Botswana in the mind of Ghana

The August 17 meeting between Ghana’s President John Atta Mills and Botswana’s Ian Khama goes between the normal symbolic bilateral sweet talks. In contemporary African thinking, the core issue between Ghana and Botswana is how their respective democracies are harbingers of progress for the entire African democratic and development growth.

The Botswana-Ghana meeting also comes at a time when development economists are changing their focus away from cross-country empirical studies towards case studies and “analytic narratives.” “Instead of trying to explain all of sub-Saharan Africa’s problems in one grand sweep, economists are engaging in more focused studies of particular nations.  Their hope is that by clearly understanding the particulars, broader conclusions can be drawn,” explains Scott A. Beaulier, an economist at Troy University, USA.

The two countries democracies are trendsetters in Africa but Botswana is the better of the two. While Ghana, a coastal nation, is loud-mouthed, Botswana, landlocked, is quiet and much more levelheaded.  Botswana is a top African example of how democracy, of the African extraction, can be used to solve most of Africa’s complicated development challenges.

Botswana’s development indicators top Sub-Sahara African countries. This is despite the fact that 84 percent of Botswana’s land mass is largely the uninhabitable Kalahari Desert and 80 percent of Botswana’s people live along the fertile eastern stripe of the state. Like Israel, the future is how Botswana transforms its inhabitable Kalahari Desert into habitable land for greater development.

Since independence in 1966 from Britain, Botswana, unlike Ghana which gain independence from Britain in 1957, has consistently held unfettered multi-party democratic elections, Ghana hasn’t, maked by military coups and executions. Like Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Botswana was blessed with a fine founding President, Sir Seretse Khama, devoid of Nkrumah’s egomaniac tendencies. But unlike Ghana where Nkrumah later became a dictator and Ghana over the years expereinced some bad leaderships, Botswana is blessed with three decent leaders who succedded Seretse, the present one being Ian, the son of Seretse.

Unlike Ghana, Botswana, from 1966, driven by immense wisdom, has been able to integrate its traditional institions into its British colonial heritage in its development process. Seretse’s wife was a British woman, making Ian, like ex-Ghana President Jerry Rawlings, half-cast.. This makes Botswana indigenous institutions and values central part of its democracy, with its indigenous institutions as key accountability watcher. For instance, despite his immense political power, the traditional chief is regarded as an equal to Botswana people.

As Newsweek pointed out in 1990 in a piece entitled “Longing for Liberty,” “Botswana built a working democracy on an aboriginal tradition of local gatherings called kgotlas that resemble New England town meetings.” That explains not only Botswana’s democratic evolution but its dececentralization exercises that flow from its traditional values.

Botswana has an abundance of diamonds and successive governments have brilliantly husbanded it wisely for proper development of Botswanans. Ghana was formerly the world’s number one cocoa producer (it is now in number two), long-running political instabilities affected its development. Botswana doesn’t have such problems and coupled with its good governance, this has made Botswana Sub-Sahara Africa’s best developed and best run country. In the UN Human Development Index, Botswana ranks 98th and Ghana  130th out of 169 countries ranked in 2010.

In either Ghana or Botswana, world slumps in cocoa or diamonds, respectively, has affected Gross Domestic Product over the years. In Botswana, the average income has tripled in real terms in two decades, putting Botswana on a par with Mexico. While average income of a Ghanaian is 1.60 Ghanaian cedis (€0.74) a day, in Botswana it is 3.8 Botswana pula (€1.94) an hour for most full-time labor in the private sector.

At the same time as Ghana’s population is over 24 million and heavily heterogeneous and Botswana’s is 2 million and is almost homogenous, at issue aren’t size but the quality of governance. Size or no size, Botswana virtually escaped what most African countries have to confront – how to contain a far headier concoction of disparaging ethnic groups within boundaries unrealistically drawn by ignorant colonial map-makers. Ethnically, Botswana’s foremost test is how to deal with its anti-modern Bushmen minority. Ghana has tribalism problems, with some of its 56 ethnic groups as backward as the anti-modern Bushmen.

Unlike Ghana’s highly competitive democracy, Botswana leaders are yet to be challenged by a strong opposition; a single party has ruled since independence in 1966. That makes Botswana almost a one-party system. That is one reason why it was Ghana, with only 19 years of democratic practices, a recent African success story in democratic development, that made analysts to argue for US President Barack Obama to make his first visit to a sub-Saharan African country. Ghana’s 2008 presidential elections was neck-to-neck and the then governing National Patriotic Party (NPP) maturely accepted defeat by the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) at the polls.

However, in Ghana and Botswana democracy is fairly well established and independent institutions just evolving (Botswana has fairly  better developed democratic institutions than Ghana). In Botswana, the   Botswana People Party has been in power for 44 years. The opposition parties, especially the main Botswana Movement for Democracy, are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power.

On the other hand, in Ghana, political power has been changing hands between the ruling National Democratic Congress and the main opposition National Patiotic Party. But in Botswana voters happily vote the ruling Botswana People’s Party into power for the past 44 years. Yet Botswanans do not feel disenfranchised. Despite this, over the years, Botswana has proved as an example of good governance in Africa. The lesson from Botswana isn’t how often political power changes hands but how political power is used for good governance and development.

Despite some democratic hurdles in both Botswana and Ghana, the African experiences points to democracy and political leadership, more of the Botswanan variety, where African values are deliberately and proportionally mixed with the Western liberal ones, as the best strategy to solve most of Africa’s development challenges.

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

  1. GH says

    All being said, how will Ghana and Africa in general get raid of IMF, world Bank control of our economy, dictating to us how to run the economy. Huge unemployment, poverty level continues to climb, continue to have foreign investors but yet no laws to protect or insulate the economy if they decide to pull out their investment, continue to expatraite their profits.

  2. Gordon Mokgwathi says

    It is part of writing and publishing to ask someone else to edit one’s work. If Botswana Peoples Party has been in power for 44 years, citizens called Botswanans, and many other factual errors make the article not interesting to read. Or is this one of those articles where “the views expressed are only those of the author”?

  3. David M. Kabzot Tembil says

    I wish to make the following comments

    1. The ruling party is BOTSWANA DEMOCRATIC PARTY and not the Botswana Peoples Party. The BPP is actually a very small oposition party with no representation in parliament. The three opposition parties with equal number of 5 in the Botswana parliament are Botswana Nationa Front( BNF) , Botswana Congress party( BCP) and The Botswana Movement for Democracy( BMD)

    2. Botswana does not have a direct election of the president , the system is very much like that of Britain . The leader of the party with a majority of MP’s becomes the president. The advantage of the system is that , there is no hyper-corruption in campaipning at the primaries and at the national level as is the case in Ghana.

    3. The political system in Ghana is very fluid, the presidency of the counntry does not follow any tribal supremacy over others in a feudal chieftancy overlords The presidency is by direct succession , pre-arranged by the sitting president- This is not as democratic as the case in Ghana, when the president is elected nation-wide.. And as the writer mentioned, the country is homogenious in the language of Setswana- the second official language after English . Other languages like Ikalanga , Herero, etc of the people of North East districts and North West districts exists but with no chance to be taught in schools. Many of the high court judges coming from the Kalanga tribe have appealed for democracy to relect in the use of languages in schools and in radio. They are yet to hopefully succed,in this area to come close to Ghana. There is restriction on giving licence to operate community or FM, radios . The country is homogenious, with policies that are not considered demorcratic by some of the minority trubes.

    3 There are probably more than 56 Ethnic groups in Ghana and Ghana has a population of over 24 million , but Mr Kofi Akosa Sarpong has no idea of the realities on the vastness of Central Kgalakgadi (CKGR,) and the lives of the anti-modern Basarwa (Bushmen). The comparison of some ethnic groups in Ghana as anti-morden, speaks of serious lack of information on the part of the writer. The small land area and vegetation and the forests zones in Ghana would make it impossible for a comaprible life as anti-modern.

    4. The resources of the country are definitely used for the whole population in a semi-welfare state. The HIV/ AIDS pandemic has been stretching the resources of the country beyond acceptable comfortable limits Since ARV is free for all HIV positive citizens. Foriegners who are positive would have to pay for medication. Those who cannot infect the citizens , so that they are given free ARV- This is a serious blot on the democratic credentials of Botwana by the standards of WHO. – A change to treat would make the nation shine even higher. HIV/AIDS is not as serious a problem in Ghana as in Botswana.

    5.Thanks to the small popultion and prudent management , the country can boast of reserves despite the recent credit crunch . Ghana is yet to translate the oil into reserves or reduce our indebtedness. The expensive and grand life-style of Ghanaian politician is millions of kilometres ahead of the simple live style of the leaders of Botswana. It goes to explain why, Botswana can afford putting away some money for a rainy day . Ghana can have some thing to learn from the country with a total population of 1.7 million people ,less than that of Accra, the capital of Ghana.

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