The majority of Botswana live in settlements amidst the undulating plains and rocky hill ranges of the eastern part of the country, as well as in the vicinity of perennial rivers to the north.
Approximately 70 percent of Botswana are urbanised, with most residing within 100 kilometres of the capital, and the rest spread across the countryside in sparsely populated rural sites, traditional villages and small towns. With an average of just four people per square kilometre, Botswana has one of the lowest population densities in the world, despite being one of the largest countries in terms of area.
According to Statistics Botswana’s most recent forecast, the country’s population is projected to reach 2 410 338 in 2021, from 2 024 787 at the time of the 2011 Census. Growth has been rapid, as the entire country had only around 574 000 inhabitants in 1971. However, the growth rate has slowed in recent times, declining to an average of
1.9 percent per year between 2001 and 2011.
Botswana has historically boasted Africa’s highest sovereign credit ratings, and this situation continued in 2020, with a BBB+ from Standard & Poor’s and A2 from Moody’s. It also achieves favourable ratings on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. In 2019, it was ranked fourth in Sub-Saharan Africa, after Mauritius, South Africa and the Seychelles, as well as being rated the best performing nation in the world in respect of its macroeconomic stability (inflation, debt dynamics), financial system credit gap, labour tax rate and low risk for terrorism.
In the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business 2020’ report, Botswana is in 87th position internationally out of 190economies as regards ease of doing business. The Heritage Foundation’s 2020 Index of Economic Freedom rates Botswana’s economy the 40th freest in the world and third in Sub-Saharan Africa, behind Mauritius and Rwanda – well above both regional and world averages.
Furthermore, Botswana is the least corrupt country on the African continent, with a proven record of honest economic governance. In Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, it has an enviable global ranking of 35th out of 180 countries.
Botswana has made substantial investments into its people. The positive performance of the domestic economy has seen economic and social infrastructure networks expand, along with improved social indicators and the general standard of living.
The country’s Human Development Index (HDI) value for 2019 was 0.735, which put it in the high human development category, with a rank of 100 out of 189 countries and territories worldwide, as well as being fifth in Africa and first in Sub-Saharan Africa. Between 1990 and 2019, Botswana’s HDI value grew from 0.573 to 0.735, an increase of 28.3 percent. Over the same period, the UNDP reports that life expectancy at birth rose by 10.4 years, meaning years of schooling increased by 4.0 years, and expected years of schooling by 2.9 years. Botswana’s GNI per capita increased by about 85.4 percent between 1990 and 2019.
Furthermore, Botswana is among the most stable and democratic countries on the continent. The 2020 Global Peace Index (GPI) published by the Institute for Economics and Peace rates it the second most peaceful country in Africa after Mauritius, and 33rd out of 163 countries across the globe. The nation also continues to rank above more than half of the European countries surveyed, as well as all five of the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council.
Poverty eradication is one of Government’s key policy deliverables. In this context, the scope of measurement of poverty has been broadened to include the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which measures non-income deprivation levels of the poor in the areas of education, health and living standards. Under the Poverty Eradication Programme, 39 971 projects had been funded as at July 2020. Out of these, 80 percent are operational and employing 34 791 Batswana. Some 5 856 projects are at different stages of implementation.
Gaborone, Botswana’s capital city, was founded in 1964. It takes its name from the tribal chief who had his capital here during the colonial period. Since its Independence in 1966, the city has grown dramatically, and it is presently home to almost a quarter of a million people – around one-tenth of the country’s total population.
Warm, friendly and cosmopolitan, the capital has an abundance of five-star hotels, restaurants and casinos, modern malls, and state-of-the-art conference facilities and exhibition space. It is also the seat of the secretariat of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and is becoming a global ‘mines to market’ hub.
Gaborone’s new CBD is centred on Masa Square and boasts impressive architecture, a variety of international companies, restaurants, boutiques and cinemas. Protea Hotel by Marriott Masa Square features 152 modern rooms and 30 extended stay apartments, conference facilities and meeting rooms able to host up to 200 guests. Opened in 2019, the five-star Hilton Garden Inn is a mixed-use development occupying a full block in the CBD. In addition to its 147 rooms, outdoor swimming pool, restaurant, 24-hour business centre and more than 400m2 of meeting space, it encompasses parking and a five- storey commercial building for offices and retail.
A number of high-rise developments can be seen on the Gaborone skyline. The most striking of these is the iconic iTowers complex, comprising the 15-storey iTowers North and 30-storey iTowers South, which is now the tallest building in the country. The iTowers stands opposite the High Court in the new CBD and consists of offices and residential units as well as accompanying retail, restaurant and business area.
The city’s original commercial and business centre is known as the Main Mall, which comprises a long pedestrian walkway flanked by offices, shops, banks, restaurants and several embassies, as well as one of the capital’s first hotels, The President. At the eastern end of the Mall is the Civic Centre, opposite which is Pula Arch, a landmark commemorating the country’s independence. The University of Botswana, the National Museum and Art Gallery, and the Botswana Stock Exchange are also located close by. The National Museum Botanical Gardens features walking trails, exhibits of the flora of Botswana and a library of botanical books.
Modern-day Gaborone is the administrative, business, cultural and entertainment hub of one of the most successful economies on the continent.
At the western end of the Main Mall, across Nelson Mandela Road, lies Government Enclave. This attractive plaza, with its trees, fountains, monuments and memorials
– including a bronze statue of Botswana’s first president, Sir Seretse Khama – is surrounded by various government ministries, the National Assembly, House of Chiefs and the Archives. Nearby, the Three Dikgosi (Chiefs) Monument pays tribute to the country’s three founding chiefs: Khama III of the Bangwato, Sebele I of the Bakwena and Bathoen I of the Bangwaketse.
The impressive Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC) and Grand Palm Hotel host a number of high profile international conferences. The 50-hectare Botswana Conference and Exhibition Centre in Fairgrounds comprises the 10 000-seat Ditshupo Chamber as well as the 2 000-seat Boipuso Chamber, and is the venue for shows such as the Botswana Consumer Fair, Global Expo Botswana, the ITEX information technology exhibition and the FOBEX food and beverage exhibition. Gaborone is also the site of the Botswana Innovation Hub.
Gaborone is a notable southern African shopping mecca, with more than 250 000m2 of completed shopping centre space. Sebele Centre, Rail Park, Airport Junction and Northgate were all opened over a five-year period. Other popular shopping centres include the two-storey Riverwalk Mall, Fairgrounds Mall, Game City, African Mall, Westgate and Molapo Crossing.
Construction of the 26 000m2 Fields Mall retail centre, which will comprise 70 stores and anchor tenants such as Spar and Woolworths, began in the latter part of 2020 and is set to be completed by April 2022. The mall will occupy part of a 9-hectare mixed use plot in the CBD, and project costs are anticipated to be in the region of P300 million.
Entertainment offerings in Gaborone comprise theatre as well as live jazz, reggae and traditional African music, with shows staged at venues such as Maitisong Cultural Centre, Alliance Française and BotswanaCraft. The week- long Maitisong Festival, which includes outdoor concerts, theatre and film in various venues around the city, takes place over the last week of March or the first week of April. Football matches, track races and cultural gatherings are a frequent occurrence at the National Stadium.
The Thapong Visual Arts Centre is home to young and gifted local artists. The largest arts and crafts centre in Gaborone is BotswanaCraft, which offers an excellent selection of textiles, shirts, woodcraft, musical instruments, figurines, canes, decorative knives, ostrich eggs and more. Botswana’s first commercial art gallery, Sophie Lalonde Art, opened in Gaborone in 2013. Also worth a visit is Lentswe-la-Oodi Weavers, a cooperative lying around 20 kilometres north of Gaborone and producing beautiful hand-woven tapestries, wall hangings, bedspreads, apparel and other items.
Gaborone’s tertiary institutions include the main campus of the University of Botswana, the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, BA ISAGO University, Botswana Accountancy College, Gaborone Technical College and the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN). The Princess Marina Hospital is the main referral hospital in Gaborone.
A solar power programme is currently being piloted in five areas in Gaborone; namely, the Okavango
Diamond Company, Bank of Botswana, Airport Junction Mall, Diamond Trading Company Botswana and Botho College.
Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKIA) lies 25 kilometres to the north of the capital. The city also has a well-developed road network, with five main highways out of Gaborone connecting it to Lobatse, Kanye, Molepolole, Francistown via Mochudi and Tlokweng, and regional highways such as the Trans-Kalahari Corridor and A1 providing links to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique. Transport networks in the city are being upgraded through the installation of new traffic signalling systems and a Centralised Traffic Control (CTC) Centre as well as the construction of three intersections at KT Motsete Drive (Western Bypass) with Lobatse Road, Willie Seboni Road and Kudumatse Drive.
Surrounded by rolling hills, Gaborone Dam is an ideal spot in which to relax as well as to enjoy recreational pursuits such as picnicking, yachting and canoeing. Known as the ‘sleeping giant’, Kgale Hill is popular with hikers and worth the one-hour climb for the lovely views it offers across the city. Wildlife may be seen in the small yet well-stocked Gaborone Game Reserve. Another nearby attraction, Lion Park Resort, with its water-park, horse trails, motorbike rides, vulture restaurant, dams, game viewing and camping grounds, is a favourite spot for picnics and weekend getaways.
Francistown was at the heart of the country’s historic gold
rush of the 1870s, and started out as a small settlement along the road and rail crossing lying close to the nearby gold mines. Officially founded in 1897, Francistown is today Botswana’s second-largest city and an important centre for industry and commerce, with a growing international corporate presence and a population of some 101 028 people (2011 Census).
Lying 436 kilometres north of Gaborone, Francistown is a growth-point for trade and transport in the region, and is linked by major highways to Gaborone and Maun, as well as Zimbabwe via Bulawayo and Zambia across the Kazungula bridge. Botswana Rail (BR) is planning to build a cargo consolidation hub which will be used for the storage and transportation of cargo. Additionally, Chongoene Corridor Refinery (Pty) Limited (CCRL) has recently announced plans to build a multi-billion dollar petroleum refinery and tank farm in Francistown, including approximately 1 182 kilometres of crude oil and natural gas pipelines from Mozambique.
The new CBD, located in Gerald Estates, has accommodated some high-rise developments, both commercial and residential, as the town’s economy has grown. A P79 million redevelopment project at the popular Galo Mall, situated in the heart of Francistown, includes an upper level parking and a number of new retail outlets. Furthermore, the construction of the multi-million pula BR Mall is set to begin in the first quarter of 2021, and will consist of a variety of retail outlets, offices and a cinema, among others.
Good accommodation and conference facilities are available, with other attractions including casinos, cinemas, nightclubs, restaurants and sports clubs. The refurbished Francistown Stadium has a capacity of 26 000. The Northern Trade Fair is one of the town’s biggest events. Francistown boasts the country’s largest hospital after Gaborone’s Princess Marina: the Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital.
The new 75-bed Francistown Academic Hospital is an acute care private hospital which is set to offer a range of specialist medical and surgical services as well as medical training facilities.
Situated in a historic building in the former Government Camp, the Supa-Ngwao Museum contains a photographic exhibition on the early history of Francistown. There is also an excellent collection of artefacts, including pottery, woodcarvings, basketry and musical instruments relating to north-eastern Botswana’s Kalanga people.
Located just 5 kilometres from Francistown, Tachila Nature Reserve is a community project that offers natural, archaeological, historical and cultural attractions unique to Francistown and the surrounding district. There are plans to build a luxury lodge and conference centre in the reserve. Also near Francistown, Birds and Game Botswana is an animal orphanage established by Uncharted Africa, and has served as refuge for injured or orphaned wild animals for more than 20 years.
Known as the ‘Gateway to the Kgalagadi’, Molepolole is the capital of the Kweneng district in south-eastern Botswana, and lies about 50 kilometres west of Gaborone. It is the largest urban village in Botswana as well as being the country’s third most populous centre, and has been home to the Bakwena people for some 400 years. Molepolole was at the heart of the region’s ivory and ostrich feather trade in the latter part of the 1800s. The Scottish Livingstone Hospital here was built in the 1930s by the London Missionary Society and the United Free Church
of Scotland, and has recently been upgraded to provide a variety of specialist services. The Scottish Livingstone Church, situated along the main road, remains a prominent landmark. Another attraction, the Kgosi Sechele I Museum, is housed in what was once a colonial police station (1902) and contains displays of historical artefacts relating to the Bakwena as well as colonial history.
The former mining town of Selebi-Phikwe is the fourth-largest urban centre in Botswana, with 52 049 inhabitants (2011 Census). Situated halfway between Kasane and Johannesburg, it is a convenient stopover for travellers journeying between South Africa and Botswana’s northern tourist attractions. Good roads connect the town with major centres to the north and south, and visitors will find modern shopping malls, hotels, banks, libraries, a golf course and an international airport. The four-star Hotel Selebi opened here in 2016.
The town originally consisted of two small villages – Selebi and Phikwe – which in the 1960s were found to straddle a large copper and nickel deposit. A mine was opened here in 1973, and the township built in the woodland between these villages was given the name of Selebi-Phikwe. In the wake of the closure of the BCL Mine, the Selebi-Phikwe Economic Revitalisation Programme aims to revive the fortunes of the town. Investment in tourism infrastructure has been prioritised as the region has huge potential thanks to the dams surrounding the town.
The fast-growing tourist capital of Maun lies on the southern fringes of the Okavango Delta and Moremi Wildlife Reserve. This is a base for many safari companies and the point of entry into the Delta – and into Botswana – for a number of tourists, as Maun’s airport (the busiest in the country) receives direct flights from both Johannesburg and Gaborone. Maun is also the administrative centre of the Ngamiland District and the seat of power of the Batawana people, who are an offshoot of the Bangwato of Serowe.
Maun International Airport is being refurbished, with new domestic and international arrival halls completed in July 2020, and the balance expected to be ready during the course of 2021.
Supplies of almost anything can be bought in this bustling frontier town, and there are a number of good shopping centres as well as car hire companies and filling stations. Accommodation is plentiful. There are both rustic and luxurious lodges and hotels to be found alongside the Thamalakane River, which is also the site of the 83-bed Cresta Maun which opened in 2018.
The Nhabe Museum is housed in a 1940s colonial style home. Its permanent exhibition reflects the diversity of culture in the region, from fishing nets and Hambukushu baskets to stone tools and hunting rifles. Also of interest is the 80-year-old Matlapana Bridge, which has recently been restored as a heritage site and is being managed by a local community trust.
Serowe is the birthplace of the country’s first president, Sir Seretse Khama, and the home of the Khama family who are the ‘dikgosi’ (traditional leaders) of the Bangwato. Their founding father, Khama III – known as ‘Khama the Great’ – was one of the three dikgosi who petitioned the British Government to establish the Bechuanaland Protectorate. He is buried on a hill overlooking the town; his grave marked by a bronze duiker, the sacred animal of the Bangwato. The peaceful family burial site is also the final resting place of Sir Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth.
This historic settlement is the largest traditional village in Botswana and one of the biggest in Africa. The village centres on the flat-topped Thathaganyane Hill which dates back to the 11th Century and contains the remnants of a much earlier settlement. A large ceremonial ‘kgotla’ (village meeting place) has the rondavels of the chief and the most important families built around it.
At the foot of Thathaganyane Hill lies the Khama III Memorial Museum, housed in the former residence of Tshekedi Khama, Sir Seretse Khama’s paternal uncle. The Victorian-style ‘Red House’ – so called because of its red corrugated iron roof – has been restored and contains an interesting collection of furniture, correspondence and photographs that chronicle the history of Serowe and the legacy of the Khama family. The striking London Missionary Society Church with its tall steeple once stood in Old Palapye and was rebuilt in Serowe using the original stones. For arts and crafts lovers, there are some beautiful wooden carvings made by the Bakgalagadi and San people. The nearby Khama Rhino Sanctuary is a community based wildlife project providing a prime habitat for white and black rhino.
Kanye is the administrative centre of the Southern District, and a pleasant 80-kilometre drive from Gaborone along one of the most picturesque routes in Botswana. Polokwe Viewpoint some 10 kilometres north of the town on the Thamaga road offers lovely vistas of the northern valley, and there are good walks and birding opportunities in the vicinity. Kanye is the oldest major centre in the country, having been settled by the Bangwaketse in the mid-19th Century, and has a number of interesting and historic buildings.
These include the London Missionary Society church built in 1894, former residence of Kgosi Bathoen I, the original tribal offices built in 1914 by Seepapitso III, and the former residence of the late Kgosi Bathoen II. Motse Lodge houses a cultural centre, where traditional arts and crafts are being revitalised, and a museum displaying artefacts from the region.
Blending old with new, Mochudi is a pretty village with traditionally decorated walls and painted rondavels alongside more modern structures. Lying north-east of Gaborone, it is principally a dormitory town which provides accommodation for those working in the capital. Pilane Crossing Mall serves Mochudi as well as the wider district. Numbered among Mochudi’s many interesting historical sites are the Dutch Reformed Church built in 1903 and the Phuthadikobo Museum from where there are scenic views of the surrounding countryside. Mochudi is also the home of Alexander McCall Smith’s fictional character, Mma Ramotswe, the heroine of ‘The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ novels.
Situated on the edge of the Kgalagadi desert, the urban village of Mahalapye lies on the Tropic of Capricorn, the southernmost latitude where the sun will appear directly overhead at midday. To the west of the village, the Shoshong Hills harbour stone-walled ruins as well as mining works dating back hundreds of years. Mahalapye was one of the locations used for the popular biopic ‘A United Kingdom’, based on the love story of President Seretse Khama and his British wife Ruth.
Located in Central Eastern Botswana along the A1 from Gaborone to Francistown, the swiftly growing village of Palapye is seen as Botswana’s next business hub. Blessed with vast coal resources, it is the site of Morupule Coal Mine (MCM) and the country’s principal domestic source of electricity: the coal-fired Morupule Power Station. Boasting other resources such as land, water and electricity, Palapye is ripe for the development of new businesses and industries, and has witnessed a construction boom in recent years. Palapye Junction Mall opened at the end of 2017, and was followed by the impressive Diphalane Mall in 2018. Palapye is also an important centre for education, and is home to the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).
MCM, through its Legacy Project, is to construct a multi-purpose stadium in Palapye, with Phase 1 to include a football field with artificial turf, netball pitch, grandstands to accommodate 500 spectators and parking facility for 200 cars.
Lobatse was founded in 1902, after a small urban centre developed alongside the railway line, and continues to enjoy a strategic location on Botswana’s major rail and road routes. It is the site of the country’s High Court and a number of major industries, as well as being the headquarters of the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC). Set in hilly terrain some 65 kilometres south of the capital of Gaborone, Lobatse has a cool and pleasant climate. Interesting archaeological remains in the vicinity comprise stone walling from a Bangwaketse village built in the late 18th Century, while earlier settlements built by the Bakgwateng, a Kgalagadi tribe predating the Bangwaketse, are evident to the south of the town. Another structure well worth visiting is the beautiful St Mark’s Anglican Church, a stone and thatch building consecrated in 1934. Plans are afoot to build a cultural village with the intention of attracting tourists and generating more revenue for Lobatse. Some of southern Africa’s best-known liberation struggle heroes once spent time in Lobatse, including the late Samora Machel and Nelson Mandela, who later became presidents of Mozambique and South Africa respectively.
Kasane lies near the Zimbabwean, Zambian and Namibian borders in the tourism hub of the Chobe district, which is home to Chobe National Park, Chobe River and six forest reserves. Kasane International Airport lies a mere four kilometres from the town. As the gateway to Chobe National Park, as well as being close to the Victoria Falls, Kasane is a popular destination, and boasts a number of good hotels and game camps, including a lodge with a nine-hole golf course along the banks of the Chobe River. Other attractions include hot springs, excellent fishing camps, river cruises, beautiful picnic sites near the Kasane Rapids, and the Kazungula Snake Park. This is also the site of Seboba Cultural Village and Recreational Park. The town’s infrastructure is being upgraded as part of the Kasane-Kazungula Redevelopment Project, with the focus on tourism. Amongst others, this will see waterfront developments such as hotels, restaurants, offices, urban spaces and a common jetty.
Situated near the South African border some 30 kilometres south of Gaborone is the quaint village of Ramotswa. Exhibiting time-honoured as well as contemporary elements, the village is one of the few in the country to have two main kgotlas – the old one holding with customary values and the new representing a more progressive mind-set. Ramotswa has thrived under the leadership of its paramount chief, Kgosi Mosadi Seboko, who is the only female paramount chief in Botswana. The village has a population of 27 760 (2011 Census), and businesses which include a flour mill, which is a major employer, as well as a small engineering works specialising in the manufacture of steel furniture and metal products. Notable attractions in Ramotswa comprise the old Lutheran church and hospital, which was established by Lutheran missionaries in 1934.
The village of Jwaneng (‘place of small stones’) was planned and built by Debswana and the Botswana Government to serve the diamond mine that opened here in 1982. It is the site of the richest diamond resource in the world, and has grown rapidly over the past three decades. This is a convenient stopover for tourists either visiting the western parts of the country or in transit to other southern African destinations via the Trans-Kalahari highway. The mine supports the nearby Jwana Game Park, which protects a variety of indigenous wildlife species. A Cheetah Conservation Botswana field unit has been established here, and white rhinos have been introduced into the park.
Ghanzi is the capital of the Kgalagadi and lies hundreds of kilometres away from any other major towns or settlements. This area was once home to the Basarwa (Bushmen), and was in the late 1880s settled by Afrikaner trekkers who established a number of cattle ranches. These days Ghanzi is the centre of Botswana’s cattle farming industry. Visitors will find some of the best Basarwa crafts in the country, such as woodcarvings and painted fabrics, ostrich eggshell jewellery, belts, hunting sets, fire sticks and traditional musical instruments, at Gantsi Crafts.