Since independence in 1966, the former British Protectorate of Bechuanaland has transformed itself from one of the continent's poorest nations into one of its most prosperous. Botswana’s vast diamond wealth has underpinned this boom, but, making it almost unique among its neighbours, the money has been carefully spent and reinvested in infrastructure, education and health by a judicious government. The small population – fewer than two million in an area about the size of France – also contributes to the country’s remarkably high per capita GDP.
Botswana generally receives “A Grade” credit ratings from investment agencies. In 2004, it was declared Africa’s least corrupt country by Transparency International. The current president, Ian Khama was elected in a democratic, multiparty election.
The beef industry, while still dwarfed by diamonds, forms an important part of Botswana’s exports. Tourism, centred on the exquisite Okavango Delta, is likewise an important and growing source of revenue. Other smaller industries such as manufacturing are also developing, often helped by incentives from the government, which is keen to reduce the economic dependence on diamonds.
Although Botswana has long been free of wars and famines, since the early 1990s it has suffered from the devastating impact of the AIDS epidemic. With around a third of its population HIV positive, it is one of Africa’s worst affected countries. But in recent years, its response to the disease has been praised as one of the best on the continent. Slow to start, the government has now committed to provide antiretrovirals to every citizen who requires them, and current access to the drugs is thought to be around 80 percent, the highest in Africa.
More recently, Botswana has had to cope with an influx of migrants and refugees from neighbouring Zimbabwe, who are often held responsible for the increase in crime in the cities. Opposition political parties have also criticized what they see as an erosion of democracy under the BDP, the longstanding ruling party. Outside of the country, human rights groups have condemned the government’s treatment of the marginalised Koisan, who have traditionally lived in the Kalahari. But the economy continues to prosper and the country’s many independent newspapers remain fierce platforms for free speech and criticism of a government that is, overall, an exemplary one.