I attended the US-Africa Business Summit in July in Botswana, a country I have lived in in my youth, as a bachelor and then as a parent to boot.
The kids were born in the country’s new and first private hospital, GPH, efficient and chic, way back in the 1990s.
The conference center is equally so today – sparkling, purpose-driven, punctuated by smart cops along the brand-new roads leading there. A hallmark of Botswana. No wastage. Elegantly done at just the right time.
I left Botswana 25 years ago and have traveled the globe a bit. A journey that made me understand geopolitics and see its hypocrisies. Yet, this Kalahari country of my youth quietly got so many things right: control over its primary resources, universal free health, education, buffering cattle farmers from market volatilities, infrastructure, institution building, respect for the law, clean elections, conservatism, and a policy-driven government staying true to its manifesto.
A case study on getting things done.
Yet, many of my old friends, prosperous and welcomed as they have been in their adopted country, remain critical.
I dare say I left them unmoved. Familiarity breeds contempt?
But if the country still had many flaws, diamonds too need imperfections to shine.
The weather that week was the quintessential Kalahari winter I had long forgotten. Cold and crisp in the shade and warm in the sun, dry in its core but embracing in its reach; epitomizing the Motswana spirit.
‘What you see is what you get.’ A GDP (Purchasing Power Parity) per capita of about $20,000, Africa’s best credit rating, and a literacy rate of about 90%. The country has shown what planning and execution can achieve in only five decades.
I have a special bond with it.
1966 is my birth year and the year of Botswana’s independence.
At that time, one of the poorest – with a GDP per capita of about $70 per year – landlocked and two-thirds desert, it has transformed itself from being hopeless to a developed country today.
The country’s tale of self-rule is intertwined with that of white supremacy to prevent a marriage between an African chieftain destined to be the first President and his white British fiancée. They overcame it against all odds while maintaining peace with an unapologetic British government and an apartheid neighbor, South Africa.
It is a story of love and self-belief.
And above all, supreme diplomacy from a rustic but wise nation to forge a modern nation. Indeed, a testament to the rural fabric of fortitude and patience.
If indeed a country’s future lies in its history, this country’s common sense is its foundation.
While there, my evenings were laced with nostalgic dinners. Soaked in old stories, revealed, regaled, and rekindled.
Touchingly, those lovely people of Gaborone, the country’s capital, served up my favorite cravings and my special indulgences. Bonded with love and tied with memories.
Humane but often elusive. Serene indeed to see people from yesteryears making time for you. The President is an imposing figure with conviction; he’s articulate and clearly visualizes a thriving, peaceful Botswana.
And indeed, he is so comfortable as an African thought leader.
I recalled the days of a ‘quiet’ Botswana.
Now, their charismatic leader espouses African collaboration, instilling hope, and embracing the wisdom that deliverance for Africa must come from ‘us, the people’.
He reiterates the enormous possibilities, the need to share knowledge within Africa and the necessity of collective bargaining.
The miracle that the continent survives despite the incessant barrage of exogenous influences should embolden us for greater things, not derail us.
I bow to Botswana, the cradle to my young impressionable days where the seeds of inspiration were sown in me.
I learned the joys of networking, collaborating, and understanding different cultures in this little unheralded town.
I learned humility was a tool, humanity a constant and hubris a disease. For prosperity, peace, and progress. In a continent of discontent, Botswana is that beacon of hope and tranquility. May it drive the destiny of Africa. A harbinger of greatness and a poster boy of solidity in the maligned and exploited continent of Africa. Thank you, Botswana, as you seek your rightful place among the great nations of this world.