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Published: March 2nd 2014
Dumêlarra (greetings in Setswana) and welcome to Botswana! Besides the semi-arid climate, parts of Gaborone, Botswana's small capital city, could be Western European in terms of its development. It’s a unique place in Africa and a big part of the academic motivation for traveling here. Botswana had been an extremely poor country prior to the discovery of diamonds (3rd
poorest country in the world at the time of their independence), but has since sustained high GDP growth rates for more than 30 years and is one of the wealthiest countries in Africa. Within economic development research, there is a well-known pattern that resource rich countries have generally struggled to utilize this wealth to develop the country, often getting funneled to few powerful individuals and often leading to extreme inequality, instability and conflict. The notable exceptions to this trend have been Norway and Botswana, though Botswana stands out a bit more in a far more struggling region of the world and thus has been the focus of much economic research to try to identify the variables that make Botswana a success story in this context.
Even though we knew this story before arriving in Botswana, it’s still a bit weird getting here
and witnessing it first-hand coming from Johannesburg. Certainly there are pockets of poverty, as there are everywhere, but wherever it is in Gaborone, it’s not so pervading. It’s a small city, offices, embassies and government buildings at its center, surrounded by residential sections each with their own shopping malls. We are staying about 10 miles from the city center in a plot known as Mokolodi. Along the road to our place are several large estates (our hostel is in fact a converted estate) and a nature reserve by the same name. The hostel, called Mokolodi Backpackers, is not a traditional hostel and “hostel” feels like the wrong word to be honest. There are 5 small stand-alone cabins, each with between 2 and 4 beds, one luxury rondeval, and a handful of camping spots. A separate structure contains a fully stocked and clean open air kitchen and bathroom… way above hostel standards. All these structures and camp spots line the perimeter of the large property and in the middle is a small pool and patio area for dining and relaxing. The décor is all “bush” themed and best of all there’s a family of animals that roam the property in harmony…
three cats, three hens, two ducks, two dogs, a weird pigeon (forget the name of it, but its neck bends all the way backwards so it looks like its headless from certain angles and like the head emerges from its butt from other angles), and a giant, fat pig named New Years that moves about 15 feet a day and makes these hilarious snarls whenever she struggles to get to her feet. It’s a really comfortable and relaxing place to be stationed for the week.
As mentioned in the prior blog, our week here is about meeting diamond folk and it is the “contextual research” for which our school has subsidized this trip. Botswana is the #1 diamond producing country by value in the world and so it’s a good place to be, given the topic. We have had fruitful meetings each day of the week with tours through different segments of the supply chain operations; those being a visit to Jwaneng Mine, which is the largest producing diamond mine in the world, a visit to DTC Botswana, which is the facility that sorts and distributes the rough diamonds that come from Botswana’s mines, and a visit to Laurelton
Botswana, which is a cutting and polishing facility for Tiffany. Our other two days have been spent meeting the Managing Director of Debswana (Debswana is the mining entity which is a 50-50 joint venture between DeBeers and the Botswana government) and the Botswana government’s Head of Mineral Resources. While these meetings don’t provide us with data for empirical analysis, it does however familiarize us with the different elements, challenges, changes, costs, demand shifters and supply shifters of the industry and this is helpful in interpreting our econometric results.
Though the focus of this week has been our meetings, we have also been enjoying our free time. I had my first game drive of my life earlier this week at the Mokolodi Nature Reserve which I loved. In truth I have no frame of reference, so though I loved it, I know there’s a lot we missed. Still it was great to see impalas, kudus, ostrich, warthogs, baboons, hippos and many incredible birds in a natural setting, without cages to confine them. It was a nice way to ease into the safari life, as we know there will be a lot more of this in the weeks to come. We
also did our own short game drive in our rental car in the Gaborone Game Reserve. None of the big classic game here, but for a $2 entry free it was still fun to drive up next to ostriches, impalas, zebras, warthogs and monkeys.
Before I wrap up this installment, allow me to take a quick step back for a moment. For all the Botswana praise I opened this entry with, people drive like maniacs here. We decided to rent a car to ensure our timeliness to all our meetings in an affordable manner. There are speed limit signs on the highways but they seem to be more or less disregarded and as the highways are one lane in each direction, it’s a bit unsettling when drivers going 80 mph and up fly past you (or come at you) to squeeze back in file just before a giant truck flies by in the opposite direction. Throw in free ranging cattle, donkeys and goats grazing along the highway corridor and occasionally wandering into the road, and it’s some intimidating road conditions. Within the city center, the animals aren’t a factor but there was always a traffic light or two at
a major intersection that wasn’t functioning for every trip to town we made, and there didn’t seem to a be a system to this circumstance that I was able to pick up on. Combine these factors with my first time driving in a commonwealth ‘left side of the road’ system (Phil had to tell me to “stay left” more than once) and the time it took getting used to having the clutch in my left hand instead of the right hand, and I was very happy to return the rental car in one piece yesterday.
Now it’s time to meet up with some classmates for some adventures. I’m currently writing this from a 10 hour local bus from Gabs City to Maun and the true “backpacking” has begun. No toilet. Dirty black water dripping from the bus ceiling onto Phil’s head. So far only one piece of someone’s luggage has landed on my head. When we first departed Gabs there were at least 100 people on the bus with not even any standing room in the aisle, but now, 6 hours in, the crowd has thinned enough for me to bust out my computer and write a bit. Next
stop – Maun and the Okavango Delta to meet Gustav and Daniel, two of my other classmates from Sweden.
Puss och kram!
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