Why Botswana?

By Zara Houshmand

The idea that the deeply traditional value of ubuntu, or botho in the local language, can play a vital and urgently needed role in modern development and public policy is not new to Botswana. Botho is named as a foundational principle of the nation’s long-term vision for development. It is also central to education policy and the mission of the University of Botswana (whose faculty members contributed to the planning of the Dialogue) and it lends its name to Botho University, which hosted the event.

In the final session of the Dialogue, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela expressed her gratitude for the generosity and ubuntu shown by Botswana in standing up to the South African government during the apartheid years and offering a haven for those like herself who were fighting against the racist regime. Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, is just a five-hour drive from Johannesburg, and she fondly remembered traveling there during the struggle, “ostensibly to music shows.”

Although apartheid is long past, in recent years the Dalai Lama has been repeatedly denied a visa to South Africa because of the current South African government’s fears of jeopardizing its relations with China, its largest trading partner. Similar pressure was applied in an attempt to prevent the Dalai Lama’s visit to Botswana, but the Botswana government made a principled stand and affirmed his welcome. President Ian Khama himself attended the Dialogue and spoke at length to the assembly.

A peaceful and stable democracy since it became independent in 1966, Botswana has experienced rapid but well managed development based on its mineral wealth, and it has long been ranked as the least corrupt country in Africa. With a population of 2 million in a country the size of France, Botswana invests 21% of its government spending in education. Botswana is “a success story that deserves to be better known,” as Susan Bauer-Wu, President of the Mind & Life Institute, observed. And as the Dalai Lama said in his video message to the conference: “Sometimes smaller nations may have greater potential to create peace.”

Former President of Botswana, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, addresses the Mind & Life Dialogue on the value of botho/ubuntu.

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