares to other countries on their Terrorism Risk Map (it takes a while to load). Low threat of terrorism or not, I know that Botswana features high on my list of countries to visit.
Since this post was all about the 10000 maniacs that have visited here in the past 6 months, let me leave you with The 10000 Maniacs:
Candy Everybody Wants
By 10000 Maniacs
Update: Previously, I had 'Because the Night' playing here but the link no longer works so you now have a different song.