"And then the rain falls"
Botswana or Republic of Botswana is a landlocked country of southern Africa. It shares borders with South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Its policy of transparency, economic development and the autonomy to resolve internal conflicts make the country the "good student" of Africa.
Botswana at a glance
Administrative divisions: 10 districts
Population: more than 51 million inhabitants
Main Languages: tswana, english
Main religion: Christianity
Current Chairman: Seretse Ian Khama
Currency: Pula (1 pula = 100 thebes)
Conversion into euro: 100 pulas = 8.70 euros
Tourism: there is little restriction, but one must remain vigilant in cities, observe the hygiene rules and protect against mosquito bites.
A vast expanse of desert
The Kalahari Desert represents about 70% of the territory of Botswana and occupies the entire south-west of the country. The desert also includes Namibia, South Africa, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Angola and Zimbabwe. It is characterized by sometimes abundant vegetation adapted to arid soils called "xeric savanna" in the west and which turns into semi-desert near the South African border. During the rainy season, the desert reverts and the underground springs fill up allowing the fauna mainly consisting of small rodents and the flora to resist during the dry period. During the rainy season, many herbivores also benefit from the vegetation, including oryx and wildebeest, and lions can be seen more rarely.
The Kalahari Desert stretches between the Orange and Zambesi rivers on more than 90,000 km². It is a real paradise for lovers of safaris photos and treks.
In northern Botswana, the pan of Makgadikgadi is an immense salt desert, a vestige of the former eponymous lake that disappeared more than 10,000 years ago. The Okavango Delta is the second largest delta in the world, with no opening to the sea.
The Okavango River, originating in Angola, is divided into countless arms and the canals forming thousands of islands and lagoons at the gates of the Kalahari Desert.
This huge delta of 18,000 km² offers shelter to an exceptional fauna and flora including more than 400 species of birds, more than 120 species of mammals including many lions, leopards and rhinoceros and almost as many fish and reptiles. Due to its vital importance for the environment, the delta has been included in UNESCO's heritage list. The site is strictly protected and tourists can only access it with guides.
Botswana enjoys a semi-arid climate with a dry season from May to October (winter) and a rainy season from November to April (summer).
In winter, the average daytime temperatures are around 25 ° C but the nights are cold with a possibility of freezing. In summer temperatures can reach 40 ° C and the rainfall is abundant in northern and eastern parts of the country, sometimes making roads impassable. These are the most populated regions of the country.
The settlement of the Kalahari
The settlement of Botswana probably began some 30,000 years ago when people San (falsely called Bushmen) and Khoi-Khoi (or Hottentots) settled in the edge of the Kalahari. These peoples may have already practiced the livestock and the agriculture, but subsisted mainly from the hunting.
The fertile and well-irrigated lands were quickly coveted by the Bantu, and more particularly by the Tswana branch, which previously lived in the eastern part of the African continent and by the Yei settled in the Okavango Delta. These tribes of farmers and herders were organized in chiefdoms and their society was particularly well structured and hierarchical.
The British Protectorate
The Tswanas lived in peace and shelter from the modern world until 1820 when missionaries convert them to Christianity, who will expand and coexist with local beliefs. The missionaries and the settlers have never succeeded in eradicating the native culture.
At the same time, the Zulus led by their king Chaka Zulu invade the Tswana territory in order to enlarge their empire while great famines decimate the local population.
The inhabitants of Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana) must also face the claims of the Boers who want to appropriate their region.
It is for this reason that in 1885 the country reluctantly accepted the protection of Great Britain. The colonization is therefore smooth and English becomes the official language used in the administration even if the tswana remains the language most spoken by the inhabitants.
The Bechuanaland refused to belong to the Union of South Africa, which in 1910 brought together the Boer territories conquered by the British (the Orange Free State and the South African Transvaal republic) and the colonies of Cape and Natal Form of a dominion (the independent state of the British Empire).
The country is experiencing a period of peace which will allow it to get an authorization to organize the legislative elections in 1961, the first step to the autonomy granted by the British five years later. Seretse Khama becomes the first president of Botswana. Seretse Khama, a former chief of the Bamangwatos (subgroups of the Tswanas), lived a long exile in England because of his marriage to a young British woman (interracial marriages were forbidden by South African apartheid). He did not arrive on the political scene until 1961 when he founded the Democratic Party of Bechuanaland, shortly after his return with his wife to the country where he exercises the profession of the farmer.
The BDP became the first party in the country and won the 1965 elections, allowing its founder to become president of the new republic. For 13 years, Sereste Khama has been working to banish the corruption of his government and to redress the disastrous economy of his country, notably thanks to exports of the copper and, from 1967, the diamonds. Thanks to these revenues, the president invests in various fields such as health and education and manages to keep a low tax rate, which reduces the risk of fraud.
Seretse Khama laid the foundations for a flourishing economy and genuine democracy, a unique case in Africa. He died of cancer in 1980. His successors will continue his efforts, notably by diversifying the country's resources.
Since 2008, it is Seretse's son, Ian Khama, who is President of the Republic of Botswana.
Botswana is a democratic republic whose president is head of state and head of government.
The executive power is entrusted to the President elected by the National Assembly who is in charge of forming a cabinet composed of a vice-president, ministers and assistant ministers chosen from the members of the National Assembly.
The legislative power is vested in the National Assembly. However, the decisions regarding the tribal life are taken after consultation with the House of Chiefs representing the different ethnic groups of the country.
The judicial power is vested in the High Court whose judges are appointed by the President and the traditional courts presided over by the chiefs of the tribes.
In full growth
Botswana, which was extremely poor before its independence, now boasts a flourishing and a stable economy with an annual growth of more than 8 per cent.
The mining of diamonds and other minerals provides 80% of its resources and offsets the fact that the country has only 5% of fertile lands. Paradoxically, the subsurface exploitation occupies only a very small part of the population (approximately 10%).
The production and export of beef, a few industries, the services and the expanding tourism allow the country to diversify its resources. The unemployment is lower than in other African nations and the living conditions there are much better. This situation and the security that prevails in the country make it possible to attract foreign investors.
A Bantu culture
The total population of Botswana exceeds 2,200,000. Despite a fertility rate of 2.3 children per woman, the country 's natural increase is still low due to an infant mortality of more than 8% and an average life expectancy of 54 years due in particular to the HIV virus which affects nearly a quarter of the population.
The vast majority of Botswana (75%) belong to the Tswana ethnic group of Bantu origin. It is this culture that gave the country its name. The descendants of the San and Khoi-Khoi (first inhabitants) still occupy land in the south-west of the country and in the Kalahari Desert. They represent less than 10% of the total population.
While English is still the official language of the country that benefited from the British protectorate in the 19th century, Tswana is the most widely used language. Other African languages are also represented in Botswana, including Kalanga, Kgalagadi and Shona.
The Botswana population is divided with respect to the religions, one half is faithful to the old beliefs while the other half is Christian, mostly Protestant.
The basketwork, the pottery, the woodworking, the leather, the copper and the textiles are the main artisanal activities in Botswana.
The traditional music, accompanied by drums, stringed or wind instruments, and the dance were mainly used for protective purposes (eg attracting rain).
The Botswana cuisine is generally traditional, based on pap (flour ball), samp (crushed corn), raw or cooked worms or seswaa (sheep meat or boiled chicken) accompanied by beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
The local beers, the wines from South Africa and the palm wine are very popular with the locals.
Even though Botswana is a peaceful and relatively secure country, it is recommended to be wary of petty criminality especially in the cities. It is recommended not to wear external signs of wealth and not to walk on foot in the streets. At night, it is strongly advised not to travel even by car. It is forbidden to photograph the public buildings.
During the dry season, the water cuts are frequent and only the luxury hotel infrastructure and lodges in the north of the country are supplied without problems. In the south of the country, these cuts are often accompanied by a shortage of water bottles in shops.
The Okavango Delta is, of course, the place to be during a stay in Botswana. Some delta islands have been developed to accommodate tourists and allow them to photograph local fauna. The town of Maun, on the edge of the delta, is also welcoming.
In the north of the country, the infrastructures for foreigners are often luxurious and the stay can very quickly reach the high budgets. The cost of living is equivalent to, or even higher than, that of France. In addition, tips of +/- 10% of the price of services and meals are never included in the prices.
There are, however, the cheaper establishments but with a rudimentary comfort.
It is also possible to participate in safaris in the Kalahari Desert populated by Bochimans, the nomads subsisting from the hunting and the picking.