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  • Politics, Economy, and the Threats of AIDS in Africa: The Case of Botswana
  • Mehdi Noorbaksh (bio)

After gaining independence in 1966, Botswana has established one of the most stable and expanding economies of sub-Saharan Africa. The country has also succeeded in laying the foundation for one of the most politically stable countries in the region via the establishment of resolute democratic political institutions. Concordantly, Botswana has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection in the region, with approximately 24.1 percent of the adult population infected with the virus.1 In a country with a total population of 1.7 million, approximately 75 people die of this disease daily. Many are terminally ill when diagnosed, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic has swiftly decreased the life expectancy in this nation.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic will gradually have a detrimental impact on both the economy and politics of Botswana. Economically, governmental resources, which otherwise would be invested in other areas such as education, workforce, welfare, and business, must shift toward combating this disease. Politically, this shift in resource allocation can lead to societal tension and unease, which can serve as an impetus for the undermining of the democratic process. This article describes how HIV/AIDS could undermine the economy and politics of this nation if proper measures are not taken in controlling this epidemic. Botswana as a country that has taken a successful journey toward developing a viable economy and stable political process in a region that is ravaged by poverty and political instability has to be given more attention, because its success and failure in diminishing the threat of this disease could teach valuable lessons to the rest of Africa.

Economic Development in Botswana

Considering the problem of un-development and underdevelopment in sub-Saharan Africa, the success of economic development of Botswana has attracted much attention in the field of development studies. Scholars have debated a range of etiologies behind the successful development of this nation. The average economic growth in this country from 1965 to 1995 was measured at a rapid 7.7 percent annually. Botswana’s gross domestic product (GDP) percapita was $7,820 in 2001.2 Compared with the rest of Africa, Botswana’s per capita income was four times higher than the $1,826 average for sub-Saharan Africa in 2001.3 Botswana rose from one of the poorest African nations in 1965 to an “upper-middle income” nation as [End Page 351] ranked by the World Bank. Its economic development has been rated among the highest in Africa by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Resource Development Index since 1992. Although Botswana must make strides in controlling the AIDS pandemic, eradicating poverty, increasing life expectancy, enhancing public safety, and improving access to health care and education, the country has been doing an exemplary job of developing a viable economy and extending the political culture of the democratic process.

The question of why some nations develop and others do not has preoccupied scholars across disciplines of development study. Analysis of Botswana’s economic and political development can help, to some extent, in understanding the capability of the government in facing the challenge of HIV/AIDS. Ultimately, containing this disease successfully depends, almost exclusively, on how well the government and its institutions can utilize domestic and international resources to battle this pandemic.

Scholars of development concur that good governance, the rule of law, protection of private property, and a free market economy are fundamental components in the process of establishing a viable economy. However, they disagree on the factors making a nation successful in achieving its developmental goals. Some scholars, including Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner, argue that geography, climates, proximity to the coast, and distance from the equator are fundamental to economic growth.4Jared Diamond contends that climates and geography played a significant role in the primitive economies of the past but are not a crucial factor today.5 Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson, in their study of Botswana’s economic growth, concluded in favor of a mix of geography, demography, and social institutions. In their article, they argue that a few institutions and natural resources were crucially...


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pp. 351-366
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