The politics of poverty in Botswana
PublisherBotswana Society, www.botsoc.org.bw
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For many years, Botswana has achieved both a fast growing economy and worsening inequalities. 'Botswana's annual growth in real GDP had averaged 10.9 percent in the period 1981-90, faster even than the east Asian Tigers or China' (Good and Hughes, 2002: 41). Subsequently, 'Botswana's economy recorded higher growth rates of 9.1 percent during 2000/2001 compared to 8.1 percent between 1999/2000, which was mainly attributed to the growth in the mining sector' (BIDPA Briefing, 1st Quarter, 2002: 2). GNP per head was some $3000 in 1995. 'With a total outstanding government external debt of approximately US$427 million, and a debt service ratio of only 3.9 percent in 1992 compared to an average debt service ratio of 25 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa and 21 percent in all developing countries, Botswana's debt obligations are easily manageable' (Hope, 1996: 58). Thus, Botswana has a low debt and enjoys a manageable debt service ratio. But Botswana has not generally performed positively with regard to many social indicators. It has a high unemployment level and there are currently 'not enough jobs for those seeking employment and unemployment has become a serious problem in the country' (Hope, 1997: 198). Furthermore, Botswana suffers from high inequalities and a high proportion of its population have incomes that are in adequate to meet basic needs. The poverty datum line is calculated from government surveys on household income and expenditure. Earlier studies estimated that 55 percent of families lived below the poverty datum line nationally (Jefferis, 1991) and later studies estimate that 43 percent families live under the poverty datum line nationally (UNDP, 1994; Hope, 1996). On a different note, income inequalities are severe in Botswana. 'For the period 1 980- 1 987, Botswana's income inequality index was 23 .6. However, for the period 1980-1991, the index rose to 47.4. This has earned Botswana the dubious distinction of having the highest degree of inequality in the distribution of income among all countries in the world for which statistics were available for that period' (Hope, 1996: 62). Thus, Botswana is one country that is failing when it comes to equitable distribution of income. Unfortunately, Botswana has a high HIV/AIDS incidence and has also achieved the dubious distinction of 'being the country with the highest recorded incidence of HIV infection - but not yet AIDS mortality- in the world' (PULA Editorial, 2001). Indeed, 'using information for 2000 from antenatal clinics, the overall HIV prevalence rate among those aged 15 to 49 was estimated to be 38.5 percent' (BIDPA Briefing, 1st Quarter 2002:1). HIV/AIDS is a serious threat that is likely to reverse Botswana's developmental gains and worsen socioeconomic inequalities. The HIV/AIDS information is not categorized according to social class, but the signs are that the scourge is patterned by the inequalities. The challenge of this essay is to provide a political explanation to Botswana's socioeconomic inequalities. After reviewing the sociological approaches, the essay goes on to provide a political approach that places the ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) mostly responsible for socio-economic inequalities in Botswana.