Botswana in the mind of Ghana- By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong- September 20, 2011

The August 17 meeting between Ghana’s President John Atta Mills and Botswana’s Ian Khama goes beyond the normal symbolic bilateral sweet talks. In contemporary African thinking, the core issue between Ghana and Botswana is how their respective democracies are harbingers of progress for the entire African democratic and development growth.

The Botswana-Ghana meeting also comes at a time when development economists are changing their focus away from cross-country empirical studies towards case studies and “analytic narratives.” “Instead of trying to explain all of sub-Saharan Africa’s problems in one grand sweep, economists are engaging in more focused studies of particular nations. Their hope is that by clearly understanding the particulars, broader conclusions can be drawn,” explains Scott A. Beaulier, an economist at Troy University, USA.

The two countries’ democracies are trend setters in Africa but Botswana is the better of the two. While Ghana, a coastal nation, is loud-mouthed, Botswana, landlocked, is quiet and much more levelheaded. Botswana is a top African example of how democracy, of the African extraction, can be used to solve most of Africa’s complicated development challenges.

Botswana’s development indicators top Sub-Sahara African countries. This is despite the fact that 84 percent of Botswana’s land mass is largely the uninhabitable Kalahari Desert and 80 percent of Botswana’s people live along the fertile eastern stripe of the state. Like Israel, the future is how Botswana transforms its inhabitable Kalahari Desert into habitable land for greater development.

Since independence in 1966 from Britain, Botswana, unlike Ghana which gained independence from Britain in 1957, has consistently held unfettered multi-party democratic elections, Ghana hasn’t, its efforts having been marred by military coups and executions. Like Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Botswana was blessed with a fine founding President, Sir Seretse Khama, devoid of Nkrumah’s egomaniac tendencies. But unlike Ghana where Nkrumah later became a dictator and Ghana over the years experienced some bad leaderships, Botswana is blessed with three decent leaders who succeeded Seretse, the present one being Ian, the son of Seretse.

Unlike Ghana, Botswana, from 1966, driven by immense wisdom, has been able to integrate its traditional institions into its British colonial heritage in its development process. Seretse’s wife was a British woman, making Ian, like ex-Ghana President Jerry Rawlings, half-cast. This makes Botswana indigenous institutions and values central part of its democracy, with its indigenous institutions as key accountability watcher. For instance, despite his immense political power, the traditional chief is regarded as an equal to Botswana people.

As Newsweek pointed out in 1990 in a piece entitled “Longing for Liberty,” “Botswana built a working democracy on an aboriginal tradition of local gatherings called kgotlas that resemble New England town meetings.” That explains not only Botswana’s democratic evolution but its decentralization exercises that flow from its traditional values.

Botswana has an abundance of diamonds and successive governments have brilliantly husbanded it wisely for proper development of Botswanans. Ghana was formerly the world’s number one cocoa producer (it is now in number two), long-running political instabilities affected its development. Botswana doesn’t have such problems and coupled with its good governance, this has made Botswana Sub-Saharan Africa’s best developed and best run country. In the UN Human Development Index, Botswana ranks 98th and Ghana 130th out of 169 countries ranked in 2010.

In either Ghana or Botswana, world slumps in cocoa or diamonds, respectively, has affected Gross Domestic Product over the years. In Botswana, the average income has tripled in real terms in two decades, putting Botswana on a par with Mexico. While average income of a Ghanaian is 1.60 Ghanaian cedis (€0.74) a day, in Botswana it is 3.8 Botswana pula (€1.94) an hour for most full-time labor in the private sector.

At the same time as Ghana’s population is over 24 million and heavily heterogeneous and Botswana’s is 2 million and is almost homogenous, at issue aren’t size but the quality of governance. Size or no size, Botswana virtually escaped what most African countries have to confront – how to contain a far headier concoction of disparaging ethnic groups within boundaries unrealistically drawn by ignorant colonial map-makers. Ethnically, Botswana’s foremost test is how to deal with its anti-modern Bushmen minority. Ghana has tribalism problems, with some of its 56 ethnic groups as backward as the anti-modern Bushmen.

Unlike Ghana’s highly competitive democracy, Botswana leaders are yet to be challenged by a strong opposition; a single party has ruled since independence in 1966. That makes Botswana almost a one-party system. That is one reason why it was Ghana, with only 19 years of democratic practices, a recent African success story in democratic development, that made analysts to argue for US President Barack Obama to make his first visit to a sub-Saharan African country. Ghana’s 2008 presidential elections was neck-to-neck and the then governing National Patriotic Party (NPP) maturely accepted defeat by the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) at the polls.

However, in Ghana and Botswana democracy is fairly well established and independent institutions just evolving (Botswana has fairly better developed democratic institutions than Ghana). In Botswana, the Botswana People Party has been in power for 44 years. The opposition parties, especially the main Botswana Movement for Democracy, are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power.

On the other hand, in Ghana, political power has been changing hands between the ruling National Democratic Congress and the main opposition National Patriotic Party. But in Botswana voters happily vote the ruling Botswana People’s Party into power for the past 44 years. Yet Botswanans do not feel disenfranchised. Despite this, over the years, Botswana has proved as an example of good governance in Africa. The lesson from Botswana isn’t how often political power changes hands but how political power is used for good governance and development.

Despite some democratic hurdles in both Botswana and Ghana, the African experiences point to democracy and political leadership, more of the Botswanan variety, where African values are deliberately and proportionally mixed with the Western liberal ones, as the best strategy to solve most of Africa’s development challenges.

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong is an editor with Newstime Africa.