Botswana at a glance

2009-10-14 10:06

Gaborone - Voters in Botswana go to the polls Friday with President Ian Khama facing his first election challenge after taking over from his predecessor Festus Mogae, who retired in April last year.

The Botswana Democratic Party is expected to retain its hold on power, having ruled the diamond-rich southern African country since independence in 1966.

Here are key facts about Botswana:

GEOGRAPHY: Botswana is surrounded by Namibia to the north and west, South Africa to the south and east and Zimbabwe to the northeast. The Kalahari Desert covers 70 % of the nation.

POPULATION: Just over 1.9 million in 2009 of whom 95%  are Batswana, 4%  are other African ethnic groups (including Bochimen or Bushmen) and 1% white.

LANGUAGE: English and Setswana

HISTORY: A British protectorate was established under the name of Bechuanaland in 1885. The country gained independence in 1966 when Seretse Khama became president until his death in 1980, when the vice-president Ketumile Masire replaced him.

Mogae, who was Masire's vice-president, took over on April 1, 1998 when Masire retired, and was elected president in his own right for a five-year term on October 16, 1999. Mogae in turn stepped down on April 1, 2008 and Ian Khama - the son of Seretse - became president.

POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS: One of Africa's most stable countries, Botswana is a republic in which the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP) - now the Botswana Democratic Party - has been in power since independence.

Botswana has enjoyed uninterrupted civilian rule since independence. Legislative power is vested in parliament which has 57 members elected for a five-year term by universal adult suffrage.

The president is elected by the National Assembly if his party fails to garner a majority of seats in parliament. Otherwise, the chief justice confirms the leader of the party with the majority in parliament as the president.

HIV/AIDS: Botswana suffers the world's second highest rate of HIV infection, affecting 23.9% of adults aged 15 to 49, according to Unaids.

ECONOMY: The world's largest producer of raw diamonds, these account for 75% of Botswana's export earnings, 30% of GDP and 50% of government revenue. Production is expected to halve this year, to 15 million carats down from 33 million last year, due to slumping global demand.

Other resources are tourism and cattle. A middle-income country benefiting from fiscal discipline and sound management, Botswana receives the best credit rating in Africa. Unemployment stands at 20%, according to official statistics. The closest trading links are held with South Africa.

GDP: Growth has been steady at around 7% over the past two decades, according to the World Bank. However growth slowed to around 4% after 2006, contracting by 1% in 2008 as the global economic crisis hit diamond markets.

- Per capita income is $3 056, according to the United Nations, but 47% of the country lives on less than $1 a day.

MILITARY: 9 000 troops, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Botswana is a member of the Commonwealth, the African Union, and regional groupings.

Read more on:    ian khama  |  botswana  |  southern africa
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