In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Botswana (Bechuanaland)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Academic Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • Newspapers
  • Personal Narratives
  • Politics
  • Courts
  • Environment
  • Health HIV/AIDS
  • Economy
  • International Issues
  • Population Changes
  • Religion

African Studies Botswana (Bechuanaland)
John D. Holm
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0110


Botswana became independent in 1966. Previously, it was a protectorate of the United Kingdom, which ruled the territory from the South African town of Mafeking (now Mafikeng). Called Bechuanaland, the protectorate was established in 1885. It brought together eight Tswana ethnic groups of varying size, some other smaller Bantu groups such as the Bayei, the Hambukushu, and the Bahero, and a collection of hunter-gatherer communities, often collectively called the San, Basarwa, or Bushmen. This mix of ethnicities has coexisted in varying degrees of conflict and cooperation on the Kalahari Desert and adjoining low-rainfall savannah regions for between five hundred and around thousand years. Botswana is of particular interest to scholars for a number of reasons. It has shown remarkable progress relative to most African countries in terms of democracy, economic development, and education. Additionally, the government and people have addressed extensively, if not always successfully, a number of important development issues including corruption, conservation, social justice, HIV/AIDS, and rights of indigenous peoples. The literature examining these myriad of state-initiated social programs has been of relatively high quality and extensive, especially for a country of slightly more than 2.2 million people. Overall writing on Botswana can be divided into two parts. One is the colonial and immediate postcolonial period (1950s through mid-1980s) when European and American authors produced most of the important writing. Starting in the late 1980s, a growing number of Botswana intellectuals began to complete their graduate education and begin scholarly careers. They inevitably developed different perspectives from those of their outsider predecessors. A significant number of these new voices are on the faculty of the University of Botswana where they have considerable financial support relative to most African universities to the north. A number of the local scholars have engaged in serious and long-term research projects. The university has also offered a modicum of political protection so that staff members can put forward arguments at odds with the government’s vision and policies. The result is an expanded range of points of view on development issues, international and local, than is found in many African countries.

General Overviews

Batswana (the plural for citizens of Botswana) for the most part are not yet concerned with general overviews of their country. They tend to be focused on specific issues, especially related to development. Thus most general sketches, even in the 21st century, are done by Europeans and Americans. The first general introduction to the country is Munger 1965. It gives a good picture of how sympathetic outsiders viewed the territory, at independence, when few Batswana had any advanced formal education, no mining sector existed, and the government was largely staffed by foreigners. Tlou and Campbell 1997 articulates an overview from three decades later. In contrast to Munger, the coauthors lay out a richly textured precolonial and colonial history of the country, a nuanced view of the independence movement, and a perspective on the changing nature of state and society in the immediate postcolonial period under the first president, Seretse Khama. It is probably still the best overview of the country. A recent concise analysis of Botswana’s challenges at the beginning of the 21st century is provided in Throup 2011. It focuses on major problems Botswana must confront for its future development, including finding alternative sources of income to diamonds, reducing dependence of the population on welfare services, and ensuring possible turbulence in South Africa does not spill over and undermine the country politically and economically. A general overview of the Tswana mass culture in the postcolonial period is provided in Denbow and Thebe 2006. The authors summarize a wide range of aspects of everyday Tswana life (food, clothing, language, and the arts) as well as briefly sketch the country’s history, politics, economy, and religions. The authors of Morton and Ramsay 2018 have published four editions of a historical dictionary for the country that contains summary descriptions of a wide range of personalities, events, institutions, cultural practices and places. This book is an invaluable reference even for persons who are very familiar with Botswana. While it is three decades old, Hitchcock, et al. 1987 remains the best overview of research from the 1960s to the 1980s and a very good elaboration of key questions that still need to be explored.

  • Denbow, James, and Phenyo C. Thebe. Culture and Customs of Botswana. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

    Provides a detailed discussion of basic culture regarding everything from food, clothing, marriage, and funeral rituals to general information on politics, economy, and religion.

  • Hitchcock, Robert, Neil Parsons, and John Taylor. Research for Development in Botswana: Proceedings of a Symposium held by the Botswana Society at the Gaborone Sun Conference Centre Gaborone, August 19–21, 1985. Gaborone: Botswana Society, 1987.

    This collection provides a useful summary of the research done almost completely by European and American scholars up to the mid-1980s. The key research questions for the future are specified. Each chapter has extensive references to the literature discussed.

  • Morton, Barry, and Jeff Ramsay. Historical Dictionary of Botswana. 5th ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

    This is a substantially revised fifth edition. It is the best published source in existence of basic facts on contemporary Botswana and its history. Additionally the authors provide a twenty-two page chronology (beginning in 77,000 BCE) of Botswana history and the best general bibliography on the country (123 pages).

  • Munger, Edwin S. Bechuanaland: Pan-African Outpost or Bantu Homeland?. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.

    This short book is a good source for understanding the dearth of knowledge in the developed world on Botswana in the middle of the 20th century. The basic concern is with how the soon-to-be independent country was likely to fit into world politics of the time in terms of southern Africa and the East-West struggle.

  • Throup, David W. Botswana: Assessing Risks to Stability. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2011.

    Troup provides a good short survey of the economic, political, and social problems Botswana confronts at present; namely, a population accustomed to state welfare services, an economy overly dependent on diamonds, and a weak power position relative to the major actors in the region.

  • Tlou, Thomas, and Alec Campbell. History of Botswana. Gaborone: Macmillan Botswana, 1997.

    This book takes the history of Botswana from the origins of mankind to the present. It was written as a secondary school text but for a general reader desiring a short, but basic scholarly, perspective on Botswana this book has no equal.

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