There is one country in Africa that is seldom in the news. And that’s because it’s doing nicely, thank you very much. That country is Botswana. Last October its former President, Festus Mogae, was announced as the winner of the 2008 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. Established in 2007 to recognise and celebrate excellence in African leadership, the Ibrahim Prize is the largest annually awarded prize in the world, consisting of $5 million over 10 years and $200,000 a year for life thereafter. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation also gives the winner a further $200,000 annually for 10 years towards charities supported by the Laureate.
Ex-President Mogae is the second winner of the prize started by Sudanese telecom billionaire Mo Ibrahim. In 2007, the prize went to former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano. He was a fitting winner, but I think that Mogae, who stepped down in April last year, deserves the prize more. In a continent where leaders contrive to hang on to power, presidents in Botswana hand over power without any reluctance to go. In 1998, President Quett Masire, who had assumed power on the death of President Seretse Khama in 1980, stepped down and handed over to Mogae who then passed on the baton to Ian Khama, the son of the country’s first president.
Botswana is Africa’s success story. It has clearly debunked the theory about resource curse and bad governance on the continent. Botswana has made the most out of its diamonds and its leaders have led with distinction. Not for them the skulduggery that is commonplace in African politics. Not for them the tendency to keep dipping their fingers in the till. And to crown it all, Botswana is the only African country that lends money to the International Monetary Fund. Yes, you read that correctly.
Let’s look at some figures from the World Diamond Council. When measured by value, Botswana is the biggest producer of diamonds in the world, with an estimated $3.3 billion worth of production. In Africa, Botswana is followed by Angola ($1.5 billion), South Africa ($1.5 billion), Namibia ($900 million) and the Democratic Republic of Congo ($700 million). Other African countries produce $600 million worth of diamond, making the African total over $8.5 billion. Now, this is a hell of a lot of money. And where has it all gone?
In the case of Botswana, the money has been well spent on the principals. I am talking about the people.
Don’t for one moment think that the wealth of a nation belongs to the leaders. It belongs to the people and the leaders are just the agents of the principals, to whom sovereignty belongs and who should therefore benefit from the natural resources.
Let’s forget about Saudi Arabia and Brunei, two countries were sovereignty rests with the King and Sultan respectively who more or less do what they like with their countries’ oil wealth. But in the rest of the world, sovereignty belongs to the people.
So the leaders of Botswana have ensured that they give the owners of the country’s natural resources their due. According to the World Diamond Council, when diamonds were discovered in Botswana in 1966, there were only three secondary schools; today, due to revenues from diamonds, there are more than 300.
Where children 40 years ago had no access to schooling or received lessons in the open air, they now have classrooms, sports equipment and books.
Free schooling starts for children as young as six years old and continues throughout primary education. Even after the age of 13, the government provides 95 per cent of the funding for secondary education, enabling children to stay in school longer. The goal is to improve personal development and literacy rates that will pave the way for future generations. Not surprisingly, Botswana is one of a handful of countries in Africa were gender parity has been achieved in the field of education.
The Batswana (that is, the people of Botswana) are being truly served by their leaders. I wish one could say this for the majority of African countries. Take Angola, for example, with its immense wealth. Apart from diamonds, it has huge oil reserves, which are pumping even more billions of dollars into the country’s coffers. But this is the same country where 260 out of 1,000 children die before they get to the age of five. This is not right.
Another example is Sierra Leone, which is at the bottom of the pile in terms of human development. UN figures show that 282 out of 1,000 Sierra Leonean children don’t live to the age of five. Now, don’t tell me about blood diamonds. Let me debunk this theory about diamonds in Sierra Leone. Revenue from the natural resource did not suddenly go into decline because of the civil war.
The point is diamonds have been smuggled out of Sierra Leone since they were first discovered in the 1930s. The country has never really benefited from diamonds. The smugglers have. And they have been aided and abetted by Sierra Leonean officials who should have been serving the interests of the people.
If one wants to talk about diamond smuggling in Sierra Leone, one should look to Lebanon. Sierra Leone has always had a huge Lebanese community that was deeply involved in the diamond business legally as well as illegally.
Andrew Sardanis who was born in Cyprus but has spent almost 60 years in Zambia (previously Northern Rhodesia) knows a thing or two about dodgy business practices in Africa. He has met the movers and shakers in Africa, from presidents to business leaders in his role as a successful businessman. In his book, A Venture in Africa: The Challenges of African Business, Sardanis writes about his meeting with the late President Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone.
He said Stevens told him, when discussing the diamond industry: “Yes, the Lebanese finance the [diamond] diggers. But the country does not suffer because the proceeds from the sales have to come back to finance more digging.”
Sardanis then writes: “He [Stevens] was not prepared to see that the Lebanese were paying a pittance for the diamonds and were making huge profits outside the country. He did not see anything strange that Middle East Airlines, the Lebanese national carrier, had regular flights to Freetown, its only destination in sub-Saharan Africa. The flights were almost empty, but they were the only means of exporting diamonds directly to Beirut without having to cross other borders and running the risk of being discovered by other authorities. Stevens was obviously benefiting from the illegal diamonds and did not take any action.”
But in the case of Botswana, the country is moving from strength to strength based on its diamonds resources.
The newly created Diamond Trading Company Botswana will make aggregated diamonds available for sale in Botswana for local manufacturing.
The company says this will support Botswana’s drive to create jobs and value from the country’s diamond resources. It expects that by the end of the decade over $550 million of rough diamonds will be supplied in Botswana each year. DTC Botswana will sort and value in excess of 30 million carats in any one year, making it the largest sorting facility in the world.
Now you know why Botswana has put the rest of Africa in the shade.
By Desmond Davies