Tiny white van country

A little white pick up sat parked outside the convenience store across the road. In my memory, it was identical to that which was driven by Mma Ramotswe from BBC Television series from eight or nine years ago, The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  Precious Ramotswe drove her tiny white van through a country very different from England, but also a country that was very different from the rest of Africa.

In his magisterial work The State of Africa, Martin Meredith covered the five decades of African history from the time when many of the nations achieved independence in the early-1960s.

As one reads through its seven hundred pages, there is a longing for some good news, for the appearance of Botswana. There are just seven references to the country that provided the backdrop for The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, four of those are no more than passing.

A paragraph on page 285 captures the essence of the country:

Botswana provided a rare example of an African state that used  its bonanza of mineral riches wisely. At independence in 1966, Botswana, consisting of large areas of desert, with a population of only half a million, was one of the poorest countries in Africa, heavily dependent on British support. But the discovery of rich seams of diamonds shortly after independence transformed its prospects. By 1980 its per capita income had risen to more than $900 a year. Avoiding extravagant expenditure on prestige projects, Seretse Khama invested in infrastructure, health and education and built up substantial reserves. Private businesses were allowed to grow. Corruption hardly existed. In the 1980s per capita income rose to $1,700 a year.

A hundred pages later,  on page 386, Botswana appears:

Only three countries – Senegal, the tiny state of Gambia and Botswana – sustained multi-party politics, holding elections on a regular basis that were considered reasonably free and fair. Botswana, in particular, stood out as an example of liberal democracy, tolerant of opposition, where the rule of law was held in respect and where economic development proceeded apace.

The final reference is on page 698:

Botswana stands out as a unique example of an enduring multiparty democracy with a record of sound economic management, that has used its diamond riches for national advancement and maintained an administration free of corruption.

Corruption hardly existed  . . . the rule of law was held in respect . . .sound economic management . . . riches used for national advancement. Seretse Khama might have gone the way of other African leaders, filling his own pockets and those of his friends, behaving as the leaders of many African nations still behave. Instead, he shaped an exceptional place.

Ranked 35th in the world by Transparency International, Botswana remains a less corrupt place around which to drive a white van than the likes of Italy, Greece, Poland, and Hungary.

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