Botswana: Why Is The Biggest Diamond-Producing Country In The World Poor?

The second president of the newly independent Botswana, Sir Ketumile Masire, was known for saying, “When we asked for independence, people thought we were either very brave or very foolish.” In 1966, the African nation gained independence after years of British rule, and the future seemed uncertain with little potential for economic growth. An agrarian society, its macroclimate was predisposed to droughts that led to famines, poverty, and disease

Yet, just a few years after its independence, diamonds were discovered. Botswana soon became the home base of the famous De Beers – one of the world’s top diamond companies. To date, Jwaneng diamond mine in South-Central Botswana is the richest diamond mine on the planet. Botswana’s prospects were set to change. Or was it?

Despite the diamond boom that has fortified some aspects of the economy, considerable amounts of poverty and inequality persist throughout the country. According to the Borgen Project, in some rural areas, the poverty rate is as high as 46 per cent and unemployment for the country is at 20 per cent.

The World Bank reported that the highest poverty pockets are still found in the more remote regions, and that children under 15 years of age represented 46.2 per cent of the poor in 2009/10. It also stated that larger households with more children have a tendency for higher rates of poverty. Furthermore, since Botswana has some of the highest HIV/AIDS statistics, and a sizeable number of single-parent families, they are more likely to be poor due to only having one source of income.

The 2018 Global Hunger Index gives Botswana a score of 25.5, which indicates that it suffers from a level of hunger that is considered to be “serious”. This is highlighted with the Botswana School Feeding Program, where children have meals provided to them whilst at school. During the weekends or holidays, however, many children can go without food.

Young people tend to face higher rates of unemployment. Around 51 per cent of unemployment comes from those who are between the ages of 15 and 24. This has been a result of the fact that the skills being taught at schools do not often align with the careers on the job market. As such, it has led to a significant increase in unemployment levels amongst graduates.

There also is a great disparity with the distribution of livestock. In rural communities, oftentimes, the only jobs that are available are agriculture ones. It is estimated that almost half of the farmers do not own cattle, and the ones who do, own just very small herds. As a result, the poorest 71 per cent of traditional farmers own only about eight percent of total traditional herds, while the richest 2.5 percent own about 40 percent. And around 10 per cent of farming households own 60 percent of the 2.3 million cattle in the country. What this means is that the entire system is being further bolstered by an uneven distribution of wealth which fosters the rich getting richer, while the poor remain poor.

Michigan State University identified inadequate levels of social safety nets; inequitable distribution of power and assets in households; over-reliance on the government to provide economic resources and social services; high population growth rates; and the remoteness of many communities as further factors of poverty. Harsh climatic conditions leading to low agricultural production, as well as cultural beliefs and practices which relegate women to a subordinate position,  can also be blamed. Women, in particular, also struggle to enter the job market due to social barriers and lack of education and as such, comprise of only around 36 percent of formal sector employees.

While there may be various reasons for Botswana’s widespread poverty, the government has proposed to tackle some of the issues with the Vision 2036 project. Backed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the aim is to be a high-income nation by 2036 with an end goal that could mean that no one would be below the poverty line. Yet, whether the project comes into fruition or not and succeeds in its endeavour, only time will tell.