Why Botswana Prospered; The Botswana Defense Force in the Struggle for an African Environment

In This Review

Why Botswana Prospered

By J. Clark Leith
McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006
168 pp. $22.95
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The Botswana Defense Force in the Struggle for an African Environment

By Dan Henk
Palgrave Macmillan, 2007
240 pp. $69.95
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Botswana appears to suffer from many of the structural characteristics that are held to have slowed growth elsewhere on the African continent. It is landlocked and severely challenged by desertification. As a forgotten outpost of the British Empire, it had only 12 kilometers of paved roads (in a country the size of Texas) and 22 college graduates at the time of its independence, in 1966. So how is it that Botswana can claim one of the highest growth rates over the last 40 years of any country in the developing world? True, diamonds were discovered there soon after independence, and it is now the largest producer of gemstones in the world. But most African countries have not parlayed their mineral or oil wealth into economic success. These two books provide informative explanations of the Botswana exception. Leith emphasizes the role of prudent macroeconomic management of the country's diamond wealth and a focus on capital and infrastructure development through judicious government planning (although he notes that total factor productivity growth has stagnated in recent years). Why did government central planners succeed in using the natural-resource wealth wisely? Leith emphasizes the elements of Botswana's culture that value accountability and notes the dynamics of the independence process and the character of the country's first president, Sir Seretse Khama, which together reinforced these traditional elements and promoted a fairly democratic polity.

Henk's seemingly narrow study of the role of the Botswana army in protecting the country's wildlife offers what is perhaps a more insightful explanation of Botswana's success. By the early 1990s, the Botswana Defense Force had begun what would be an extremely successful policy of actively safeguarding the country's rich wildlife from professional poachers. The narrative of this effort allows Henk to touch on a number of topics, including the emergence of the BDF as Africa's most professional army, the elite's growing ethos of wildlife conservation, and the nature of civil-military relations in what remains a fairly paternalistic political order. His chronicle suggests that a pragmatic and results-oriented culture within the Botswana state largely accounts for the country's success. He spends less time trying to explain the underlying reasons for this success, but he, too, emphasizes elements of the traditional culture, which values order and community.