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The Republic of Botswana lies as a landlocked country in the south of the African continent and is with an area of 600 350 km² approximately as large as France. Botswana borders Namibia to the west and north, Zambia and Zimbabwe to the northeast, and South Africa to the southeast and south.
Approximately 80% of the total land area is occupied by the Kalahari arid zone, which is between 900 and 1 100 metres above sea level on average. The Kalahari is a sand-filled basin bounded by ridges of hills to the west and east. The sand layer is sometimes only a few metres thick, but in some places up to 200 metres thick. The southwest of the Kalahari is characterized by dune fields.
In the north of Botswana is the Okawangobecken: The Okawango coming from Angola forms here with its numerous tributaries an extensive inland delta. The marshland, which covers an area of around 14,000 km², is one of the largest untouched wetlands in the world. At high tide, the Makgadikgadi salt pan, which is located further to the north-east and has no outflow, is also filled with water and covers about 6,500 km². All year round water-bearing rivers are the Okawango and the border rivers Chobe in the north and Limpopo in the southeast. Most of Botswana’s rivers carry water only irregularly.
The capital Gaborone lies in the southeast of the country in the border area to South Africa.
Botswana’s climate is continental and semi-arid to arid. In the Kalahari there are large temperature differences (from 40 °C to below freezing). In Gaborone in the southeast of the country, an average of 25 °C is measured in the summer month of January and 15 °C in July. Average annual rainfall is around 650 mm in the north of the country and around 250 mm in the southwest. During the hot summer months most of the rain falls in the form of thunderstorms, so that the humidity evaporates quickly. In addition, the rain seeps away quickly into the permeable soils. The result is recurring droughts.
Flora and Fauna
The Kalahari is a dry savannah with bushes, grasses and thorn bushes. To the north and east, the savannah turns into dry forests that drop leaves. In the marsh area of the Okawangodelta, both the flora and fauna are very species-rich.
Papyrus, reeds, palms, precious woods and a multitude of flowers grow here. In the Okawangobasin and in the eight national parks there are still large populations of mammals such as elephants, buffalos, rhinos, antelopes, lions, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes and zebras. The birdlife in the marshes alone has more than 540 species. These include ospreys, cormorants, ibises and cranes. A large number of aquatic animals find an ideal habitat in the untouched swamps.
Around 1.8 million people live in Botswana; with an average of three inhabitants per square kilometre, the country is one of the most sparsely populated states in the world. About one third of the population lives in cities, the largest of which is the capital Gaborone with about 187 000 inhabitants. Other large cities are Francistown (83 000 inhabitants), Molepolole (55 000) and Selebi-Phikwe (50 000).
Around 95% of Botswana’s population is Bantu-speaking. 75% of the total population are Tswana, whose largest tribes are the Bamangwato and Bakwena. 12% belong to the Bantu people of the Shona. The remaining population is composed of San, Khoi-Khoi, Ndbele, whites, Indians and hybrids.
About half of the population adheres to the Christian faith, which is often linked to indigenous religious practices. Muslims and Hindus are religious minorities. The official languages are Setswana and English.
Social and health services in Botswana are poorly developed and, especially in rural areas, totally inadequate. Average life expectancy is 50 years. Population growth at the end of the 1990s was 2%, but is declining sharply: one in four adult residents is infected with HIV, the pathogen that causes the immunodeficiency disease AIDS. Almost 40% of the population is under the age of 15. The illiteracy rate is around 20%.
According to the constitution of 1966, Botswana is a presidential republic. The head of state is the president, who is elected by parliament for a term of five years (since April 2008 Seretse Ian Khama). He is also head of the government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President of the Republic appoints the ministers, their representatives and the Vice-President and has the right of veto on all bills.
The Parliament consists of two chambers: the National Assembly with 63 seats (57 of which are directly elected by the people every five years, four are appointed by the President and two are ex officio) and the House of Chiefs with 15 members. These are composed of the chiefs of the eight Tswana tribes, four elected subchiefs of the Chobe, Francistown, Ghanzi and Kgalagadi districts, and three specially elected members. Tribal bills must be submitted to the House of Chiefs, which is an advisory body.
Since achieving independence in 1966, the dominant political party has been the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The strongest opposition parties are the Botswana National Front (BNF) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP). Botswana is divided into nine districts.
When independence was achieved in 1966, Botswana was initially dependent on British subsidies. Since the 1970s, the discovery and extraction of mineral resources such as diamonds, copper, nickel and coal have led to an enormous economic upturn. Livestock breeding was also expanded for the export market (in the early 1990s Botswana was one of the leading meat suppliers in Africa). Despite economic crises such as the drought of the century in 1991/92, which led to a 50% reduction in livestock numbers, the country is characterized by high political stability and growth rates. Botswana is one of the more prosperous countries in Africa, but there is a large income gap (estimated 30% of the population live below the poverty line) and high unemployment (17.6% according to official figures, estimated slightly higher). In addition, the population of Botswana has one of the highest levels of HIV infection in the world, the cause of the immunodeficiency disease AIDS, which also endangers the country’s continued positive economic development.
About 20% of the population work in agriculture, which accounts for 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Only just under 5 % of the national territory can be used for arable farming; millet, maize and legumes are the main crops cultivated. Livestock breeding (especially cattle) plays a far more important role. To meet the food needs of the population, food must be imported.
Mining is the backbone of Botswana’s economy. In addition to diamonds, coal, copper and nickel are mined. Proceeds from diamond trade account for more than 30% of total government revenues. In 2007, uranium deposits were found in the north-east of the country, which could lead to further diversification of the Botswana economy. Tourism is another strong pillar of the economy. It provides the African state with the necessary foreign exchange income.
The industry is only moderately developed and concentrates on the processing of agricultural products (slaughterhouses, breweries). There are also textile and shoe factories. As regards exports (diamonds, copper, nickel, sodium carbon, meat and textiles), the EU countries are the most important trading partners, while South Africa accounts for three quarters of imports (fuel, machinery and food).
The capital, Gaborone, has an international airport. The rail link between South Africa and Zimbabwe runs through the east of the country. Currency is the Pula (= 100 Thebe).