Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Day 52 (April 1) – Reflections on Botswana

I said goodbye to the Hattinghs early in the morning, only after promising that I would visit them next time I come to South Africa, and headed toward the Zimbabwe-Botswana border, with the intention of following the border track south to South Africa. It was a long ride, enlivened by two events that got a lot of news coverage in the radio. The first one was the uncertain results of the presidential election in Zimbabwe. In short, when the colonial powers left Africa in the 1960’s and 1970’s, many countries elected as their first president a prominent member of the liberation movement. Some of these first presidents got infected with power and remained as absolute dictators, and that was the case of Zimbabwe’s president Mugabe, who has been in office for 25 years. So the people of Zimbabwe finally had it with him, and went to the polls to elect a member of the opposition. But the electoral results, “mysteriously” still not formalized by the electoral commission, have not yielded a clear winner: Mugabe got something like 35%, the first opposition candidate got 48%, and the second opposition candidate got the remaining 17%. The problem is that no candidate got 51%, so unless Mugabe graciously concedes defeat (not bloody likely), a new election would have to be held between the two top candidates. Sounds just like another African mess, doesn’t it?

Muammar al-Gaddafi, the Lybian dictator, expressed an outrageous but widely share thought among African leaders when he said: The people of Zimbabwe should be grateful that they have a leader like Mugabe, and they should let him lead until his death. The nonsense of Western democracy doesn’t work in Africa, where strong and harsh leaders are necessary to prevent tribal war. I hate to admit that there is a grain of truth in his words.

But to prove that there is hope for Africa, today Botswana inaugurated its fourth president. Botswana became independent 40 years ago, and in that period has had three presidents, so you can see that their terms have been considerably longer than anything we are used to. However, all three of the presidents were men of great vision, who have slowly but surely set the country on the development path. First, none of them succumbed to corruption, so they are loved by the people and regarded with much respect. Second, they have committed the development of the mineral resources of Botswana (diamonds and copper) to generate funds for the development of infrastructure (e.g., roads, power, education, public health, and water). Third, they have developed international markets for Botswana beef and, since all Motswanas are in love with the idea of rising beef, have promoted at least one type of private industry (Foot and Mouth disease is a problem that they are now fighting with energy, with lots of check points to spray cars and avoid the movement of infected meat). Fourth, they have consciously sought expensive but low volume tourism, to create a high value industry (for example, last year Botswana’s tourism brought in 200 million dollars, whereas neighboring Namibia only brought in 20 million in spite of being reputed one of the most beautiful countries in Africa).

The new president, Ian Khama, is the son of the much loved first president Seretse Khama. He thus has the country wholeheartedly behind him. President Khama wants to take a next step toward development by diversifying the economic base of the country, and warned everyone that there were hard years of work ahead of them. I think he is right on the ball, and wish him and his country all the best in the years to come. Keep an eye on little Botswana, because it may well be the model of hope for the rest of Africa!

By early afternoon I had reached Bobomongo (where Mma Grace Makutsi is from), and started following the border south. I gave a couple of lifts along the way. Pointing to a large steaming turd, my latter companion said “There are elephants around”. “Where, where?” I asked. He looked around and shouted “There!” Oh, joys of joys, indeed, a couple of elephants had crossed the road a few seconds before we got there, and were slowly working their way into the brush. They had come from a pond I could barely see on the other side of the road, so I recklessly jumped out of the car and ran to the pond to spot any remaining pachiderms. I did manage to startle a warthog and some gazelles, but alas, no elephants. And then I noted that I was standing in the middle of the only narrow path, stepping on the flat, round tracks of the elephants that had just left. What if another elephant had been left behind? I quietly retreated to the car, trying to remember that I was not at the zoo but in the real Africa.

I also saw a giraffe and some kudus on the way to the South African border, and thought how ironic that I had run 3,500 km through Botswana only to have some of the best wildlife sightings in the last three hours.

1 comment:

Fabs said...

Just think of this as "saving the best for last"! =)