Bumpy, pot hole-filled roads? Check.
Old, rattling minibus taxis? Check.
Daily sighting of road accidents? Check.
Unreliable, slow internet? Check.
Thunderstorms and rain every night? Check.
Welcome to Botswana!
The second I crossed the border from Johannesburg to Gaborone I knew I was in a very different place. This is the Africa I came to see!
Nonetheless, Botswana has an interesting and successful story. They have no history of civil war or blood shed since the Boer War in the late 1800s. Their crime rate is extremely low. They have peaceful elections. The people openly respect and praise the government. They have a stable and flourishing economy. The inequality level is low. They have a very small population. Most government expenditure is spent on health, education and the environment. Doesn’t sound like an African country, does it?
While other countries surrounding Botswana have been victims of the resource curse, colonial rule and ethnic tensions, Botswana has avoided them and become known as Africa’s success story.
It is a country rich in diamonds and although this spelt disaster for countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone, the government in Botswana decided to use the profits for beneficial public policies rather than to beef up their own bank accounts. This meant that corruption never became a major issue and democracy thrived. It is estimated that 30% of government expenditure is spent on education, one of the highest levels in the world. The government has also put a lot of effort into environmental protection, as 85% of the country is covered by the Kalahari Desert and there are famous National Parks like Chobe and the Okavango Delta which have been tightly regulated and policed in order to reduce the impact of development and tourism and also to stop poaching.
You really notice the small population too. It’s estimated to be at about 2 million people, which is nothing compared to other countries such as South Africa which has 50 million or even just a city like Nairobi which has 3.5 million. Most of my bus trips were spent looking at scrub, big puddles of rain water and red sandy dirt. Towns and people were hard to come across and even the capital, Gaborone, seemed more like a small town with a couple of high buildings, there were hardly any people around at all.
Despite the beautiful National Parks and the abundance of animals, there were surprisingly not many tourists around either. Hostels were hard to find and generally expensive (in backpackers terms!). Most people were on self driving overland trips and just driving through Botswana to get from South Africa to Victoria Falls. It was common for local people to ask me, “so in Australia, you know of Botswana?”, “why did you decide to come to Botswana?” and “have you enjoyed Botswana so far?”. When I answered that in fact I had heard of Botswana and I was enjoying it because it was a beautiful country, they were so proud and happy, “OH THANK YOU SISTER!”. I think they feel that people forget about them because they are rarely talked about or in the news compared to other countries. But I liked the change from South Africa. I had left behind the crowds, sky scrapers, sandy beaches, shopping centres and luxury buses and hit the Africa I wanted to see.
*post adapted from my trip here in December 2014 and from my original blog site elishasbigtrip.wordpress.com