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A Peaceful Exchange of Power, A Steady Increase in Prosperity

On April 1, 2008, the Botswana government again peacefully transferred power from one president to another, remaining true to its solid reputation as Africa's most stable country. The new president is Seretse Ian Khama, former vice-president to Festus Mogae. Khama, Botswana’s fourth president from the Botswana Democratic Party, which has ruled Botswana since independence, is the son of revered independence leader, Seretse Khama, and the supreme chief of the Bamangwato, the country's most populous Setswana tribe.

This stability in government is a cornerstone of Botswana’s international position as modern Africa’s first and longest success story. From its inauspicious beginning as one of the poorest countries in Africa, Botswana has not only solidified itself as one of the most stable and least corrupt countries in the developing world, it has also frequently been the fastest growing economy on the planet, bypassing even Southeast Asia’s “tiger” economies with an average annual growth rate of ~9%.

Over the four decades since independence in 1966, Botswana has successfully channeled its diamond riches into the development of the country’s social and physical infrastructure along with serious international investments, including substantial investments in both financial and technological support from China. In fact, President Khama takes the reins of the country with the highest GDP per capita in sub-Saharan Africa, now forecast to reach $8,453 this year. Foreign reserves stand at $10.2 billion, and in 2007 direct trade with China stood at $115.8 million. The International Monetary Fund expects Botswana’s national GDP to grow at 5,2% in 2008.

Ian Khama promises to be a forward-thinking president. In his inauguration speech, he noted: "Botswana has become a middle-income country by prudently managing and investing the proceeds from her natural resources. This, in turn, has provided a stable and fulfilling environment for its citizens and business…We have a clear vision of what we want Botswana's future to be. The successful implementation of our economic diversification policies, and all this implies, will require focused and a single-minded pursuit of our goals and objectives."

The move towards diversification of the economic base is not surprising. Botswana’s economic growth has been fueled by its successful diamond mining and exportation. While this success shows no signs of abating—indeed the world market for diamonds is on the upswing, particularly in China, President Khama and his government are intent on supporting other efforts. In his roadmap for the nation, he places strong importance on development, particularly in the private sector."This will manifest itself through the continued provision of national infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, electricity, schools, stadia and other life-affirming opportunities, most importantly jobs. For this to happen, we have to create an enabling environment for the private sector, and to actively encourage it to become the driving force of and the main investor in our economy." 


Several projects currently on the table will greatly contribute to these efforts, many of which are open to international investment. First, substantial efforts to solve the country’s energy shortages are underway. For example, the state-owned electricity utility Botswana Power has embarked on a $1,2-billion expansion of the Morupule coal-fired power station, and in April 2008 an upgrade drilling program began at Mmamantswe Coal Project, on the South African border. In the manufacturing arena, projects that will create plants to process hides and skins from Botswana’s cattle production, to process copper and nickel from its mines, to create textiles for export, and to polish its export diamonds are all also on the table. In information and communications technology (ICT), the new Maitlamo project, a policy to get all government services online over the next few years, has the potential to create 15,000-17,000 new jobs; the development of Internet technology and know-how is intended to spur e-commerce and global trade. In addition, the increasingly sophisticated infrastructure of cities and countryside alike, much of it supported by Chinese investors, will open the door to a broader tourism market for Botswana. Lastly, the proposed expansion of the country’s International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) will encourage additional investments. 

Other trends favorable to trade and investment are the continuing process of privatizing state-run companies such as Botswana Telecommunications Company (BTC) and the National Development Bank (NDB) and further exploration into the growing acceptance of Public Private Partnerships (PPP). As President Khama noted:I intend to try and find ways to phase out any excessive or counter-productive bureaucracy. Our public service, at both central and local level, must become optimally efficient, transparent, motivated, and disciplined."

Trade between Africa and China is expected to reach 100 billion dollars by 2010 and the UN predicts that China will become Africa’s number one trade partner in the near future. President Khama’s administration is positioning itself and the Batswana to accelerate this trend between the two countries. 

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