On 30th September 2016, Botswana celebrates 50 years of independence. Botswana is known as one of the premier safari destinations in southern Africa, for its exclusive ‘true-wilderness’ camps and mobile safaris. It doesn’t have quite the volume of for game as does East Africa, but in line with that, Botswana also has lower tourist numbers than the East African destinations.
We at Ashworth Africa love Botswana for the unparalleled game viewing experiences on offer, including in the Okavango Delta, inscribed as the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. Here are 50 Botswana fun facts in line with its 50 years.
1. Its national bird is the Kori Bustard.
The meat of the Kori bustard was considered to only be fit for the tribal chiefs – and hence its designation as the national bird
2. There are 2.021 million people in the country
3. But the country at 581,730 km2 is approximately the size of France (which has 66.7 million people) making Botswana one of the most sparsely populated nations in the world.
4. Deciphering its national flag:
The blue of the flag represents water and rain, which mean prosperity in this mainly arid country and the black represents black Batswana and the white represents white Batswana – and together the flag depicts racial harmony and peace.
5. And it’s not surprising that with these colours, Botswana’s national animal is the zebra.
6. The mean annual rainfall varies from a maximum of over 650mm in the extreme northeast area of the Chobe District to a minimum of less than 250mm in the extreme southwest part of Kgalagadi District. Rain is a rarity in this semi-arid nation.
7. That is why ‘Pula’ which means rain, is something the people are obsessed with. Pula is the name for its currency and also what people say instead of ‘Cheers’ when toasting a drink.
8. Its people are called Batswana (when referred to collectively) and Motswana (single).
9. Setswana is the common unifying language.
10. There are 8 main ethnic tribes with the Tswana making up 79% of the population.
11. Sorghum or corn meal porridge is the staple of most Botswana meals. People wake in the morning to a thinner version of the porridge, sometimes enriched with soured milk and/or sugar, and tea.
12. The national anthem is “Lefatshe la Rona,” (“Our Country”), and its title captures the strong attachment most Batswana feel to the land and its resources.
13. Fifty percent of Tswana households are headed by women. But the villages are ‘ruled’ by the chiefs, sub chiefs and beneath that, the headmen.
14. The central point of Tswana village life is the ‘kgotla’ (pronounced “hotla”) , an open-air chief’s court and community forum. Many Batswana look upon the nature of kgotla debates, and the hearing of disparate opinions within them, as underpinning Botswana’s successful constitutional democracy. It should be remembered, though, that the dikgosi were able to manipulate support through their great wealth and political power, that they declared many regulations without widespread support, and that only the voices of adult men were formerly admitted in kgotla. Indeed, in many dikgotla, ethnic minority groups were not allowed to speak, or their voices were significantly discounted. Furthermore, the emphasis on consensus at the end of debates meant that open disagreement was not tolerated—the illusion of homogeneity and consensus being created only through the silencing of difference and the exclusion of many possible voices. Today the chiefs represent both a politics based on familiarity (in the sense both of kinship, and of personal knowledge of lives lived in proximity) and a morality of consensus.
15. It is polite to address senior men as Rra and women as Mma (literally, father and mother).
16. “Dumela!” is hello.
17. Perhaps the most important fact in regard to Botswana’s Independence, was not that Botswana was colonised, but that it was a British protectorate.
18. Throughout the nineteenth century Tswana polities were drawn into trade, Christianity, and the migrant labor economy centered in South Africa, while defending themselves against incursions from the north, east, and south. In 1885 the British declared the area the a protectorate, and in a famous visit to Britain in 1895, three of the Tswana chiefs petitioned to remain under the British instead of being governed by the British South Africa Company.
19. During this period, of 80 years, it was known as Bechuanaland Protectorate.
20. Botswana’s current president Ian Khama was the son of Botswana’s first-ever president, Sir Seretse Khama.
21. Ian Khama’s mother was an Englishwoman. Her name was Ruth Williams. President Ian Khama lived in England when he was a child. (His parents had been exiled there due to his parents cross-racial marriage.
22. Ian Khama is the descendent of one of the most powerful tribal chiefs who had strong support from the British government and kept his vast lands independent from intruders from South Africa. Sir Seretse Khama, Ian Khama’s father, was meant to assume the chieftainship after he returned from his law studies overseas in Britain. However his marriage to Ruth during this period, caused a huge split in opinion and much rioting, as Seretse Khama was deemed a servant of the people; the chieftaincy itself was at stake – and so could not marry as he pleased.
23. Seretse and Ruth were allowed to return to the Protectorate and upon his return Seretse Khama saw his destiny not as chief of the tribe, but rather as leader of the Botswana Democratic Party and as President of the soon-to-be independent nation of Botswana in 1966.
24. Botswana is topographically flat.
25. However the country has a relatively high average altitude spread between 900 and 1,400 metres above sea level – this makes for superb stargazing.
26. Botswana is completely land-locked, and surrounded by South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabe.
27. The Border between Botswana and Zambia is only 150 meters which makes it the shortest border in the world.
28. Its GDP per capita of about $18,825 per year as of 2015, makes it one of the highest in Africa.
29. Mining (mostly diamonds) accounts for a large percentage of its GDP, followed by cattle and then tourism.
30. Beef is exported, primarily to the European Union (EU) through the Lomé Conventions, designed by the EU to promote trade and development in third-world countries.
31. Botswana saw 274,701 individuals enter the country in 2014 for tourism.
32. Eco-tourism contributes to over 12% of overall GDP
33. The Lesedi La Rona diamond, at 222g, is the second-largest gem-quality diamond ever found, which was found in Botswana in 2015.
34. Botswana is the world’s biggest diamond producing country in terms of value and the second biggest in terms of production.
35. Botswana produces about 17,7% of the world’s diamonds.
36. 45% of the country has been set aside as national parks and wildlife reserve.
37. The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world at 15,000 sq km.
38. None of the water in the Okavango Delta reaches the sea – the large majority of it is either evaporated or transpired, with a remaining 2% estimated to discharge into Lake Ngami.
39. The Makgadikgadi Pans are the largest salt pans in the world with an area of about 12 000 sq km.
40. The site of Baines’ Baobabs is famous for being painted by explorer Thomas Baines in the 1860s, and the ancient baobabs look virtually unchanged when one visits today. The baobabs sit within Nxai Pan National Park, part of the great Makgadikgadi complex.
41. The Central Kalahari game Reserve (CKGR) is the second largest wildlife reserve in the world, encompassing 52 800 sq km.
42. 70% of Botswana is covered by the very fine Kalahari sands, which make game drives pretty interesting due to the very nature of the tracks.
43. 147 species of mammals have been recorded in Botswana.
44. Botswana is home to the world’s biggest concentration of African elephants (estimated at 154,000 in 2012)
45. The highest concentration of these elephants are found in Chobe National Park, estimated at 50,000 elephants.
46. Botswana is home to the Africa’s longest land mammal migration. The migration of Plains (or Burchell’s) Zebra, Botswana’s national animal, stretches a distance of more than 300 miles round trip.
The zebra complete the first half of the trip over two to three weeks in November and December, in search of fresh grazing to Nxai Pan National Park. The zebra remain here for an average of 10 weeks before they return to the Chobe River along the Namibia/Botswana border for the dry season.
47. 593 bird species have been recorded – most of which are waterbirds found in the Okavango Delta.
48. One commonly photographed flying friend is the lilac-breasted roller, known for its multi-coloured plumage.
49. The Kori bustard (national bird) is the heaviest bird in the world that can fly (up to 22kg recorded).
50. Some useful words in Setswana for your safari: Tau (Lion), Nkwe (Leopard), Letotsi (Cheetah), Piri (Hyena), Tlou (Elephant), Kubu (Hippo).
Contact Ashworth Africa to plan your tailor-made safari through Botswana.