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The Birth of Modern Botswana

In this video, Oliver Coulson from Safari Consultants gives an introduction to the recent history of Botswana, from the days of The British Empire, to independence in 1965, and beyond. At the end of the video, Sir Alan Haselhurst M.P. (Chairman of the UK Commonwealth Parliamentary Association) shares his thoughts on Botswana’s successes, and the country’s relationship to The Commonwealth. To watch the full interview, click here.


In 1885 Great Britain made Bechuanaland (modern day Botswana) a protectorate of the British Empire. This happened at the height of the scramble for control of African territory by European powers that had intensified after the Berlin Conference of 1884, where the continent had effectively been divided between European countries with imperial ambitions.

Bechuanaland was strategically placed between the German colony of South-West Africa and the Boer Transvaal territory to the East. With the Germans and Boers representing a potentially serious rivalry to British interests, Britain hoped that by controlling Bechuanaland, these two unfriendly territories would be prevented from uniting and inhibiting British dominance of Southern and Eastern Africa.

Bechuanaland enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence right into the mid-20th century. By the 1950’s, the ‘winds of change’ were blowing at gale-force across British territories in Africa and demands for independence were growing.

But who would lead a new, independent Botswana? Born in 1921, Seretse Khama was the grandson of Khama III – the king who had applied to make Bechuanaland a British protectorate. With his royal and political lineage, Seretse Khama was seemingly an ideally placed candidate to take the reins of the new country. In the 1940’s however, an international romance rocked the foundations of regimes across continents and saw Khama banished thousands of miles from his home country, powerless to influence politics in any way.

While he was in London, Seretse Khama fell in love with a white English woman; a Women’s Auxiliary Air-force ambulance driver called Ruth. Their marriage in 1948 threw Britain and the whole of Southern Africa into political turmoil.

Inter-racial marriages were banned under the Apartheid government in South Africa, and every Machiavellian machination imaginable was pitted against Khama and his wife, to prevent them from becoming involved with the politics of Botswana.

Eventually however, times changed, Botswana gained independence and Khama was elected president in 1965.

Recently, I asked Sir Alan Haselhurst M.P., Chairman of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, for his thoughts on Botswana’s progress since independence

(interview excerpt follows).

OC “Thinking specifically about Botswana, in what ways do you think that the country has benefitted from embracing some of the core values of the Commonwealth?”

AH “Well I think it largely has. I think it probably stands above many of its neighbors within the continent of Africa.”

OC “There’s a lot of hope in Botswana isn’t there? It’s had a great economic history in modern times, it’s grown faster than many of the other African nations.”

AH “It has quite a respectable increase in GDP, there’s no doubt about that.”

OC “And stable governance through democracy…”

AH “Yes, although there’s not been any actual change of government. I think this is always one of the maturing features of a democracy, as to at which point someone completely different comes in with a bloodless democratic change of power.”

OC “Rather than dynastic rule, for want of a better term?”

AH “Yes, I think that those that have led the campaign for independence in many of the countries in Africa and beyond, cling on because they feel they are owed respect from their peoples because they were the ones who fought the hardest and most prominently for independence, but that doesn’t necessarily lead, forever, to a healthy democratic structure. But stability is very important. Stability is important for the people, stability is important for foreign investment, and for the confidence which people have in the systems which apply in any country, and I think that Botswana has a very respectable record in that respect.”