Landlocked in central southern Africa, Botswana is bordered by South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Its mineral wealth, natural beauty, and close regional ties have given it one of the strongest and most successful economies on the continent.
Botswana is named for the Tswana, the primary ethnic group of the country. These people immigrated to the modern region of Botswana sometime between the third and fifth centuries. By the 19th century, facing a double military threat from the Ndebele tribes of the Kalahari Desert and the Dutch settlers of the Transvaal, Tswana leaders petitioned Britain for aid; thus the country, then known as “Bechuanaland”, became a British protectorate in 1885. The territory was separated, with the southern half joining Cape Colony and eventually becoming part of South Africa, while the north formed the Protectorate of Bechuanaland. This latter instituted a greater degree of self-rule during the course of the 20th century, and eventually gained independence as the Republic of Botswana in 1966.
Botswana has been largely free of the political turmoil that has troubled some other African countries; it’s government is a stable democracy with free elections and peaceful transitions of power, and it was ranked Africa’s least corrupt country by Transparency International in 2005. The country has seen some of the world’s fastest per capita income growth rates since attaining independence, largely due to diamond mining. This lucrative trade is the backbone of Botswana’s economy, but the government has been making efforts to diversify by focusing on other mineral resources, as well as developing industry and services. Tourism is also a significant source of employment and revenue. Most of Botswana’s attractions are natural, including the fascinating Okavango Delta, a river that empties into a desert, and several game preserves where visitors can spot such rare animals as the lion, cheetah, hyena, and African wild dog.
Botswana’s thriving economy has given it a rather high migration rate for the region; in particular, the country has seen an influx of Zimbabweans in recent years, attracted by plentiful job opportunities. Foreigners shouldn’t have much trouble finding employment in Botswana, as the country is somewhat dependent on expatriates for skilled labor. The government has recently begun investing heavily in education to counter this imbalance, which means that teachers, especially at the primary level, are in high demand. There is an even greater need for medical professionals, as Botswana has the second-highest HIV infection rate in the world; contributing to the effort against this disease is sure to be a gratifying way of experiencing the country.
English is one of two official languages in Botswana, and is often used in business and in urban settings. Setswana, the Tswana language, belongs to the Bantu family, and is the mother tongue of most of Botswana’s people. It is highly intelligible with Sesotho, the language of Lesotho, and actually has more speakers living in South Africa than Botswana, due to the region’s colonial partitioning. The country’s minority languages include some from the distinctive Khoisan family; try to learn some phrases in one of these for a real linguistic challenge!