Botswana is roughly the size of France at 581 730 km² and was known as Bechuanaland until 1966. Botswana is a landlocked country, in the centre of southern Africa, bordered by Zimbabwe in the East, South Africa in the South and Southeast, Namibia in the West and North, as well as Zambia in the North.
Botswana is well known for its undisturbed wilderness, wild life and political stability.
80% of Botswana consists of the Kalahari, a sand filled basin formed millions of years ago.
Botswana is generally a very flat land, with an average elevation of 1000 m above sea level.
In the northwest the Okavango River, originating in Angola and traversing Namibia, forms the Okavango Delta, covering an area of 15 000 km², a vast wetland, well-known for its great diversity of fauna and flora. In rare occasions and after exceptional good rainy seasons the Delta spills water into the Boteti River, feeding the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Other important rivers are the Chobe and the Limpopo rivers on the northern and southern borders respectively. These are also the main water resources of Botswana, generally a very arid country.
Botswana’s capital is Gaborone, with a population of 250 000, and situated in the southeast close to the border with South Africa.
The San (Bushmen) and the Khoi were the earliest inhabitants of Botswana. About 40 000 descendants still live in the country.
During the 3rd century AD the Bantu people, cattle breeders and craftsmen, migrated from central Africa to Botswana.
The Bantu group known as the Tswana migrated from present-day South Africa sometime in the 14th century to colonise the country’s south-eastern parts. Today they form Botswana’s largest population group.
Early Christian missionaries arrived in 1817, and the first white settlers followed soon thereafter. From the late 1820s the Boers from the Cape Colony entered Botswana and claimed land for themselves. The people of Botswana were then informed that they now are subjects of the South African Republic.
The Tswana leaders Sechele I and Mosielele refused to accept the white rule and requested protection from the British Empire.
1885 Botswana was proclaimed as the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland.
The British South Africa Company (BSAC) of Cecil John Rhodes became a new threat to the Tswana Chiefs.
Again Botswana sent a delegation under the leadership of Chief’s Bathoen, Khama III and Sebele to Britain to appeal directly to colonial Minister Joseph Chaimberlain for continued government control but their pleas were ignored.
At this stage, the chiefs grudgingly accepted that Christianity and Western technology would affect their rites and traditions.
In 1924 South Africa began pressing for Bechuanaland’s amalgamation into the Union of South Africa. When the Tswana chiefs refused, economic sanctions were imposed on the country.
As heir to the Ngwato chieftainship Seretse Khama studied law in Britain after World War II. Here he met Ruth Williams and got married to her in September 1948. This breach of tribal custom infuriated the entire tribe and Seretse Khama was exiled in Britain.
In 1956 after renouncing his right to power, he was permitted to return to Botswana with his wife and set up residence.
1960 the “Bechuanaland People’s Party” (BPP) was formed.
The more moderate “Bechuanaland Democratic Party” (BDP) under the leadership of Seretse Khama and Ketumile “Quett” Masire was formed.
The first general elections were held in 1965 and on 30 September 1966 the country, now called the Republic of Botswana, peacefully gained its independence with Seretse Khama as president.
As a land-locked country, Botswana depended greatly on the economy and transportation services of its neighbouring country South Africa.
The discovery of diamonds near Orapa in 1967, as well as the mining of coal and copper economically transformed Botswana and brought wealth to the country and it became less dependent on South Africa.
1976 the Pula, Botswana’s own currency was introduced.
Despite many economical crises Botswana remained a politically stable country.
Sir Seretse Khama remained Botswana’s president until he died in 1980.
Dr Quett Masire succeeded him and retired in from this post in 1998.
Festus Mogae took the helm in March 1998, and was Botswana’s president until April 2008.
He was followed by Seretse Khama Ian Khama, son of Sir Seretse Khama.
Population and People:
The population is about 2million, one of the lowest population densities in Africa, roughly 2 people per square kilometre.
Botswana has one of the world’s most predominantly urban societies. The highest population density is found in the southeastern parts of the country between Francistown and Lobatse.
About 60% claim Tswana heritage. Other groups include the Herero, Mbukushu, Yei, San, Kalana and Kgalagadi, who live mainly in the west and northwest of the country.
A small number of Europeans and Asians live mainly in Gaborone, Maun and Francistown.
In the 1990s the population growth was about 2% but with a downward trend.
English is the official language of Botswana and the medium of instruction from the fifth year of primary school. The most widely spoken language, however, is Setswana, which is the first language of over 90% of the people.
Botswana experiences extremes in both temperatures and weather.
The rainy season is between September and April, but mostly it only starts raining in December through to February. The rains are mostly very intense during these months. The average rainfall is about 450mm per year, when the highest rainfall can be to 650mm in the northeast and as low as 250mm in the southwest.
From October to March temperatures soar up to 44°C, the average being 35°C to 40°C during midday. Night temperatures seldom fall below 26°C.
During winter daytime temperatures are about 27°C, lowering to about 6°C at night. Occasionally it drops below freezing point.
Botswana’s national parks are among Africa’s wildest, characterised by open spaces, where nature still reigns supreme, and although they support a few private safari concessions, there is very little infrastructure and few amenities.
Over 17 % of the country has been set a-side as game reserves and national parks.
The major parks include the Central Kalahari Park (52 800 km²), Chobe National Park (10 689 km²), Moremi Park (4871 km²), Khutse Park (2590 km²), Kgalagadi Transforntier Park, Makgadikgadi (4900 km²) and Nxai Pan National Park (2578 km²).
The Tuli Game Park is made up of several private game and nature parks.
The Chobe National Park is well known for its high concentration of game at the Chobe River in the dry season, especially for its abundance of elephants, for its huge herds of buffalo, the Chobe bushbuck and the Puku.
However, the game is not confined to this area, as artificial waterholes keep the game in the Savuti area as well. This area is especially known for spectacular sightings of elephant, lion, and hyena and for its magnificent scenery.
The Moremi Park forms an intricate part of the Okavango delta, comprising permanently swamped areas, seasonally swamped areas and dry land. It is probably the prime tourist destination in Botswana.
Moremi is a prime wildlife area where elephant, hippo, buffalo, lion and antelopes can be seen in abundance.
Wildlife management areas where utilization is strictly controlled surround Moremi Game Reserve.
Activities offered in the park and surrounding wildlife management areas include game viewing, boat trips, fishing and mokoro trips in incredible scenery.
The bird life in the Delta as well as in the savannah dry lands is diverse and abundant and up to 540 species has been recorded.
Aided by stable politics and vast natural resources, Botswana has experienced fast growing economic rates (between 11% and 13%).
Mineral resources, especially diamonds mined at Orapa, Jwaneng and Letlhakane accumulates the main income. At Selebi-Phikwe copper and nickel are mined, gold around Francistown, a little coal near Palapye, and soda ash and salt are extracted from the Sua Pan.
Tourism is highly significant as an earner of foreign revenue. Because of the vast unspoiled wilderness Botswana ranks among the prime tourist destinations in Africa.
17% of its total surface is put aside for game reserves and parks, and a policy of high-cost low-volume is applied.
The next biggest industry is the beef industry. The biggest beef-processing plant is found at Lobatse. Despite severe drought and diseases, this is still one of the most import revenue earners, as much of the beef is exported to the EU.
Other agricultural products are sheep, goats, fish, ostrich, crocodile, maize, sorghum, beans, peanuts and cottonseed, mainly used locally.
About two third of the population are employed in the agriculture sector.
Although Botswana is one of Africa’s wealthiest countries, a big gap between high and low income exists, as well as a high rate of unemployment is experienced.
Due to the low population rate infrastructure in Botswana is limited.
18 000 km of road of which about 4 000 km are tarred do exist in Botswana.
The only railway line in the country is in the eastern part, from Ramatlabana in South Africa to Ramokgwebana at the boarder to Zimbabwe. This once formed part of the Johannesburg – Bulawayo route.
Well-equipped airports are found at Gaborone, Francistown, Maun and Kasane.
Most of the lodges, camps and tourist attractions are only reachable by charter flights.
Many of the far off villages are extremely difficult to reach.
Generally, all visitors must have a valid passport. Most visitors from Commonwealth and European countries do not need a visa. Before travelling we advise you to check the latest entry requirements with your travel agent or local authorities.
Yellow fever certificates are only required if you enter Botswana from a yellow fever country.
In Botswana malaria is wide spread and do we strongly recommend travellers to take the necessary precautions.
The Pula is Botswana’s unit of currency. Most hotels, lodges, camps, air charter companies and safari operators accept US Dollar and the Euro, as well as most credit cards.
What to pack:
Take light, loose-fitting clothing. Earthy tones are important for walking safaris in order to blend in with the surroundings. As it can get very cold at night in winter, warmer clothes are essential.
Other important items that you would need: hat, sunglasses, high-factor sunscreen, comfortable walking shoes, binoculars, camera and enough films, torch, insect repellent.
Most of the lodges and camps offer a same-day laundry.
Some books we would like to recommend:
Wild about the Okavango
Botswana – Okavango Delta * Chobe * Northern Kalahari