A recent article published by two academics in the United States of America is poised to set tongues wagging, especially at the Government enclave where the officials are used to receiving all praises from the West.
Two American researchers have cast aspersions on Botswana’s claims to the title of “miracle of Africa.”
Because of its exceptionalism, when compared with other African countries that have come to be associated with plagues of war, poverty, disease, corruption and plunder, Botswana has, over the years, attracted international acclaim as a “miracle” child inside the ‘Dark Continent’.
Writing in the article, titled “Is Botswana the Miracle of Africa? Democracy, the Rule of Law, and Human Rights Versus Economic Development”, Professors Amelia Cook and Jeremy Sarkin pose serious doubts about the accolades often heaped on Botswana.
The duo say the awarding of the Mo Ibrahim Prize to former President Festus Mogae brings to the surface a need to evaluate the country’s true performance as a democracy.
“Achievements such as Botswana’s noteworthy economic growth, political stability, and regular elections often eclipse issues like human rights, which remain on the periphery of most analyses of Botswana. However, human rights issues present a significant threat to Botswana’s positive reputation. One of these issues concerns the long and complicated relationship between a minority ethnic group, the San, and the ruling elite, who mostly come from the Tswana ethnic group. The ethnic division has led to the San’s vulnerable position in Batswana society today. No example better demonstrates the limits of democracy in Botswana than the eviction by the Government of Botswana (“GOB”) of San bushmen from their homeland in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, presumably to further the exploration of potential diamond mines. This controversy over land rights between the San and the GOB has led to the longest and most expensive court case in the history of the country, known simply as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (“CKGR”) case.”
The academics say the CKGR case serves as a reflection of the Botswana Government’s general failure to uphold many of the basic tenets of human rights, especially in regard to indigenous and otherwise marginalized groups.
“The case has finally begun to draw international attention, however meager, to Botswana issues other than its growth rate and the regularity of its elections. Potentially, it could pave the way for more rigorous assessments of what it means to be a success story in Africa. Although the San won the case, the government has not cooperated in implementing the ruling, raising many questions about the democratic process in Botswana. Furthermore, the “win” has led to very few changes to the San’s position in society.”
In a lengthy, hard-hitting article, Cook and Sarkin say “although scholars and analysts accurately have recognized Botswana’s success in achieving political stability and economic growth, it is important not to end the analysis there. Several scholars have devoted their work to dissecting the myth of the Botswana “Miracle” and exposing the limitations of democracy and human rights suffered by many Batswana. Among the problems they cite are the dominance of the ruling party, unchecked presidential power, limited freedom of expression, economic disparities that are among the worst in the world, preferential treatment for certain ethnic groups, and levels of HIV/AIDS that threaten the very existence of a future work force.”