Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine and he lamented how we, as Batswana, have nothing that we can say both defines us as a people and is internationally known, distinguishing us from the rest of the world.
I was reminded of the incident in which another friend of mine became offended when, while in the UK, a Nigerian asked him where Botswana is located. My friend was offended to the point of telling the Nigerian to stay away from him, lambasting the person’s ignorance.
However, I had a different reaction to the incident. It got me thinking what makes Botswana internationally recognisable or, to phrase it in a simpler and less grammatically correct way, what are we famous for?
How can we legitimately get offended when we meet people from foreign lands who don’t know where our country is if we can’t say anything that makes our nation internationally distinguishable from the rest?
For instance, Nigeria is known the world over for it’s never ending stream of low budget, low quality films, which millions inexplicably find entertaining.
Not to mention it’s less positive reputation as being a breeding ground for sophisticated con artists.
The recognition of the UK itself goes without saying, the country for whose empire stretched so far across the world that the sun never set on it. Those days are over, of course, but Britain still carries itself with the same level of prestige.
Closer to home, we have South Africa which can boast the likes of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and the entire anti-apartheid liberation struggle.
On top of this, it is the most industrialised country in Africa and, of course, the first African nation to host the football World Cup.
Even Zimbabwe can boast international notoriety as a result of its shattered economy, the land seizures from white farmers and the interesting personalities of Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai.
All four of these countries are regulars on the international news circuit, but what about Botswana?
Off the top of my head, I cannot remember a single news story about Botswana that I have seen on either the BBC or CNN.
Not that we need to be talked about by Western news organisations in order to feel good about ourselves, but it is the simplest method of gauging international notoriety.
Another point of concern is that Botswana still has no major city. For all the rapid development that Gaborone has experienced over the past years, Botswana still remains a big chunk of land with no distinguishing major city yet it is surrounded by countries that can boast at least one. From Windhoek to Lusaka and from Harare to Johannesburg, the Southern African cities grow and leave Botswana as an island without a metropolis.
Maybe I am just being too harsh on this country, after all Botswana is the single largest producer of diamonds in the world.
Of course, there is the sad fact that as a result of being slow to develop the industries to finish diamonds rather than just extracting the raw materials and selling them, Botswana has lost out on its diamonds in extraordinary ways. This reality is the source of the obscenity whereby Israel and Belgium each make more money off Botswana’s diamonds than Botswana does.
The real money in diamonds lies in the finished product. Botswana can also boast to be the most peaceful country in ‘war-torn’ Africa, unfortunately war, crime and general instability are always more affective at gaining international attention for a country than peace.
Then there are Botswana’s beautiful natural attractions for us to be proud of, which other country can say that it has the largest inland delta in the world, the Okavango.
However, as beautiful as the Amazonian tropical rainforests may be, it is rare for them to be the first thing that comes to mind when you ask someone about Brazil. You’re much more likely to hear a passionate testimony about beautiful women and beautiful football skills.
Natural beauty is a wonderful thing to have, especially if you want to attract tourists but what about the people of Botswana, what makes Batswana unique? Going through the list of things you can find on the Facebook page ‘You know you grew up in Botswana when..’, I was struck by a lot of pleasant childhood nostalgia but nothing that I thought a person in Algeria would be aware of about Botswana.
Probably no nation has more pride in itself, however misplaced it may be, than America. The USA has always heralded itself as the leader of the free world, a shining beacon of democracy whose destiny it is to ensure the spread of liberty throughout the world by being a shining example and through military intervention when it deems necessary.
Batswana don’t have anywhere near as robust a sense of national pride and while that, in many ways, is a good thing, it also serves as a disadvantage.
Who can forget the less than inspiring tagline that the Botswana government crafted for the nation, ‘Opportunity and tranquillity beckon’, a string of words that would be more suited to defining a massage than this country.
Of course, it doesn’t help to just moan and complain about the situation but I think it is a good idea to open the debate and get people talking about what we want people from Canada to Japan to say when they hear the name Botswana. Anybody who grew up in Botswana can attest to the fact that this is a marvellous country but the problem is finding a way to make people who didn’t grow up here understand why that is.