The Republic of Botswana is neither unknown nor unheard of. We all love it for it is rich in wildlife, and richer in diamonds. From an aerial view from the plane, an organized metropolis panorama at sight, the traveller will confirm of its socio-economic success story. After the British occupation, what was expected of post-colonized countries to plummet head-first to poverty was instantly rectified. But it took a good quick year when it discovered masses of diamonds that can help alleviate the conditions of the country and advance it towards stability. And stable Botswana has become as the world’s no. 1 diamond producer, diamonds alone streaming in more than 65% of the economy. While it benefits from economic stability, education, and health care, HIV is, still and all, a disease ravaging more people that their medical care can cater a cure for.
Beyond the green and bling, Botswana endures HIV as a bigger pain in the behind than Britain ever was. It holds the 2nd highest prevalence of AIDS in adults and results to numerous deaths daily. Other immediate effects of HIV besides adult mortality are an amplified child and infant mortality, decline in life expectancy, and the downsize of adult population leading to a population explosion of orphans. But life in Botswana is good characterized by decline in unemployment and poverty. Free and fair elections and a stable economy, Botswana is a spark of hope in Sub-Saharan Africa.
By and large, Botswana is that African Safari we’ve always known. Botswana (22 00 S, 24 00 E) is a 600,370 km2 -landlocked area, north of South Africa that boasts of diverse landscapes desert and savannah. The Kalahari Desert is a semi-arid stretch of sand and valleys that cover 70-85% of the country from the centre to the southwest of Botswana entirely. The terrain is predominantly flat to rolling hills, the highest of which is the Tsodilo Hills at a height of 1,489 metre above sea level, while the not-so-low 513-metre-junction of Limpopo and Shahe rivers are the lowest point of the region. Another famous geo feature is the Okovango Delta that sets the record for the world’s largest inland delta. Rivers are also an important feature of the overall landscape of the country.
The climate is described mostly as a comfortable mostly subtropical climate with warm winters and warmer summers, whereas in the desert regions central to southwest, the climate is, in general, semiarid. But desertification is slowly altering the Botswana climate.
The Batswana population records 2,029,307 people that are concentrated heavily in the eastern part of the country due to the climate and geography. There are many tribes in Botswana, to add to the great diversity that already subsists. But the main tribes are the Tswana or Setswana (79%), Kalanga (11%), and the “Bushmen” or the Aba Thwa, also ‘basarwa’, (3%).
In addition, there is also a small demographic of a white population of around 4% who are native to Botswana or from other countries in SSA such as Zimbabwe and South Africa. The Zimbabweans are but a tiny speckle of the population here at only tens of thousands.
ENGLISH, spoken by only 2.1% of the population mostly in the urban areas, is the official language of Botswana and of business, although SETSWANA, the widely spoken local vernacular responds to the national communication needs. Setswana is quite an interesting language for its prefixes (i.e. Tswana refers to the ethnic group; Bo-Tswana, to the country; Mo–Tswana, to 1 Tswana; Ba-Tswana, to the whole people; and Se-Tswana, to the language). Other languages and dialects are KALANGA, SEKGALAGADI and other tribal languages. SOTHO, a “sister language” spoken by Lesothos in South Africa, is intelligible to speakers of Setswana.
Botswana is largely a Christian State, though unofficially. Statistics counts more than 70% of the population espouse the Christian faith. There are Anglicans, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Adventists, Baptists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christian factions. Muslims and Hindus are a minority with estimates of only 5,000 and 3,000, respectively.
So it is established, Botswana has had a pretty steady audience for some time, and it has been so, not simply for the unparalleled wildlife and landscape, but the general security it provides its guests. The odd part is travellers normally cancel out the chance to travel within Gaborone, the capital, to go up north to Maun, a city that claimed Gaborone’s seat as tourism capital, or the Chobe National Park, the country’s first national park that is home to 350 bird species and the world’s largest elephant concentration.
The Okovango Delta is also a mainstream tourist point purely because the wildlife is gorgeous. Need I mention the almost lifeless Makgadikdadi Pans that are as wide as Portugal and freckled with dried up islands has-beens are absolutely stunning? Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and Co. seems a tad uncouth crossing that beauty on a skinned 2WD and quads. While that sounds fun and cool though, the Vice President of Botswana himself rolls in on these pans as I would, on a paratrike, no less. Land, air, or water, the traveller will choose their pleasure. Climb an elephant, walk the safari, float along the river, bike through the reserves, or adrift a hot-air balloon. The choices are unique and endless.
This is Botswana’s attempt to diversify tourism that is opening doors to travellers of all sorts and fancies. Not only is Botswana big and capable enough for such a program, but it is deemed necessary for conservation of these natural wonders to reroute the dense tourism trail and veer them towards places that are equally fascinating. Botswana has very stringent tourism policies that are conservation-driven and they do benchmark quite the best practices, making sure rural communities generate revenue and employment. Practically all kinds of sports can be enjoyed in Botswana now.
Instead of Chobe, check out the Central Kalahari Reserve, Gemsbok, or the SAFDICO Diamond Technology Park and Zebra Sanctuary in Gaborone (that’s hitting two birds with one stone!) Gaborone, is bluntly talked about, or totally lost in guidebooks really. The great thing about Botswana is they realize that pace of development need not be always fast. They take time for their red bush tea, which brings me to…Botswanan cuisine.
Steak and chips, ribs with sauce, pizzas…these all sound enticing, but you don’t want to come here for that. To experience a country’s authentic cuisine, it is of ultimate and valuable suggestion to require oneself to be invited to a home-made dinner. The seswaa will blow your mind literally. It is cooked for 2.5 hours or so until it shreds and falls off the bone. It’s quite salty hence, pap or ugali, a maize meal, a major crop in these parts, that’s like a stiff white porridge is served to balance flavours, add tomato-onion gravy and cooked cabbage or morogo (African spinach).
Meat and vegetable stews that are as sophisticated as their traditional clothes, are universal to the cuisine of Batswanas, and they do in fact raise high-quality beef, and other meats, but this is for the mundane. Not for the faint of heart, there are giraffe, buffalo, crocodile and, especially worms (mopane) – a favourite of locals and as I saw, the Bushmen. Eat it raw or stir-fry it with cabbage. While the magwinya or “fat cakes” are a good doppelganger to a Dunkin Donuts munchkin, fresh fruits will be served and eaten. Right now, I’d simply give anything for vetkoek.
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