How has Botswana’s political stability aided its ability to overcome the resource curse?

Firstly, what is the ‘Resource Curse’?

According to the Natural Resource Governance Institute, it is defined as ‘the failure of many resource-rich countries to benefit fully from their natural resource wealth, and for governments in these countries to respond effectively to public welfare needs’(i). This is a clear paradox, as a country with a resource that has high economic value is expected to develop quickly due to its resource wealth. However, the discovery of a single resource in abundance often leads to economic instability, corruption and stagnated growth.

Botswana was seen as a prime candidate to fall victim to the resource curse, as it has abundant amounts of one valuable resource; diamonds. Botswana even produced the third highest amount of diamonds worldwide in 2018 at 24.4 million carats.(ii)

When Botswana first discovered diamonds in 1966 it was an extremely poor country, according to ‘Why Nations Fail’, with only ’12 kilometres of paved roads, twenty-two citizens who had graduated from university, and one hundred from secondary school’. However, 52 years later, in 2018, the country had a GDP per capita of $8,259 and a life expectancy of 68.8 (2017) (iii). This has led to it being hailed as ‘one of the world’s great development success stories’ (iv).

Furthermore, when compared to countries starting in a similar position, the magnitude of this feat becomes clear. For example, Sierra Leone discovered diamonds in 1930 and gained independence in 1960, similar to Botswana, giving it the authority to fully harness the economic opportunity of the resource. However, in the same time that Botswana has developed into a middle-income country, Sierra Leone has faced five coups, a one-party state, a civil war and an Ebola outbreak (v).

Botswana’s unique political situation has aided, along with many other factors, its ability to overcome the resource curse.

The country found itself in a very fortunate position upon the discovery of its diamonds and the subsequent production in 1966. In June of that year, Britain had granted Botswana status as a self-governing nation and on September 30th, Sir Seretse Khama was elected as the first President. This ended a period of colonisation and gave the power back to the people of Botswana, giving them the responsibility of governing their own nation. What followed was the longest-running democracy in all of Africa, still continuing today.

Parliamentary elections were held in 1969, and Sir Seretse Khama’s party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), gained a majority of 24 out of 31 seats (vi). The BDP has held this majority until this day; recently in the 2019 elections it gained 38 out of 57 seats, and this majority is key to Botswana’s political stability. It has allowed Botswana to develop alongside its diamonds, as the government could plan for the long-term, instead of suffering from a series of booms and busts common in countries with a high rate of government turnover. Secondly, as the party holds such a strong majority, they do not have to act with the sole aim of re-election, which can lead to government failure, but instead for the long-term development of the country.

Botswana has one particularly interesting and unique aspect that makes its government much more stable. This is the ‘Ntlo ya Dikgosi’ which is Tswana for ‘House of Chiefs’. The House was created in 1920 and was originally called the ‘Native Advisory Council’, made up of Dikgosi, or ‘Chiefs’. By 1966, it comprised of eight ex-officio members performing the functions of the office of the Chief: Bakgatla, Bakwena, Balete, Bangwato, Bangwaketse, Barolong, Batawana and Batlokwa tribes, four elected members, three ‘Specially Members’ elected by the ex-officio members and the elected Members. (vii) The body acts only as an advisory board to the parliament, but all deals concerning tribal culture must go through it first before discussion in the National Assembly.

However, the power of this council can be debated, as ‘The Journal of Modern African Studies’ states, as under colonial British rule Chiefs had the jurisdiction to regulate themselves and tribal laws. Then, under the newly elected government, the ‘Chieftainship Act of 1966’ was brought in making the Chiefs subject to the state and under the ‘the Local Government Act, the Local Government Tax act and the Matimela Act of 1968,’ the responsibility for health, education, tax and public works was transferred from Chiefs to District Councils.(viii)

Although their power is limited, it does immediately help to overcome a problem of governments not being accountable to their people due to government spending not relying on tax revenue from the people, instead of income earned in diamond production and trade.

This is just one aspect that has aided the ability to overcome the resource curse but shines a light on the unique development of Botswana.

Elizabeth (Year 13)

(i) NRGI. (2015). The Resource Curse. Available: Last accessed 5th Jan 2020.
(ii) Gardside, M. (2019). Diamond Production in Botswana 2004-2018.Available: Last accessed 5th Jan 2020.
(iii) The World Bank. (2018). Data. Available: Last accessed 5th Jan 2020.
(iv) World Bank. (2012). Botswana: Country Brief. Available: Last accessed 7th Jan 2020.
(v) Wikipedia. (2020). Sierra Leone. Available: Last accessed 27th Jan 2020.
(vi) Political Science. (2014). Botswana (1966-present). Available: Last accessed 6th Jan 2020.
(vii) Parliament of Botswana. (2017). Evolution of the House of Chiefs. Available: Last accessed 26th Jan 2020.
(viii) Jones, D. (1983). Traditional Authority and State Administration in Botswana. The Journal of Modern African Studies. 21 (1), 133-139.

Photo credit:
16th June 1977: Seretse Khama (1921 – 1980), President of Botswana, speaking at the Royal Commonwealth Institute. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)