A little white pick up sat parked in the square in Ballyragget, it was similar to that driven by Mma Ramotswe from BBC Television’s ‘The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency’. Except, of course, Mma Ramotswe would not be found in Ireland, Mma Ramotswe’s Botswana is a place very different from Ireland.
Martin Meredith’s magisterial work ‘The State of Africa’ covers five decades of African history in its 700 pages. Progressing through its pages, one longs for some good news, for the appearance of Botswana. There are just seven references altogether, four of those are no more than passing. A paragraph on page 285 captures its essence:
Botswana provided a rare example of an African state that used its bonanza of mineral riches wisely. At independence in 1966, Botswana, consisting of large areas of desert, with a population of only half a million, was one of the poorest countries in Africa, heavily dependent on British support. But the discovery of rich seams of diamonds shortly after independence transformed its prospects. By 1980 its per capita income had risen to more than$900 a year. Avoiding extravagant expenditure on prestige projects, Seretse Khama invested in infrastructure, health and education and built up substantial reserves. Private businesses were allowed to grow. Corruption hardly existed. In the 1980s per capita income rose to $1,700 a year.
A hundred pages later, on page 386, Botswana appears:
Only three countries – Senegal, the tiny state of Gambia and Botswana – sustained multi-party politics, holding elections on a regular basis that were considered reasonably free and fair. Botswana, in particular, stood out as an example of liberal democracy, tolerant of opposition, where the rule of law was held in respect and where economic development proceeded apace.
The final reference is on page 698:
Botswana stands out as a unique example of an enduring multiparty democracy with a record of sound economic management, that has used its diamond riches for national advancement and maintained an administration free of corruption.
Corruption hardly existed . . . the rule of law was held in respect . . .sound economic management . . . riches used for national advancement. Seretse Khama might have gone the way of other African leaders, filling his own pockets and those of his friends, behaving as the leaders of Uganda still behave. Instead, he shaped an exceptional place.
What a different place Ireland might have been if its history had followed a similar course, instead of the path of gombeenism and cronyism. Mma Ramotswe would not be seen in a country where corruption has been so rife that those making and those taking bribes seem not even to merit prosecution.