By Isaac N. Obasi
September 30, 2016 marked Botswana’s 50th independence anniversary. The celebration of independence anniversary of a developing nation as Botswana historically characterized by highly modest and exemplary political leadership, good governance, orderly political leadership succession and political stability, does not only demand rolling out the drums in its capital city of Gaborone, but it is also worth celebrating outside her shores. And so it was that in the evening of Wednesday, September 28, 2016, the Botswana High Commission in Nigeria, organized a Cultural Night at the Shehu Musa Yar’Ardua Conference Centre, Abuja, as part of the events marking her 50th independence anniversary celebration. The occasion which was attended by members of the diplomatic community and other friends of Botswana in Nigeria, unmistakably confirmed the view that Botswana is a nation at peace with her culture.
Welcoming guests at the cultural night, the Botswana High Commissioner to Nigeria, H.E. Lieutenant-General Louis Fisher paid glowing tribute to Nigeria for being among the first five countries that opened their embassies in his country – a list which had UK, USA, Russia and Zambia. This bold diplomatic action by Nigeria he observed, can only be well appreciated when one remembers that it was at a time when a Canadian writer had dismissed independent Botswana as a calamity which was about to happen – a warning statement for the then very poor country covered largely by the Kalahari desert. Gen. Fisher gave eloquent testimony of how Nigeria and Zambia supported Botswana during the early years of independence without which many citizens of Botswana would not have had the opportunity to secure the relevant visa documents to travel abroad for further studies. The significance of this can only also be appreciated when one recognizes that Botswana’s neighbours were under apartheid regime
The need to celebrate Botswana at 50 is compelling given her state at independence in 1966. Today, experts globally agree that Botswana is a developmental success story in Africa. For example, despite the difficulties of the early years, Botswana achieved the record of maintaining the ‘highest rate of per capita growth than any country in the world’ for three decades and half. This global verdict on the good management of the economy was and continues to be a major credit to Botswana’s exemplary political leadership. I recall that at Botswana’s 45th independence anniversary in 2011, I made some observations that are still relevant today and which I hereby restate with appropriate modifications.
Botswana is known as one of the most stable countries in Africa having the enviable record of no military intervention in her political life. Political succession has remained stable and the maintenance of broad consensus among major political leaders across ethnic divides has been a major asset. This is not to say that all is rosy but on balance and in relative terms also, Botswana has a lot to showcase for other African countries to emulate.
At 50, Botswana’s celebration can be tagged one of exceptional developmental success story among developing countries. This is one country which went through successful and remarkable transformation, having moved from being one of the poorest countries in the world at her independence in 1966 to an enviable middle income country status. The continuous march to development has been a historical reality over the years. At independence, Botswana had only ‘12km of paved road, with only 22 university graduates, and 100 secondary school leavers’. Today, the story is significantly different as the University of Botswana alone maintains a total enrollment of about 15,000 students (as at 2011) with female enrollment consistently ahead of their male counterpart in recent years.
Botswana’s governance system is cost-effective as ministerial structure has fluctuated moderately between 12 to well below 20 in number in recent years. The craze for having fleet of cars for public officers as a routine is an uncommon practice if at all ever seen. The use of sirens by political officers is also a rare phenomenon. Corruption is a deviation rather than the norm unlike in many other countries. The political culture is non-violent in nature and elections are conducted without the usual violence that many other countries are known for in Africa.
Although socially, Botswana has a major problem of ravaging HIV/AIDS, but one significant policy lesson is that good political leadership has over the years lightened this burden by adopting and implementing a caring and compassionate health policy that provided the way for other African countries to follow in recent years. ARVs are free and there is non-discriminatory employment policy for HIV/AIDS-infected persons. The exemplary political leadership in Botswana over the decades, was able to make a huge difference in this health crisis that would have devastated another country with similar level of HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is to the credit of Botswana that one her of former presidents. Mr. Festus Mogae. is among the few recipients of the very distinguished Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, and for which Mr. Mogae rightly stands today as a worthy ambassador of good governance in Africa.
Over these five decades, Botswana made conscious efforts to conduct and play politics in a civilized manner, operate the economy to benefit her citizens, run public administration institutions in effective and efficient manner, as well as implement social policies in a compassionate manner. These are the hallmarks that distinguish Botswana from the crowd of struggling African countries.
Given her political and economic level of achievements, Botswana has every reason to roll out the drums to celebrate her 50th independence anniversary in a very big way. But as a country long known for her modesty and ‘political correctness’, not much would be wasted economically. This is a legacy which has become entrenched in the political history of the country and which other African countries should emulate. Many friends of Botswana in Nigeria wish her happy golden celebration, as Nigeria celebrated on October 1 her own independence anniversary.
Prof. Obasi, formerly of the University of Botswana (2004-2008), is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja.