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Gaborone was initially built for 5000 people!

In deliberating the site of the new capital there were obvious differences among the members of the Legislative Council. The deliberations were thorough and protracted. At the end of it all a vote decided that of the 33 members of the Legislative Council, 22 voted for the capital of Botswana to be located in Gaborone and 11 wanted it located in the center or where there was an abundance of water supplies in places like Mahalapye, Palapye, Shashi or Francistown.

Looking at the circumstances of the time, what appears to have persuaded the majority of the members of the Legislative Council to opt for Gaborone were several advantages found to exist in Gaborone. First there a guarantee of ‘adequate’ water supplies after ‘thorough’ investigations. Second, there was the availability of Crown land which meant that the administration would not have to buy or request land from any of the nearby ethnic groups. Thirdly there were a few humble infrastructural developments in Gaborone such as police, former Assistant Commissioner‘s and Fort Gaberones buildings, running water, a Post Office, railway line and roads. Fourthly, Gaborone was located not too far from six ‘principal’ ethnic groups considered to constitute the bulk of the population of the BP and by that virtue it would be understood to stand for centrality. These factors, together with the time available to identify and build a capital as soon as possible prompted the administration and Legislative Council hurriedly settle for Gaborone.

Persuaded by the arguments of the few members of the Legislative Council of the time who argued against Gaborone as the capital, this paper takes the position that the choice of Gaborone was a grave and expensive error. Obviously, the members who opposed the location of Gaborone were in the minority and that being so, were out-voted, but that did not mean the majority was right, indeed the majority is not always right. A close examination of the factors that led to the establishment of Gaborone as the capital reveals that some these factors were questionable. Perhaps at the time these factors were straight forward, but even then some of the members questioned them at the tme. It is even worse so on hindsight, or fifty years later.

The administration, its Investigating Committee, and the majority of the members of the Legislative Council were convinced that Prof Midgley’s investigations had revealed that there was adequate water in the Notwane dam and that some additional dams could be built in and around Gaborone. Examining other sites, could it be realistically said that the little Notwane River could be found to have more water than say, the Mahalapye, Shashi or even the Tati Rivers and therefore suitable to sustain the capital of a country? Messers Taylor, Shaw, van Gass and predicted at the time, that the water was more in the north than in the south and that in fifty years time the north would supply the south with water. But at what cost it may be asked.

Another advantage that attracted the administration and the majority of the members of the Legislative Council to the Gaborone site was the availability of crown land. How much crown land was available and what consideration there was for expansion in the future was not immediately clear. The minority members of the Legislative Council did point out that Gaborone as a capital had limited land in terms of expansion, predicting at the time that in the future it would not be able to expand to the north, east, south, or west without encroaching on ‘tribal’ lands. Today, fifty years later, that prediction could not have been more on the mark.

The decision to locate the capital in Gaborone was in part influenced by the fact that it was accessible to the six ‘principal’ groups which factor assumed that most of the population of the country was in the southern part of the country. That assumption appears to have been erroneous as the table below gives a picture of what the population of the south compared to the north was like in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Related to the population factor was that the administration’s Investigating Committee had suggested that the capital be built for 5,000 people out of a population less than 600,500 people for the whole country. Granted at the time it could have been appropriate, but 5,000 was an awfully small figure especially that there was no indication or specification that the capital would move any time soon. It is baffling that a capital of any country should be planned around a small figure such as 5,000 as if its population, and that of the country for that matter, would forever remain dormant.

The infrastructure and communication did not make Gaborone particularly stand out as advantageous compared to say, Lobatse, Mahalapye, and Francistown. All the three were accessible by roads and rail. Small commercial and industrial centers were available in these places. Also available in all the tree places were humble buildings which included police stations and running water. It would appear that communications and infrastructure were not peculiar advantages to Gaborone.

The decision to find an appropriate place for the location of the capital of Botswana appeared to have been taken in a rush on the part of both the administration and the members of the L egislative Council.

In their deliberations about the site of the new capital, member after member talked about the short space of time within which the location of capital had to be identified73*. The apparent ‘ hurry’ was tied to the financial issue. Botswana then was known to have been one of the poorest countries in the world, dependent on subsistence farming and agriculture and to a very large extent to the British government’s grants-in-aid. It goes without saying therefore that by 1964-65 the country had no money to absorb the expenses of the movement from Mahikeng, let alone build a new capital. Mention has already been made that the British government had pledged the sum of R4 million for the movement of the capital. If the administration and the Legislative Council members delayed in identifying the site for the capital for anything from one to three years, then there was no guarantee that the British government would hold its pledge for that long. Fear of losing that opportunity, compounded by the fact that the movement of

Head Quarters was long overdue any way, were in the minds of the administration and members of the Legislative Council. In those circumstances, the possibility of hurriedly making a decision on the site for a new capital could easily lead to miscalculations and ‘grave and expensive errors’.


The choice of Gaborone as a capital, like other capitals of the world, was influenced by several factors.

Top among those was the availability of water. In the case of Gaborone sufficient water was found in the Notwane River where, by 1965, a dam had been built and ready to supply the new capital. Land was also a determining factor in the choice of the capital. Gaborone had crown land, which meant that the land would not have to be bought, lent, borrowed from, or given by, the ethnic groups in the precincts of Gaborone. It also was thought to be close six of the eight principal ethnic groups suggesting that the location of the six ethnic groups determined the density of the population of the whole territory. The capital was built for 5,000 people. At the time it could be argued that it was practical, considering that the population of the entire country was less than 500,000. Related to the population was the issue of centrality and accessibility of the capital. Given the situation of the time, the presence and locality of the six ethnic groups, determined, to the extent possible, the centrality of Gaborone in relation to the population of the country. Communications and infrastructure also determined the choice of the capital as Gaborone had a few administrative buildings set up during colonial times, the Post Office, a rail line and roads although they were not paved.

Taking into consideration the above factors, the recommendations of the Investigating Committee were taken to the representative body of Legislative Council for deliberation and owning the decision to locate the site of the capital. The deliberations were protracted and thorough, but not overwhelmingly unanimous. The majority of the members approved Gaborone as the new capital while one third, eleven out of thirty three, opposed the capital ‘s location in Gaborone citing several disadvantages about Gaborone and doubting the thoroughness of the Investigating Committee, suggesting other places where the capital could be located.

This paper takes the position that while the choice of Gaborone as a capital was dictated by the circumstances of the time, it would appear that that decision was somewhat rushed. It is difficult to be convinced that the waters found in the Notwane River could have been more adequate than those of the Mahalapye, Shashi and Tati Rivers. The crown land that was available in Gaborone appears not to have had a long term plan for expansion as presently it is difficult to expand to any direction without infringing upon ethnic rights; in addition, it baffles the mind why a capital of a country could be built for 5,000 people only as if it was guaranteed that its population would forever remain dormant. The paper has demonstrated that the population of the country was not denser in the south because of the location of the six principal ethnic groups, and that the assumption that the population was more in the south was inaccurate. By the same token the location of Gaborone could not be said to have been central and therefore accessible to the rest of the population. Located in the south eastern part of the country, Gaborone’s centrality and accessibility are not conspicuously obvious. The infrastructure and communication lines were available in other places other than Gaborone. Lobatse, Mahalapye, Palapye, and Francistown were linked by rail and roads so that that prerogative was not only for Gaborone. Finally the finance issue put pressure on the members of Legislative Council to hurriedly locate the capital at the expense of investigations which would take a little bit more time but nonetheless thorough. Some members of the Legislative Council did mention that they preferred thoroughness than rushing to take a decision that would not only be a miscalculation but ‘a grave and expensive error’. It is arguable whether if the capital had been located elsewhere other than Gaborone so much monies would spent, and are continuing be spent, on ferrying water supplies to sustain the capital.

this presentation by Prof Part Mgadla on the topic: 'A Very Grave and Expensive Error'? : The choice of a new site for the Capital of Botswana 1958-65 to generate interest in you as we celebrate 50 years of independence. Thepresenters are coming up with arguably new information about Botswana.

The paper was presented and discussed at the University of Botswana on Thursday as part of the ongoing BOT50 lecture series

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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