The Republic of Botswana, a Southern African nation of nearly three million people, is an incredibly stable country with one of the strongest democratic traditions on the continent. Multi-party elections every five years compound a booming economy that has grown by 5 percent annually, according to the World Bank. Today, it is an upper-middle-income nation. Despite these successes, Botswana faces a litany of challenges. Poverty remains high at 16 percent and an 18 percent unemployment rate harms growth. The 2018 USAID “Have It All” documentary states that HIV/AIDS is still a public health crisis that affects one in five people and infects 14,000 new individuals each year. U.S. foreign policy in Botswana focuses on safeguarding stability by tackling these challenges.
History of Cooperation
Botswana gained independence from the U.K. in 1966, but America did not become involved in the country until the 1980s. With the help of USAID, U.S.-Botswana relations developed into an amicable, bilateral partnership. A Department of Defense report indicates military cooperation characterized this partnership in the 1990s. The Botswana Defense Force worked with American forces in Operation Restore Hope, which sought to provide famine relief to starving people in Somalia in 1993.
In 2004, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) started operating in the country. Botswana also signed a Trade, Investment and Development Cooperative Agreement (TIDCA) with the U.S. in 2008 to encourage free trade between the countries. Current U.S. foreign policy in Botswana intends to bolster past programs with these focuses:
1. Increase economic development with USAID’s Southern Africa Mission.
2. Sustain law enforcement cooperation with training at the ILEA.
3. Continue fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic with PEPFAR.
The Southern Africa Mission
The Southern Africa Mission is a regional program USAID runs that involves the Development Credit Authority (DCA) and the Southern Africa Trade and Investment Hub (SATIH). It works to solve issues with investment, business growth, agricultural development and trade in Southern Africa. Botswana is one of the six countries it actively works in.
Its mission is a vital part of U.S. foreign policy in Botswana. According to a USAID official, Botswana desperately requires business development in order to recover from years of dependency on government services. Banks’ unwillingness to grant credit to fledgling businesses poses problems for sustainable growth. The DCA remedies this problem by providing U.S. Treasury-backed loans to local businesses. With a financially grounded business, banks become less risk-averse and allow credit access.
The SATIH promotes necessary business growth as well. As of 2019, it has assisted 650 African firms with overcoming trade barriers and has brought about $129 million in investment. USAID told The Borgen Project that SATIH expands prospects for Botswana’s firms, particularly agricultural firms, by occasionally bringing them to trade shows in New York. These films and accompanying improvements in beef quality have helped grow Botswana’s U.S. market by 10 percent. More economic growth will speed Botswana’s progress against poverty.
The International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) started in the capital of Gaborone in 2000 and trains officials to combat transnational crime. In correspondence with The Borgen Project, a State Department spokesperson stated that over 9,000 African officials had trained there under instructors from more than 20 American federal agencies. Botswana obtains special relationships with these instructors by hosting the ILEA.
The aforementioned relationships provide a wealth of information to Botswana’s law enforcement officials. A 2019 training schedule showed various courses on human trafficking, crisis leadership, anti-terrorism and anti-corruption offered throughout the year. The ILEA’s anti-corruption training has a definite effect on the country’s well-being. Transparency International ranked Botswana as 34 out of 180 nations on its 2018 Corruption Perception Index, making it the least corrupt nation in Africa.
PEPFAR provides funding to a variety of federal organizations that respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Botswana. Programs work to increase testing for HIV, treat infected individuals immediately and reduce the stigma of infection. The U.S. has allocated $67.88 million for these purposes in FY 2020 according to the State Department.
With PEPFAR’s help, HIV testing reached 708,102 individuals in FY 2017 alone. A government report stated that it also covered 60 percent of the HIV testing kits used between April 2017 and 2018. This financial support can save lives since Botswana treats HIV-positive patients with antiretroviral medications (ARVs) immediately under the Treat All Program. USAID officials told The Borgen Project that these programs emphasize community engagement and encourage Botswana’s citizens receive testing and ARVs.
ARVs are powerful, suppressing the viral load to such an extent that they stop transmission. Maria and Edwin, an HIV-positive couple in USAID’s “Have It All” film, received immediate treatment and stopped the virus from passing to their three children. USAID even stated that ARVs stop transmission between sexual partners. Now, U.S. foreign policy in Botswana is shifting to normalizing AIDS treatment. “The [‘Have It All’] documentary,” one official said, “has been shown to social workers and adolescents . . . and now we are really moving into stigma reduction.”
U.S. foreign policy in Botswana continues building on the progress the nation has made since 1966. Despite the immense challenges, bilateral cooperation can assist in defeating economic stagnation, corruption and AIDS. There is more work to do, but American aid ensures Botswana’s renowned stability will continue into the future.
– Sean Galli