Extreme Poverty in Botswana
The nation of Botswana, home to approximately 2.3 million people, has undergone an amazing change over the past three decades, transforming from an impoverished nation to one of the wealthiest nations in sub-Saharan Africa. While many of its neighbors have lagged behind—in fact, the United Nations classifies sub-Saharan Africa as the poorest region in the world—Botswana reduced the percentage of its population living on less than $1.90 a day from 29.8% between 2002-2003 to 16.1% between 2015-2016. What are the secrets to success in combatting extreme poverty in Botswana that have allowed it to prosper relative to its neighboring African nations?

A Brief Look at the History of Botswana

Botswana gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966 and quickly adopted a parliamentary constitutional republic. In fact, Botswana is the oldest democracy on the continent, though one party—the Botswana Democratic Party—has dominated elections since the adoption of the country’s constitution. Compared to its neighbors, Botswana began with a commitment to free enterprise, rule of law and individual liberties. Its first president, Seretse Khama, had a devotion to fighting corruption, which was critical to Botswana’s success.

To fight extreme poverty in Botswana, the country invested in four critical pillars: public institutions, education, economic diversification and women’s rights.

4 Pillars to Tackling Extreme Poverty in Botswana

  1. One of the most remarkable aspects of Botswana is its extraordinarily low levels of corruption as a result of institutional checks and balances. According to the 2017 Corruption Perception Index, Botswana was the least corrupt nation in Africa, with its score twice as high as the average sub-Saharan African nation. Botswana is one of only a handful of nations that outperform parts of Western Europe, with its score outpacing Spain in 2018. This is as a result of institutional checks and balances, including the Corruption and Economic Crime Act of 1994 and the development of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, an agency tasked with investigating and preventing corruption. As a resource-rich state known for diamond mining, Botswana was careful to prevent government employees from benefiting from what the nation’s first president deemed public resources.
  2. Botswana invests a considerable percentage of its GDP in education; this percentage was more than 20% in 2009. Botswana’s investment in education translated to a literacy rate of 87% in 2019, compared to a regional average of 65%. High rates of education have contributed to Botswana’s increased economic diversification and strong political stability, making the nation one of the more attractive places to do business in Africa.
  3. Smart economic development has contributed to Botswana’s high living standards and low corruption levels, placing it ahead of its peers. Botswana derived much of its early economic growth from diamond extraction which, among other exports, accounts for approximately 40% of Botswana’s GDP composition by end-use. However, consistent investment in other sectors of the economy has remained a strategy for the ruling party, and the government has increasingly diversified its economy towards the service sector and tourism jobs. Investment in conservation and wildlife has grown the tourism industry to approximately 14% of Botswana’s GDP,  nearly doubling since 1999. Remarkably, Botswana’s commitment to managing its domestic ecosystems allowed it to sign one of the first “debt-for-nature” agreements with the United States, which forgave more than $8 million in debt in exchange for the continued protection of the Okavango Delta and tropical forests.
  4. In addition to the high rates of women’s education and literacy, Botswana remains committed to a strong National Family Planning Policy and healthcare service. Botswana has experienced a rapid decline in fertility, according to the CIA World Factbook, with the total fertility rate falling from over five children per woman in the 1980s to 2.42 in 2021. Easy access to contraception and above-average rural and urban access to healthcare facilities have not only contributed to a decline in fertility but emboldened women’s rights and improved standards of living.

Botswana is by no means a perfect nation. It has extremely high rates of HIV/AIDS, like many of its African peers, and its single-party government has been criticized by some international organizations for suppressing competition. However, decades of consistent improvement in education and women’s rights, increased economic diversification, high levels of economic freedom and a commitment to fighting corruption have made Botswana the most prosperous nation in sub-Saharan Africa and a model for its peers.

– Saarthak Madan
Photo: Flickr