Botswana: President Festus Gontebanye Mogae (1998-2008)

Updated July 2009

There was a high degree of continuity of policy between the presidency of Festus Mogae and that of his predecessors, Seretse Khama and Ketumile Masire. Mogae's first order of business was to obtain a mandate for his government from the electorate in the National Assembly elections conducted on 16 October 1999. His task was made easier by a split that occurred in the main opposition party Botswana National Front (BNF) that led to the formation of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP; for more information see The October 1999 General Election). Mogae's ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) increased its share of the vote in 1994 by 2.7% to just over 57% but the division in the opposition enabled it to increase its seats in the National Assembly from two thirds to 82.5% (see 1999 National Assembly results for details). The combined share vote of the BNF and the BCP remained much the same as the united BNF in the previous election but their combined share of seats fell from one third to 17.5%; the BNF won 26% of the vote giving it 15% of the seats and the BCP 12% of the vote with 2.5% of the seats. In 2001 the electorate was called on to approve a constitutional amendment to reform the judiciary (see 2001 referendum).

In 2001 the first hard statistics on HIV/AIDS prevalence were made public, disclosing that more than a quarter (26.5%) of adults in Botswana between the ages of 15 and 49 were HIV positive, an estimated 16 000 people died of AIDS in that year and 57 000 children lost both or one of their parents (WHO 2008, 4, 5). The epidemic threatened to wipe out Botswana's gains in healthcare, for life expectancy at birth declined from 65 years in 1990-1995 to 62 in 1998, 55.6 in 2001 and 54.4 in 2006 (Central Statistics Office 2006, 11). Even before the scale of the plague was known the government began a multi-sectoral mobilisation to coordinate the fight against HIV/AIDS with the formation of the National AIDS Co-ordinating Agency (NACA) in 1999 and the roll out of a mother-to child transmission programme also began in that year so that by 2007 a 90% uptake had been achieved (Avert 2009; Government of Botswana 2007, 17). In 2001 began investigating the feasibility of government supplied antiretroviral treatment for AIDs sufferers (Avert 2009). Though the roll out of treatment took time, by the end of 2007 82.3% of advanced sufferers were covered and in 2007 deaths from the disease fell to 11 000 for the year (Avert 2009; WHO 2008, 5; Government of Botswana 2007, 20).

The effects of the government's successful intervention can be seen in the recovery of Infant Mortality Rates, which rose from 37/1000 in 1996 to 56/1000 in 2001 then fell to 48/1000 in 2006 (Central Statistics Office 2006, 11; van Buren 2008, 25). Government measures to educate the public and halt the spread of HIV were also successful, so that adult prevalence in the 15-49 age group fell to 23.9% in 2007 from 26.5 in 2001, but nevertheless the social and economic costs remained high, with 95 000 children having lost one or more parent by the end of 2007 (WHO 2008, 4). Moreover, the progress of the epidemic has weakened economic capacity, worsening poverty through debilitation and by eroding savings (AfDB/OECD 2008, 163).

The economy recovered from the period of relatively slow income growth it had experienced in the mid-1990s by 1997, it posted an average annual rate of 5.9% between 1990 and 1998, but did not reach the high levels of the 1980s, when an annual average rate of 11% was obtained, averaging 6.3% annually for the decade 1998-2007 (IMF 2008). Population growth rates stagnated at an annual average of 1.6% in the same period, partly as the result of falls in female fertility (falling from 3.4 children per women in 1998 to 3.2 in 2006) and partly because of the rising mortalities caused by HIV/AIDS (IMF 2008; Central Statistics Office 2005, 1). As a result of higher income and stagnating population growth average annual per capita income growth rebounded to 5.9% in 1998-2007 compared with 3.4% for 1990-1998, but was lower than the 7.1% annual average posted in the 1980s (IMF 2008). Inflation, however, did not return to the double digit levels characteristic of the period between 1980 and 1996 and fluctuated around an annual average of 8.1% in 1998-12007 (IMF 2008). The population continued to urbanise at a rapid rate, climbing from 45% in 1998 to 54.2% in 2001 and reaching 59.6% by 2006 (Central Statistics Office 2006, 11). Unemployment, though declining, continued to present a challenge: Broadly defined unemployment stood at 34.6% in 1995/7 and declined to a still substantial 31.6% in 2006 (Central Statistics Office 2006, 33). It impacted worst on the youth, for those between 15 and 34 years old formed 74% of all unemployed people and 35% of those between 20-24 years were without work (Central Statistics Office 2006, 33). Apart from the impact HIV/AIDS, the economy was also adversely affected by a devastating flood in 2000 that left more than 60 000 people homeless and by labour unrest in 2004 and 2005 (Brown & Saunders 2008, 107, 108).

The mining of minerals, and above all of diamonds, has continued to be the life blood of the economy creating a dangerous situation of dependence on a single commodity. In 2002 uncut diamond sales formed 45% of GDP, provided 80% of export revenue and 65% of government revenue (Good 2006, 1). Despite persistent efforts at changing the situation and the development of other economic activities minerals contributed 40.7% of GDP in 2006/7, and 40% of government revenue in 2007/8 and the sector, especially diamonds, continued to grow strongly notwithstanding fluctuations in diamond prices (Good 2006, 1, 2; Gaolathe 2008, 4, 15; AfDB/OECD 2008, 154, 156).

The government of President Mogae inherited a set of long term economic and social goals, as well as policies and programmes to achieve them, from the previous government that centred on Vision 2016 adopted in 1996 and continuity was further enhanced by successive five year development plans that overlapped presidential terms (AfDB/OECD 2008, 153, 155). Poverty declined steadily from 47% of the population living below the poverty datum line in 1993/4 to 30% in 2002/3, but substantial numbers of people still remained economically marginalised (AfDB/OECD 2008, 154; van Buren 2008, 116). Government economic policy focused on diversifying the economy and raising exports, and especially the stimulation of manufacturing, not only to reduce the risky dependence on diamonds, but also to increase employment opportunities and reduce poverty (AfDB/OECD 2008, 158; van Buren 2008, 114). Manufacturing development was, however, disappointing due to the small size of Botswana's consumer population and barriers to exporting, especially to South Africa (van Buren 2008, 114): Through the 1980s and part of the 1990s it was able to maintain its position amongst other sectors at 5% of GDP, but by the end of the 1990s its share had declined to 3.5% and after the collapse of a show piece car assembly project in 2000 its share fell to 1.6% before recovering to 3.5% in 2005/6 (Acemoglu et al 2001, 19; Good 2006, 4, 5; AfDB/OECD 2008, 154). Nevertheless manufacturing growth led to a rise in formal sector employment higher than the population growth rate and by 2006 manufacturing was employing 6.6% of the labour force (van Buren 2008, 114).

In the run up to the 2004 National Assembly election, in 2003, the BNF suffered another less damaging split, leading to the formation of the New Democratic Front (Brown & Saunders 2008, 107). Attempts to form a coalition of opposition parties, consisting of the BNF, the Botswana Alliance Movement and the Botswana Peoples Party floundered to the advantage of the BDP (Brown & Saunders 2008, 107). However support for the BDP fell to its lowest point hitherto, for it won only 52% of the vote, but it still took 77% of the seats (see 2004 National Assembly election results). The BNF vote share stagnated at 26%, but its share of seats increased by 6% to 21% while the BCP increased its vote by nearly 4% to 17%, retaining its single seat. Talks in February 2006 to secure cooperation between the four largest parties, BNF, BCP, BAM and BPP, for the 2009 election collapsed in early 2007 (Brown & Saunders 2008, 109; (AfDB/OECD 2008, 163).

Recognising the extent of voter disenchantment in 2006 the government established the Local Enterprise Authority to stimulate SMMEs that offered support services to businesses as a means of diversification and because of their high job creation capacity (AfDB/OECD 2008, 159). This was supplemented by initiative to stimulate textiles, ceramics and craft production, but skills shortages hampered efforts (AfDB/OECD 2008, 160; van Buren 2008, 114). Beneficiation of diamonds was another possibility that the government explored and the renegotiation of De Beers' mining licence included the formation of the Botswana Diamond Trading Company that was to sort polish and value rough diamonds; by early 2008 16 companies had been issue licences to cut diamonds (Brown & Saunders 2008, 108; AfDB/OECD 2008, 154; Gaolathe 2008, 15). In August 2007 a project was launched to create copper and nickel cathodes from indigenously produced minerals (Gaolathe 2008, 15). The tourism industry expanded rapidly, contributing 11% to GDP in 2005/6 and providing new opportunities for job creation, so that the government initiated an upgrade of four airports of strategic significance for the industry in 2008 (Gaolathe 2008, 13). One of the measures to stimulate the private sector, introduced by the government of President Masire, was the privatisation of state assets, but the programme stalled and in 2007 the government created the Public Enterprise Evaluation and Privatisation Agency to kick start the process again (AfDB/OECD 2008, 154, 161). Despite the fact that four out ten people were rural based, and that rural poverty was pervasive, drought afflicted agriculture stagnated, representing only 2.3% of GDP in 2003/4, and the country became dependent on food imports (Good 2006, 3; Gaolathe 2008, 14; AfDB/OECD 2008, 155).

Past policies of investment in road infrastructure continued so that by early 2007 the country had 6000 km of paved roads and paved or graded roads reached 25 000 km, compared with 18 000 in 1992 (Rotberg 2007, 12). The government expanded its programme to supply electricity to outlying villages and by the end of 2008 half of households were connected to the grid as compared with about 12.5% in 1998 (Khama 2008, #30; Rotberg 2007, 8, 12). The building of the Mmamabula Export Power Station was initiated, to be completed in 2011, to create electricity self-sufficiency and to export to its supplier South Africa who itself was experiencing shortages from early 2008 onwards (Gaolathe 2008, 6, 16; Rotberg 2007, 8, 12). The government did not neglect social infrastructure and services. It widened the then existing social security net, establishing the Multi-Sectoral Sub-Committee on Poverty Reduction to ensure the efficacy of social security programmes for the poor and vulnerable and to develop sustainable livelihoods; the government also expanded income support programmes to those in need (AfDB/OECD 2008, 158). Investment in education remained a priority so that universal access to primary schools was achieved by 2007 and the proportion of primary school leavers progressing to junior secondary schools rose from 49% in 2003 to 67% in 2008 (AfDB/OECD 2008, 161; Gaolathe 2008, 18). Adult literacy increased from 69% in 1993 to 83% by 2007 (AfDB/OECD 2008, 164). Recognising that skills shortages restricted government capacity to implement programmes and strangled economic growth the government established technical colleges from 1997 onwards, expanded university education enrolment and the creation of the Botswana International University of Science and Technology was initiated (AfDB/OECD 2008, 162; Gaolathe 2008, 18).

Despite high levels of spending the government's budget continued to show surpluses, cash reserves accumulated and, on top of this, moneys budgeted for programmes could not always be spent because of a lack of skills and capacity in the civil service making it difficult for development targets to be met (AfDB/OECD 2008, 156, 157; Gaolathe 2008, 20, 21). Despite fluctuating diamond prices the balance of payments generated a surplus enabling the accumulation of foreign currency reserves and in November 2007 these reserves amounted to 28 months import cover, while foreign debt in 2007 was only 12% of GDP (Rotberg 2007, 7; AfDB/OECD 2008, 157; Gaolathe 2008, 5).

From independence the government followed a policy of non-discrimination but it promoted the use of Tswana as a national language as a result of which Tswana became increasingly the home language of the population, rising from around 50% in 1966 to 73% in 2006 (Acemoglu et al 2001, 10; Solway 2002, 714, 715; Central Statistics Office 2006, 29). The even handedness of the government in promoting economic and social development led to advancements for minority groups as well as Batswanas and the status quo went largely unchallenged (Solway 2002, 716; Good 2006, 9). However, with rising educational and living standards a greater degree of cultural awareness and ethnic consciousness began to emerge, manifesting first in Botswana's second major language group (8.4% of the population in 2006) through the foundation of the Society for the Promotion of the Ikalanga Language in 1981, then in a similar society for the Yeyi (0.5% in 2006) in 1995 and later in societies for the promotion of the Birwa (2.5%), the Tswapong (2.2%) and the Herero (0.5%) languages (Solway 2002, 717, 718; Good 2006, 9; Central Statistics Office 2006, 29). Avowedly apolitical, these organisations strove for recognition and equality for their linguistic and cultural identities, becoming more strident in the late 1990s (Solway 2002, 724; Good 2006, 9).

In July 2000 the government appointed the Balopi Commission to investigate discrimination against minorities and based on its report proposed constitutional amendments in 2002 to expand the House of Chiefs to include representatives from non-Tswana groups (Brown & Saunders 2008, 107; Good 2006, 9). The amendments proposed were criticised regarded as inadequate and undemocratic by opposition parties and equality activists and the amendments were withdrawn and replaced with the Constitutional Amendment Bill 34 of 2005 that differed little from the earlier proposals; at the date of writing the amendment had not been passed (Brown & Saunders 2008, 107; Good 2006, 9; IWGIA 2006).

During the presidency of Masire, in 1997, the government began to move the San inhabitants from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve since they shifted from a traditional hunter-gather lifestyle to hunting with guns using horses or all-road vehicles and in 2002 it cut off water supplies to those who rejected government compensation and refused to move (Brown & Saunders 2008, 108; Good 2006, 18). In 2006, after a prolonged legal battle, the High Court ruled that their removal was illegal (Brown & Saunders 2008, 108).

In April 2008 Pesident Mogae completed his second term of office and stepped down as required by the Constitution and Vice President Ian Khama became president.


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