- Title: Botswana at 50, has more precious things to offer than diamonds.
- Date: 26th September 2016
- Summary: GABORONE, BOTSWANA (FILE - 2009) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF KHAMA ARRIVING FOR CAMPAIGN RALLY VARIOUS OF KHAMA AT RALLY
- Embargoed: 11th October 2016 16:31
- Keywords: 50 years Independence Anniversary Diamonds Economy Bechuanaland Ian Khama Seretse Khama Jobs
- Location: JWANENG MINE, OKAVANGO DELTA AND GABORONE, BOTSWANA
- City: JWANENG MINE, OKAVANGO DELTA AND GABORONE, BOTSWANA
- Country: Botswana
- Topics: Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA005517C21J
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: ===PLEASE NOTE, EDIT CONTAINS SOME ORIGINALLY 4:3 MATERIAL===
Botswana celebrates its 50th birthday this week. At independence in 1966, the former British protectorate was starting from nothing.
Now its road network stretches for nearly 7,000 km, the government's credit rating is the highest on the continent and per capita income has risen 13-fold to 7,000 US dollars thanks to growth averaging 8.2 percent a year, according to the World Bank.
Over the past half century, only South Korea and China boast such dramatic increases in national wealth.
The cornerstone of Botswana's success has been one commodity - diamonds - coupled with a rigid adherence to prudent use of their revenues, a rarity on a continent where natural riches are routinely squandered, stolen or the cause of civil war.
Besides roads, diamonds have funded hospitals, schools and a welfare state that provides free healthcare and education to all. There is also a 5.4 billion US dollar sovereign wealth fund and 8 billion US dollars in central bank reserves.
But each of Botswana's 2.3 million people knows that the gems do not last forever, and the breakneck growth they have fuelled in the past will not be repeated.
In response, the government has achieved some success in weaning the economy off diamonds.
"We talk again more about diversification from diamonds not necessary from the minerals sector, because even within the minerals sector we can do a lot of diversification in the prospecting and the finds that we have been able to gather," Botswana's president, Ian Khama, said in an interview with Reuters.
Khama, whose Botswana Democratic Part (BDP) has been in power since independence, ends his second five-year term in office in 2018 when he will hand over to vice-president Mokgweetsi Masisi.
He has in the past said only BDP is competent enough to rule, even in the face of discontent among younger voters and the urban middle class who say change is due.
"The reason why we have been able to be in office for 50 years is because I think it's the response by the people to our policies and programs which have always been people driven and our zero tolerance for corruption for example and being the least corrupt country on this continent is part of that it's all part of that. Everything, all the natural recourses that we acquire, all the revenues we get from any source all go back into human resource development," said Khama.
Although Botswana is often seen as one of Africa's most stable and democratic nations, economic growth has slowed as demand for diamonds decreases, and unemployment is about 20 percent.
Mining made up just one fifth of GPD last year compared with half in the late 1980s at the height of the diamond boom, while services such as banking and tourism are rising sharply.
The Okavango Delta is one Africa's premier safari destinations.
Thanks to a focus on safari tourism and a zero-tolerance approach to poaching, Botswana boasts more than 150,000 elephants, a third of Africa's entire population of the animals.
"One of the common misconceptions is that the economy hasn't diversified that's completely wrong, the economy has diversified a lot. So if you look at what's been driving growth over the past 10, 15 years as I say, it's not been minerals its mainly been services and that's, tourism is a big one, tourism is the second largest export after diamonds and all the other services finance, business, social services, distribution etcetera," said economist, Keith Jefferis.
But analysts also say Botswana's banks and hotels are not generating sufficient numbers of jobs to satisfy a population used to rapidly improving standards of living.
"I'm worried by the fact that there is no employment - people who seek jobs, and so many graduates are street walking with no jobs. Some of them are doing jobs which are not qualified for," said Marks Leselwa, a 53-year-old labour claims adjudicator in Gaborone.
"We have grown, nowadays we no longer relying in diamonds and in beef. When you talk of wildlife, tourism, we are trying to cultivate our economy," said Bernard Sebakale, another Gaborone resident.
"I only hope that in the near future things will get better for us. That's what is my main concern. I just hope things will get better for us especially us youth because I think we are the ones struggling the most in terms of you know finding jobs and making a living for ourselves," said Eunice Morotsi.
Improvements in mining technology and new discoveries mean the 'end of diamonds' once forecast for 2018 has been pushed out to as late as 2050, Khama said, giving time to address one are he admits needs more investment: high-quality education.
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