Von Paleske – The Botswana success story


Then I left for Botswana, and there the situation is completely different. Botswana became independent in 1966. It was at that time one of the poorest countries in the world.

The first president was Seretse Khama, who was kept in Britain for quite a number of years because he was married to a white English woman by the name of Ruth Williams.

This time he had to spend in exile gave him a chance to watch the democratic system in Britain. Even though the British Government was not very good to him at all, he decided that this was the right way to go, and it came hand in hand actually with the democratic structure in their own country, where the decisions are made by gatherings of people. They call it a Kgotla.

At that time Botswana had 400 metres of tar road, in the capital city there was one hotel and a few huts. The population at that time was 1 million. The country is bigger than Britain, but most of it is desert. The change came actually in the 70s but even in poverty it was absolutely democratic, and Seretse Khama was doing as much as he could.

It became a transit point for ANC people, including by the way, Thabo Mbeki, who was going out of South Africa, via Botswana, into the at that time already independent Zambia, and Botswana gave refuge from tens of thousands of people fleeing the terror of the white Prime Minister Ian Smith [in Zimbabwe].

At the same time, the country was subjected to raids by apartheid soldiers into Botswana to kill these ANC activists, but they didn’t only kill the activists, when they raided houses, they killed everybody they found in those houses, whether they were children, women or men with absolutely nothing to do with the liberation movement.

When the diamonds were found, it was predicted that Botswana would become another banana republic, and that foreign companies would just use the opportunity go in and exploit them with the people not benefiting. But they didn’t put into their consideration the ideas of Seretse Khama, who was absolutely committed to his own people and to making sure that the mineral wealth was benefiting them, and that has made Botswana an absolutely outstanding country in the whole of Africa.

Botswana now has got 10,000 km of tarred road. The health system is in an absolutely excellent shape, compared with any other southern African or even African country. 

Botswana is the only country in Africa that gives treatment to HIV infected people free of charge, with the idea to cover the whole country in three years time. At the present moment we have got a HIV clinic at the Princess Marina Hospital, which is the biggest hospital, where I am also working, with 9,000 patients treated there, the biggest HIV clinic in the world. Botswana has really been the torchbearer when it comes to how to tackle the problems of costs. Botswana was in a much better position because it had foreign exchange reserves piled up from the sale of diamonds totalling to £3 billion.

In the list of corrupt countries it is very close to Germany interestingly, which led to an outcry in Germany, that Germany has come near to a third world country. Botswana with its good governance has managed actually to play in the premier league of so-called non-corrupt countries. Unfortunately that is not very well known in many other countries. I have to include my own country there was never a state visit by a German President, or Foreign Minister. Obviously they are totally unaware of the shining star in southern Africa.







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