24 July 2010

A Secret Success Story

In the Briefing section of the June 28, 2010 edition of TIME Magazine, there was a short article outlining the “danger” of undeveloped countries discovering abundant natural resources – “Brief History: The Resource Curse” by Alex Perry. Perry asserts that upon such a discovery, governments will mismanage the resource, leading to corruption and violence. The first three examples cited are oil in Nigeria and diamonds in Sierra Leone and Angola. Perry then mentions Norway as a “success story” that managed to use its resources wisely.

A short article – three paragraphs – however, it piqued my interest. Botswana should have been in that last paragraph with Norway. Immediately after declaring independence in 1966, Botswana discovered an enormous supply of diamonds within its borders. Are you wondering why you’ve never heard Botswana mentioned in all the talk surrounding blood diamonds? That’s because the first president, Sir Seretse Khama, managed to introduce Botswana to the diamond industry without breaking human rights law, and even turned the profits directly into social programs for Batswana (the people of Botswana), thus avoiding the slippery slope to corruption and violence. An admirable act, and one that set the stage for Botswana to become the peaceful nation that it remains to be to this day.

In fact, Botswana is a success story in more ways than just management of natural resources. Independence was bloodlessly declared, democratic elections are regularly and justly carried out, the country enjoys an economic status similar to middle-income countries such as Turkey or Mexico, and the newspaper headlines are more likely to be agricultural developments than homicides. In the 1990s, Peace Corps ended the program in Botswana because developmental help was no longer needed. In 2001 the program was reinstated strictly and solely to address HIV and AIDS, as the rampant spread of the disease was threatening the astonishing progress the country had made in other areas over the 40 years of independence.

I wish Perry had used Botswana as the positive example rather than a European nation. Too often the perception of Africa (always “Africa,” never the individual country, as if Africa was some sort of giant nation-state rather than an entire continent) is hunger, disease, poverty, and violence. In reality though, there are stark differences between different African countries, and the diversity only increases as you learn the nuances of each individual culture. It would have been nice for TIME to recognize Botswana’s effective management of its diamonds, thus calling the world’s attention to the little-heard-of nation of Botswana, Africa’s secret success story.

(You can read the TIME article here: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1997460,00.html)

Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time. –Arnold H. Glasow

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