OBBO: Botswana doesn’t fit into many African stereotypes

Tuesday September 3 2019

A construction site of the Central Business District (CBD) in the capital Gaborone, Botswana, on September 21, 2018.

A car drives past a construction site of the Central Business District (CBD) in the capital Gaborone, Botswana, on September 21, 2018. Botswana is one of Africa’s most honest, democratic, and wealthiest nations. PHOTO | REUTERS 

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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It’s been so long I can’t remember when I was last in Botswana – one of Africa’s most honest, democratic, and wealthiest nations.

Honest it might be, but I was reminded of this visit that there is no land that is full of angels. If you don’t guard the taxpayers’ wealth, it will be stolen. Botswana has a relatively feisty Office of the Ombudsman.

A country of about 2.3 million, the capital Gaborone has under 230,000 people. You can throw a feast for the capital in the main stadium and feed all its residents on one day. You don’t have those Kampala, Dar es Salaam, or Nairobi insane traffic jams.

I didn’t do our “Morning Jogger’s Dipstick Index” on Gaborone, but we have since developed other tests for trying to make sense of an African city.

There is the “Monuments and Statues Text”. When you walk around an Africa city, its history sometimes reveals itself in monuments and statues. There are often some to do with the sacrifice made by brave souls; remembering the people slaughtered by a cruel military ruler or killed in genocide and massacres; and the resistance hero, hands in cuffs or rope around the neck, who was lynched by vengeful colonialists.

Gaborone has its monuments, but none pay homage to the extreme. Botswana didn’t and hasn’t spilt much blood. Right now, the most exciting story is of the former president Ian Khama, sparring with his successor Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi.

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The popular version is that when Khama backed Masisi, they cut a deal that the former would continue to be the power behind the throne. Once Masisi had the thing in his pocket, he became his own man, and stopped taking Ian Khama’s calls.

Things have now got to a point where the former president has thrown his weight behind the opposition in the October 2019 elections, seriously threatening Masisi. We will return to this intriguing tale in future.

And now, the “African Natural Hair Index”. If you go to an African city, to a place where the middle class is congregated, how many women will be wearing natural hair, with varying level of expression (mild, strong, radical)?

In Nairobi, you can have a situation where 95 per cent are making natural hair statements.

In Uganda, you begin to operate in the 85 per cent window.

Natural hair is the anthem for many things, including a new feminism. But it also signals how much a country is into the global Afrotopia revanche; how much it’s into anti-colourism; how much they can’t wait to take down white privilege; how deep they are into black cultural triumphantilism; and so forth.

I saw only one woman in strong natural hair. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising. This is a gentle land.

Many years ago, a relative worked in Botswana. His office was near the president’s. There was a café with a popular news and magazine stand, not too far away across the road. It was not usual, he says, for him to cross to the café to pick up his newspaper and find that the president had walked from his office and was standing at the till ahead of him, paying for the coffee and magazines he had picked up.

It has only changed a little since.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is curator of the Wall of Great Africans and publisher of explainer site Roguechiefs.com; [email protected]

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