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Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for introducing this short debate. It is right and proper that we recognise the social and economic progress made by Botswana since independence.
Botswana has become one of the world's largest producers of diamonds but, around the world, an abundance of natural resources has often given no guarantee of the success of that country. Perhaps Botswana's greatest achievement is the political stability that it has achieved since independence. The country has benefited from a succession of strong leaders with an equally strong commitment to genuine democracy. The fact that both the previous president, President Masire, and the current president, President Mogae, were Ministers of Finance before coming president has ensured a strong fiscal strategy.
Transparency International ranks Botswana as the least corrupt country in Africa and the 25th least corrupt country in the world. Solid institutions and the intelligent use of technology have made the country
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more competitive than countries such as Mexico. Of course, the country has been challenged in the past 40 years, most significantly, as noble Lords have mentioned, by recurring droughts and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In both instances, Botswana's response has been clear and generally successful. The agricultural sector has been sustained despite the generally arid conditions, and Botswana now has one of the most advanced AIDS treatment programmes in Africa, with antiretroviral drugs now readily available. On his re-election in October 2004, the president declared his goal that Botswana should be AIDS-free by 2016. This is an almost impossible task, with adult HIV infection reported to be running as high as 40 per cent.
I should like to touch on a regional issue. The international community is increasingly looking to Botswana to join South Africa to help to resolve the continuing crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe. Botswana has developed a powerful voice, and many observers want to hear it raised. At the end of 2003, the Botswana Government constructed a 3-metre high electrified fence along the border with Zimbabwe. Officials explained at the time that its purpose was to halt the spread of foot and mouth disease, although it has been widely regarded as a measure to stop the flow of illegal immigrants across the border. Some 2,500 Zimbabweans are being deported across the border every month. It would also be encouraging to see Botswana use whatever means it may have at its disposal to bring pressure to bear on the Mugabe regime.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, mentioned the plight of the Bushmen, and I entirely concur with her views. It is, of course, a major problem, and the Botswana Government are expected to take action in their perceived treatment of the Bushmen. The Botswana Government have been accused by various international agencieswe have heard of the report by Survival Internationalof forcibly removing more than 2,000 Bushmen from their lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which occupies a land space almost the entire size of Switzerland, and compelling them to live in 84 designated resettlement areas on the fringes of the reserve. Many of the Bushmen have objected, but I take the view that it has been in the best interests of many of the Bushmen, particularly the ladies, to be in these designated areas, as it has given them more of an opportunity to get a better education. Perhaps the Minister could comment on the view of Her Majesty's Government on the plight of the Bushmen.
A third area of international concern is whether the Botswana Government can provide effective conservation in the Okavango delta, a natural wilderness area of great value. The challenge is to set the right balance between real environmental imperatives and the temptation to maximise revenue from tourism. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, gave a very grave warning about the effects of global warming.
In conclusion, I am optimistic about Botswana's prospects. In general, the international community's approach to Africa has been much more upbeat and
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positive in the past year. The developed world is minded to invest, support and nurture African countries that take steps to ensure that its judicial, political and social structures are strong, solid and effective. In the past 40 years since independence, Botswana has proved itself to be precisely such a country.
Lord Jones of Cheltenham: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Tonge on securing this debate. As we have just heard, it is timely, as Botswana marks 40 years of independence in September. I draw attention to my interests in Botswana, which are declared in the Register of Members' Interests. I was also the initial chairman of the All-Party Botswana Group, which was formed in the previous Parliament, and I continue to be a member of the group.
Noble Lords will be aware that Botswana was formerly the Bechuanaland Protectorate. In the late 1940s, there was a huge fuss because the young chief designate of one of the principal tribes married Ruth Williams, a young white Welsh woman, without the formal consent of his elders. The Attlee government gave way to pressure from the then recently elected apartheid government of South Africa and banished the young man in question from his homeland. His name was Seretse Khama. This shameful episode continued until 1956, when the UK government revoked the banishment order and Seretse and his family returned to Bechuanaland to a tumultuous welcome from the Bamangwato tribe. Seretse quietly set about rebuilding his life. He took up politics in the early 1960s and was one of the founders of the Bechuanaland Democratic Partynow the Botswana Democratic Party. My noble friend Lord Avebury was at university with Seretse, and I hope we will hear about that later.
Bechuanaland became self-governing in 1965, basing its legislative assembly closely on the United Kingdom House of Commons. Seretse became the first Prime Minister after his party had been returned in democratic elections based on universal adult suffrage. In 1966, the country was granted full independence, with Seretse as the first president, and its name was changed to Botswana. I commend to noble Lords the book Under Two Flags in Africa, written by George Winstanley, who was with the Colonial Service and became secretary to the independent Botswana's first Cabinet. He also designed the country's flag, with its distinctive blue, white and black horizontal stripes.
In 1966, Botswana was the sixth poorest country in the world. There were just 14 kilometres of tarred road in a country that is bigger than France and Belgium combined. The bulk of its meagre budget was provided by the UK in the form of grant in aid. However, as we have heard, shortly after independence diamond deposits came into production and the age of prosperity for the country began, so that by the early 1970s it had become financially independent.
Seretse, and no doubt Ruth, too, decided to use the wealth created by this good fortune to improve the lives of the people. This was achieved by the formation
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of the 50:50 company Debswana, which was half-owned by the Botswana government and half-owned by the mining company De Beers. It has been a profitable partnership for both sides. The mining company did the mining and the government used the revenues to build infrastructure, roads, clinics, schools and housing to benefit all the people of Botswana. That is very different from what has happened in other African countries with rich mineral deposits, such as Sierra Leone and Angola, which have been ruined by a combination of corruption and civil war over who controlled the diamond fields.
As a result of the example set by Seretse Khama and followed by his successors Quett Masire and the current President Festus Mogae, Botswana has prospered. The result is that Botswana is unique in Africa. In fact, before Nelson Mandela was released, it was the only functioning democracy in that sad continent. As we have heard, Botswana now has a literacy rate of almost 80 per cent and a per capita GDP approaching US$10,000it is regarded as a middle-income country.
I will finish by saying something about HIV/AIDS. On my first visit to Botswana with the CPA in 1999, we went to Jwaneng, one of the diamond mines near the capital Gaborone. We were told by the manager who gave us a presentation on the mine that he had received that morning the results of the first ever HIV test among his workforce. It showed that 30 per cent were HIV positive, right across the pay grades. How does any organisation build that into a business plan?
Since that visit, I have followed with concern and interest the development of policies to try to deal with this huge problem. Debswana's actuaries showed that it is economically more effective to give each HIV-positive employee all the medication that they need to stay alive longer, so the company adopted that policy. The company also provides counselling to those employees who are disease free to help them to remain disease free. The country as a whole has now adopted those policies.
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