Botswana Poverty

High School ・Art ・MLA

It was one of the poorest countries in the world at the time that Botswana achieved independence and relied on Britain to finance its spending. Diamond was located in three distinct places in Botswana in 1967, 1972, and 1975, rendering the country a middle-income economy, thus alleviating the country's poverty condition. Even with the diamond discovery and middle-income status, however, the nation still faces the issue of poverty (World Bank Group, 2015).

When global diamond prices declined and the agriculture sector also showed a fall, the economic growth that was on the rise took a twist. In a bid to address the poverty, the government of Botswana has come up with several programmes and strategies to tackle the problem. In spite of these efforts by the government, poverty still remains one of the key challenges facing the country. The national leaders who have been elected in the past have all made pledges to reduce poverty in the country. One of the programmes adopted by former president Seretse Ian Khama is the Ipelegeng programme (Sekwati, Narayana, & Raboloko, 2012). Apart from the policies, the government of Botswana diversified into other sectors as alternatives including manufacturing, textile, tourism and agriculture in a bid to salvage the economy that was failing.

Brief Background

Botswana, like most of the African countries is considered as a developing country and hence has not escaped the poverty endemic which is a characteristic of developing economies. Over the years, a lot of progress has been made which have in turn resulted in economic growth for the country, in fact after independence, Botswana was in the list of the top countries in Africa (World Bank Group, 2015). However, going by the dynamics of the country in a bid to alleviate poverty, the chances are slim that they will be able to do away with poverty.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss poverty in Botswana, South Africa in light of its causes and the strategies to alleviate the poverty. The paper will also look into the achievements and failures of the strategies. in achieving the stated purpose, the paper is structured as follows; definition of poverty, the causes of poverty in Botswana, strategies by the government. The paper will then discuss the strategies that may help alleviate poverty in Botswana then will end with a conclusion that will word up the whole article.

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Poverty can be defined in either absolute or the relative terms. Where absolute poverty means lack of resources to sustain some minimum standards of living whereas relative poverty is deprivation compared to living standards of others, often, the majority. Terms such as Gross National Product (GDP) and per capita income are often used as indicators of a country’s social welfare and thus the poverty level. Even though the terms are use as statistical measures by governments and the government agencies, they tend to a lot on poverty such as the distribution and extent. Like in Botswana, after gaining independence in 1966 has witnessed rapid economic growth, however, in the vast rural areas, poverty has persisted over the years (The World Bank Group, 2016). The rural areas have little to show in terms of development in education, health care and infrastructure.

According to the World Bank, a common method of evaluating the level of poverty is based on incomes or the consumption levels. When a person’s consumption or income level falls below a level referred to as the poverty line, necessary to meet their needs then the person is considered poor (The World Bank Group, 2016). Across different societies and at different times, the necessities to meet one’s demands vary and therefore, the poverty line vary from one country to another. It therefore means that a poor person is one who lacks sufficient food, shelter, education and is at risk of the adverse events beyond their control.

Causes of Poverty in Botswana

Unfavorable Climatic Conditions

The harsh climatic conditions which is a characteristic of the country contributes to the poverty levels in the country. Botswana climate is semi-arid marked with low rainfall levels. The rainfall is often as low as up to only 700mm annually with periodic droughts experienced from time to time (World Bank Group, 2015). Poor rainfall and drought results in poor agricultural production which is often irregular too. Since traditional agriculture, which is the dominant type of agriculture practiced in the country relies of rainfall, the unfavorable climatic conditions have greatly contributed to food insecurity in the country. The consequence of the decline in food production ultimately result in poverty.

Decline of Traditional Mechanisms

Botswana is one of the countries that had traditional mechanisms that were effective in a way in mitigating against poverty. Mechanisms such as the extended family have been on the decline over the recent past and the consequence has been poverty. By pooling resources together through the extended families, they were able to keep poverty at bay. Today in Botswana people live in nuclear family kind of set up which unlike the extended families do not have the concept of pooling resources together (Unicef , 2012). The consequence has been poverty because even practices like rewarding people who offered their services with things like food for consumptions have been on a sharp decline. At the time Botswana attained independence the agriculture sector dominated the economy. Up to about 40% of the country’s GDP was from the agricultural sector which was majorly cattle keeping (The World Bank Group, 2016).

High Rate of Unemployment

Botswana has not only high levels of unemployment but underemployment too and in a way, this has contributed to the high poverty levels of the country. The small economic base of the country cannot sustain sufficient levels of employment thus the high unemployment and underemployment levels (Sekwati, Narayana, & Raboloko, 2012). The only sector that strives to give the people employment is the mining industry which due to its capital-intensive nature has been able to offer a significant number of the citizens’ employment. The high unemployment levels lead to poverty since the citizens are not able to get employment opportunities to earn some income from.

Low Education Levels

Education and poverty levels have a direct relationship, countries with low levels of education or literacy have higher poverty levels compared to those with higher levels of education or literacy. In Botswana, the levels of education and skills is low and this has resulted in poverty in the country. Lack of education denies many citizens opportunities to work in the formal sector within the country (Unicef , 2012). Lack of employment leads in to poverty. Education is a powerful tool that can be used by Botswana to alleviate poverty and improve the country.

Skewed Ownership

Productive assets are a key pointer to poverty levels for a country. One of the causes of poverty in Botswana is the lack of ownership of the productive assets. The ownership of what exists is skewed with the poor, who are mainly the traditional farmers who make the majority owning less than 10% of the livestock while the rich who make about 2.5% own almost half of the livestock (Sekwati, Narayana, & Raboloko, 2012).

High Disease Prevalence

High disease prevalence in Botswana is one of the contributors to the current poverty levels in the country. High prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS and malnutrition remain some of the key challenges that the country faces. HIV/AIDS is the main contributor to poverty in Botswana and its prevalence is ranked as the second highest in the world. In 2012, up to about a quarter of the entire adult population was infected with the disease (The World Bank Group, 2016). The health challenge has brought negative impacts to the economic well-being of the country since it reduces the human capital.

The consequence of the prevalence has been severe effects on the economic and agricultural situation in the country. When people are sick they cannot offer positive contribution to production thus leading to poverty. As a strategy to curb the high prevalence of the disease, the government started addressing the issue with significant success. The government was able to medicate majority of those suffering from HIV/AIDS up to 95% of the total infected adults. The effect of the medication and the strategies to curb the disease has been improvement in health of the affected persons and rise from economic recession (World Bank Group, 2015).

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Effects of Poverty

The effects of poverty on the people range from inappropriate acquisition of basic amenities and secondary needs. Inability to find the right economic activity separates the country along social ranks with the poorest population spending more of their time looking for sources of income to get food. Health, education and housing remain the most affected amongst the poor. The school attendance reduces on a daily basis as most young people, of school going age, resort to assisting their families in looking for what the family can feed on. Contributions to this are the prevalence of AIDS that affect most adults, rendering them unproductive and forcing their children out of school to look for basic needs on their behalf (Luke & Haaker, 2011). The disease, which claims many lives also render the children orphans, leaving them with no help. Consequently, health and housing remain poor because of these labor factors.

Policies to Alleviate Poverty

Botswana’s government recognized these and created strategies to address poverty. It developed procedures to addresses the problems people have (Republic of Botswana, 2010). Their first concern was the HIV/AIDS rates, which they treated with great success, as the Borgen Project (2013) notes. A healthy population, more than 95%, living with HIV/AIDS receive medication. This was to ensure the population was healthy to fight poverty. Through foreign assistance from the United States, they received money to fight the disease, making the process more successful. The last issue was to tackle poverty and reduce its effects on the population.

In addressing poverty, the local and international community joined hands, shifted attention from alienation to eradication of the poverty, and made the country have a narrow margin between the poor and the rich (Selolwane, 2012). Agricultural investments and subsidies were a measures the government took, supported through funding to expand their earnings. Financing of other projects that demanded more cash like education and health retained the family earnings high, and channeled the money to other sectors. Finally, with improved democracy, the country is progressing in employing people equally in formal and informal sectors, a move applauded by International community as robust enough to reduce poverty.

Economic policies

According to IMF 2008 reports the economic growth of Botswana had picked up especially in the non-mining sector. However, even with the stabilized inflation rate, the country was still faced with high rate poverty, unemployment and disease prevalence. Botswana being a landlocked country is exposed to external influences. The unstable political situation in southern Africa affects Botswana. The country relies heavily on South Africa for imports with food as one of the main components of what the country imports. It is through importation that the country tries to bridge the shortfall of the food products that it cannot produce.

Agricultural Policies

In attempts to encourage food sufficiency, in the 1970s, just few years after Botswana attained independence, the nation began adopting food security policies. In the early 1990s, the nation shifted from food sufficiency policies to food security policies (Sekwati, Narayana, & Raboloko, 2012). The shift saw the government, farmers and banking institutions come together to meet the intentions of the policy.

The Policy Environment

The National Strategy for Poverty Reduction (NSPR) is one of the policy documents used to guide interventions regarding poverty (Sekwati, Narayana, & Raboloko, 2012). Its aim is to link and reconcile the different sectoral program relating to poverty. Prior to the adoption of the strategy, the initiatives geared towards poverty alleviation were fragmented and thus were not effective in addressing poverty. As a strategy to opportunities for sustainable livelihoods for the people of Botswana, it sought to increase employment by broadening the economic base. At the micro-level, it aimed at promoting access to social investment among the poor to promote their capabilities to work and earn an income (Sekwati, Narayana, & Raboloko, 2012).

NSPR was a good strategy with regards to offering a guidance on addressing the poverty situation in Botswana. However, its success or failure is dependent on other complimentary policies. Some of these policies are Policy on Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) and the Industrial Development Policy (IDP). Both were aimed at encouraging development and growth through the private sector. In spite of the policies, nothing much has been achieved with the private sector remaining shallow and narrow too.

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The Iplegeng and TGLP Policies

The Ipelegeng program reached out to the targeted group, that is the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. Through the program offers relief to the powerless members of the populace by paying for the days worked. Therefore, the program achieved its intended purpose. Apart from providing the members of the society with income, through the program, development projects were realized such as construction of classroom, roads and houses. The projects helped in alleviating poverty in the society since for example, the children will acquire knowledge through the school. Education can be used to fight poverty since it is a powerful tool that can be used to change the society, change for the better. In general, the policy improved the lives of the people of Botswana.

Even though the policy can be termed as largely successful, it had some failures. Rather than providing a long-term solution, the policy was a short-term solution in the fight against poverty in Botswana. In addition to that, the income that the people received courtesy of the policy was too small to allow them save since they spent all the money on getting their basic needs. If one is to move away from poverty, then they should have an income that allows them to at least save some portion of the income after getting the basic needs. With the little income that the poor earned from working, it seemed like the poor were used by the government to provide cheap labour.

The Tribal Grazing Land Policy (TGLP) had benefits only in environmental protection and conservation but with regards to poverty alleviation, the policy was a total failure. People learnt about environmental protection and conservation which was a good thing, but that has little to do with bringing down the poverty levels in Botswana. Therefore, the policy can be regarded as a failure since it failed to reduce the gap between the poor and the rich. Even though during the conceptualization of the policy it was meant to gives the poor access to land, during its implementation, this never happened.

Future Outlook

These steps by the government worked to reduce the gap between the wealthy and poor in Botswana. Reports indicated the poverty levels were at 30% in 2002, projected it to be below 12% in 2018 and forecasts a reduction to below 6% by 2030 (Global Policy Forum, 2017). Confirmation of the international community reports and the government records indicate these as the best procedures, viable for the development of the country (Hwedei, 2004). They are an indication of the articulate processes and successful means the state is taking. In most situations, countries backslide when they reach these levels. They must maintain the process and make it possible to attain the best of results.


If Botswana is to alleviate poverty then the solutions provided have to be anchored around education, empowerment, pragmatic social entrepreneurship solutions. In addition to that, there is need for small and micro-entrepreneur development. With policies developed with a specific focus on food security, the nation can have a human capital base that is productive to stir the country from the high poverty levels. Further, by having proper education system that does not discriminate the girls and women then the country can make remarkable strides in the fight against poverty.

The world today is changing with the numerous technological advancements. Another solution to the poverty prevalence in Botswana is around the technological advancement in Africa. Therefore, to alleviate poverty, the country needs to invest in information communication and technology (ICT) sectors since this will open up the remote areas for job opportunities. ICT may also be used to improve the farming methods since to date, most farmers in the country use the traditional methods which give low yields compared to modern farming methods.

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Hwedei, K. O. (2004). Poverty eradication in Botswana: Towards the realization of vision 2016. Botswana Journal of African Studies, 18(1), 1-12.

Luke, E., & Haaker, M. (2011). The fiscal dimension of HIV/AIDS in Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland, and Uganda.Bern, Switzerland:World Bank Publications.

Sekwati, L., Narayana, N., & Raboloko, M. (2012). Understanding the Nature of Household. Botswana Journal of African Studies, 71-81.

The World Bank Group. (2016). Poverty Reduction and Equity. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from,,contentMDK:22397595~pagePK:210058~piPK:210062~theSitePK:430367,00.html

Unicef . (2012). Annual Report 2011. Unicef.

World Bank Group. (2015). Botswana Poverty Assessment. World Bank Group.

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