I was first introduced to Botswana through the eyes of Mma Precious Ramotswe, protagonist and chief investigator in the delightful “No 1 Ladies Detective Agency” novels by Andrew McCall Smith. She embodied a charm, wisdom, and love of Africa and her culture that I have carried with me. When I learned that U.S. Ambassador to Botswana had agreed to Zoom with our CDA group, I felt I already had a connection with the country and the culture. As Ambassador Craig Cloud spoke, he also reflected his appreciation for those qualities as he described the rapid rise of Botswana from one of the poorest countries in Africa to one of the most prosperous and democratic today. His talk balanced the extraordinary economic and social progress the country has made since its independence from Great Britain in the 60’s with the overwhelming challenges caused by the profound devastation of the AIDS pandemic. He said that “The United States’ job is not to save the world, but our job is to help the world.” And he outlined the four primary priorities for our role in Botswana:
Since the earliest days of the AIDS pandemic in Botswana, Ambassador Cloud said that 60 to 80 million people were infected per year with over a billion since 2003. At that time, 20 out of 100 babies were born HIV positive, and that “Saturdays for Funerals” is a book that describes the multiple funerals each week that nearly everyone attended. The PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) has been the most effect AIDS program he has seen. Today, the number of babies born HIV positive is one in two hundred. The program is still active and looking to identify and work with the last groups not able or willing to seek help. Those include people in extremely remote areas and those working outside the law in sex or drug trafficking—many of whom cross the border from South Africa. Later, when asked about the COVID pandemic, Ambassador Cloud stated that the experiences with AIDS have created strong popular compliance with government and PEPFAR recommendations and protocols to limit the spread of disease, and that Botswana is one of the countries with the highest vaccination rates. Within the next ten years it is likely that the successful PEPFAR program will be turned over to the Botswana government.
A strong constitution and a long-ruling democratic party have created a strong sense of stability within Botswana. People are generally satisfied with the way the government has ruled, and they are generally satisfied with their lives. Currently, terrorism is not a huge threat from its proximity with Mozambique and the Al Quaida recruitment efforts in the region because Botswana is largely a Christian culture with a small Moslem population, although the threat of future “transborder terrorism” is somewhat a concern. The primary focus of Botswana’s military is to stop transborder organized criminal activity in human and drug trafficking, and to identify and capture the elusive kingpins of the international wildlife poaching syndicates that are devastating the rhino and elephant populations.
After winning independence from Great Britainin the late ‘60s, Botswana’s first president, Seretse Khama organized a government based on rule of law and set priorities of economic and infrastructure development, free trade, personal freedoms, education, and the elimination of corruption. The transformation of one of the poorest nations in Africa to one of the most prosperous started by moving the economy from an agricultural base to an export base, beginning with development of the diamond and copper mining industries— “resources in the ground.” Botswana is still exporting coal, but the natural environment and geography are perfect for developing a huge solar industry creating the potential for Botswana to become the first carbon-neutral country in Africa. Medical and pharmaceutical manufacturing could also become an economic force in Botswana as several major firms have confidence in the area and are looking at setting up facilities there. Geography and location also have potential to establish Botswana as a transportation hub to connect the countries of Africa by developing air, land and rail infrastructure.
Current efforts to further develop educational systems at all levels emphasize student STEM preparation for careers to support developing industries. The government is also working to establish a type of community college system to provide additional access to education for the larger population. These initiatives are aimed continuing to move Botswana’s economy from exports of “resources in the ground” to a knowledge-based economy, lessening the dependence on the vulnerability of the diamond markets and other volatile international mineral markets.
After describing the U.S.-Botswana collaborations on the 4 top priorities, Ambassador Cloud took questions from the viewers in the few remaining minutes of the presentation.
- China, as we have heard from many of the Ambassadors to date, is a strong contender in the “great power competition”, in Botswana, as well. With the low upfront costs for infrastructure from China, come long term obligations for future commerce. The U.S. has a different approach including more flexible agreements that include the transfer of technology skills to ensure local ownership and operation far into the future.
- Tourism: Botswana richest safari experiences in Africa. Although tourism as slowed significantly during the pandemic, there is “pent-up demand” that is starting to come back. While many are concerned about any travel at this time, Ambassador Cloud suggested that Botswana could be one of the safer place to visit because the people there a so respectful of the protocols.
After nearly an hour of sharing his take on the culture, economics, security, and health-related progress in Botswana, Ambassador Cloud left no doubt about his enduring respect and affection for the country, the cultures, and the people. He is especially proud of the progress that PEPFAR has made in raising the healthcare standards and dramatically reducing the devastating AIDS mortality rates in Botswana, and for those systems in place to combat COVID. I was reminded of his earlier statement: “the job of the United States is not to save the world, but our job is to help the world.” Throughout his talk I think we all saw his dedication to doing just that.
Submitted by Patricia Houston, CDA