Sunday, December 16, 2012


Botswana is far more than the nature parks and game reserves that spread across most of the northern part of the country, although that is a large part of it. The flat landscape of the Kalahari Desert takes up around 70% of the land in Botswana. In fact, the nickname and symbol for Botswana is the zebra. Because of this, Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world: it’s almost like taking all of the people out of the state of Texas, except for the residents of the city of Houston.  The country borders South Africa (using the Limpopo River as a border for some of the way), Namibia, and Zimbabwe (sharing a border with the Zambezi River part of the way), and a really tiny technical border with Zambia (from what I can tell on Google Maps). It's the only place in the world where four countries come together.

The area was originally inhabited by the Tswana peoples, and tensions arose when other tribes started making their ways in the northern sections of the country. On top of all that, Dutch Boers also started making their way inland from the Transvaal into Botswana as well. Finally after a number of appeals, the British put the area under their protection in 1885 and called it the Bechuanaland Protectorate (which is why English is one of the official languages, along with Setswana). The northern part eventually became what we know as Botswana today, and the southern area where many of the Setswana speakers lived became part of South Africa. Botswana later gained independence from Britain in 1966, and started out as one of the poorest countries, but quickly changed that for the better.

The origin of the word Botswana is interesting to me. The name of the main ethnic group, Tswana, is the base word. The prefix bo- is added to it to indicate the “land of.” Following in that fashion, the prefix ba- means “the people (plural)” as in Batswana; mo- means “a person (singular)” as in Motswana; and se- means “the language or culture of” as in Setswana.  Even though in English language print, “Botswanan” is usually used to describe its people and things from the country. I found it interesting that their currency is called pula, which is also the Setswana word for "rain." It's also their motto.

Botswana makes a lot of their revenue in uncut diamonds. (Debswana is the largest diamond mining industry in Botswana, yet it’s half-owned by the government. That would never fly in the US.) They have also found large deposits of uranium as well as gold, copper, and oil.

Botswana and southern Africa is thought to be the origin of watermelons. It traveled north through trade, and 
Africans brought watermelons and watermelon seeds along with them to North and South America and the Caribbean via the slave trade. While it’s a terrible reason how it got here, I’m really glad they brought this with them.

One of the biggest problems facing Botswana today is the high prevalence of AIDS, which affects life expectancy and other economic factors. The estimated rate from 2006 was that nearly 24% of adults suffered from either AIDS or HIV.  However, Botswana also has a comprehensive plan to combat it by giving its citizens access to free or cheap generic anti-retroviral drugs that they need. Part of this program is to pass on information that is critical to stopping the spread of the disease, thanks in part to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Merck Foundation and several other organizations for helping to fund this program to make this happen. I’m sure they will see increases in life expectancy and other economic improvements in the years to come.

It’s also the setting for the famous books by Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. In the US, it was broadcast as a mini-series on HBO a couple of years ago starring Jill Scott (love her music!) and Anika Noni Rose (who did the voice of Tiara in The Princess and The Frog).  I just got disk 1 off of Netflix and watched the pilot episode last night. Since it was filmed entirely in Botswana and in its capital Gaborone, the opening shots showed wonderful views of the beauty of the land. I highly recommend it, even only after one episode.

My initial research on Botswana has intrigued me on many levels. I had some small pre-knowledge about this area, only in general, but I’m hoping that I can draw connections and fill in gaps on the culture of this country.

Up next: Holidays and Celebrations

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