Activist countries

Botswana turns 56: from one of the poorest countries to an upper-middle-income economy

  • Despite one-party rule since independence, Botswana is one of Africa’s stable democracies.
  • Botswana is the only southern African country to have achieved the UNAIDS 95-95-95 target.
  • President Mokgweetsi Masisi has pledged to diversify the country’s economy from its staple diamonds.

Botswana celebrates 56 years of independence on Friday after gaining autonomy in 1965, following 80 years as a British protectorate of Bechuanaland.

What followed was the independence of the Republic of Botswana on September 30, 1966, with Sir Seretse Khama as its first president until his death at the age of 59 on July 13, 1980.

Since then, Botswana has had five presidents and the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has ruled continuously.

Although one party has dominated the political landscape since independence, Botswana is a model of democracy in southern Africa.

READ | Namibia and Botswana seek to improve cooperation with new commission

However, in recent times, there have been political wrangles between incumbent President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor, Ian Khama, the son of the founding president.

In its 2022 profile of Botswana, the non-profit organization Freedom House said that “despite being considered one of the most stable democracies in Africa, Botswana has been dominated by a single party since the independence. Media freedom remains under threat. Indigenous San people, as well as migrants, refugees and LGBT+ people face discrimination.”

Just three weeks before Independence Day on Friday, the country passed the Media Practitioners Association (MPA) bill, which now awaits Masisi’s signature.

The law will seek to create a media body that will regulate and monitor journalists.

Media professionals believe this is a form of repression that restricts freedom of expression.

Freedom House gave Botswana a political rights score of 70%, which was lower than South Africa, which scored 82.5%. Botswana also scored lower than Namibia, which scored 77.5%.

Botswana’s low scores were in government transparency, press freedom and social freedoms.

Botswana Editors’ Forum President Spencer Mogapi told News24 that there is no media freedom in the country:

We have had a difficult past, especially under former President Ian Khama. We were hoping for things to get much better, but progress has been slow.

“We are seeing subtle attacks on the media by clearly state-sanctioned online disinformation agents. It’s a growing phenomenon here,” he said.

LGBTQI+ rights

In November 2021, the Botswana Court of Appeal found that consensual same-sex rights were enshrined in the Constitution.

The decision was upheld on appeal in a case where Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals Botswana (LEGABIBO) joined Letsweletse Motshidiemang, who successfully sought the decriminalization of same-sex relationships in 2019.

In January this year, Masisi invited LGBTQI leaders to his office to reassure them that he would respect the court’s decision and protect their rights.

However, despite being supported by law, society has not yet satisfactorily opened up to same-sex relationships.

LGBTQI activists have also raised concerns that the religion remains homophobic.

Health services

Botswana has become the first country in southern Africa to meet the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets for people living with HIV.

The target states that 95% of people living with HIV should know they are HIV-positive, 95% of those people should be on treatment, and 95% of those on treatment should be virally suppressed.

In 2002, the country became the first in Africa to offer free HIV treatment to its citizens. Since then, it has expanded treatment coverage and adopted other evidence-based practices.

“At first, our population was on the verge of being wiped out by HIV, but last year we celebrated surpassing the 95-95-95 targets. This would not have been possible without sustained political leadership at the highest levels and long-term partnerships we have,” Botswana’s Minister of Health and Welfare, Edwin Dikoloti, recently told the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Botswana emerged as one of the region’s leaders in the search for a solution.

Through engagements with South African-born billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the country sought to produce sub-Saharan Africa’s first-ever Covid-19 vaccine – Pula Corbevax.

But that can only happen in 2026 at the earliest, when the construction of the infrastructure allowing the country to manufacture the Covid-19 vaccine and other vaccines and drugs against chronic diseases will be completed.

Upper-middle-income countries

Last week at the United Nations General Assembly, Masisi told world leaders he was working on an economic recovery plan that would include the inclusion of vulnerable groups.

Part of that plan, he said, was to find a way to diversify economic growth away from the country’s foundation, diamonds.

At independence in 1966, Botswana was one of the poorest countries in the world and diamonds almost alone contributed to the country’s fortunes.

According to UN data, Botswana has an unemployment rate of 24.72% – one of the lowest in the region. The unemployment rate in South Africa is 33.56%.

Statistics Botswana says the country has a population of 2.346 million and will double in 58 years.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced by the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained therein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.