Wed, Jul 09, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Botswana sees Bush visit as a reward

ROLE MODEL The small southern African nation is proud of its record of good government, peace and economic development -- and its battle against AIDS


The shadow of a pedestrian is cast over a banner for the Tebelopele HIV testing center in Gaborone, Botswana, on Monday. The country has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. The US helps sponsor 16 such centers and fund AIDS awareness campaigns.


A small metal tray contains the fears and hopes of a nation ravaged by AIDS -- the results of another HIV test at one of the testing centers around the country run with the help of US funding.

The US effort to help Botswana battle the pandemic is part of a broader effort to bolster the southern African nation and prove that not all African nations fall the way of dictators, civil war and economic devastation.

Politically stable and diamond-rich, Botswana is among a hopscotch of stops in US President George W. Bush's tour of sub-Saharan Africa this week.

But unlike his other destinations -- Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda -- Botswana, a nation of 1.5 million people, is not a regional power nor does it have any strategic natural resources.

Its inclusion in Bush's trip is seen as a reward for the country's record of good governance and an opportunity to showcase a model for other African nations, including neighboring Zimbabwe.

The US government has been strongly critical of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whom it blames for plunging that once prospering nation into a political and economic freefall.

In nearby Angola and Congo, diamonds have helped fuel civil wars that cost millions of lives and devastated the two countries' economies.

Peaceful Botswana, however, was recently ranked the least corrupt country on the continent in a survey by the World Economic Forum.

"Among the blind, the one-eyed man is king," President Festus Mogae joked in an interview.

A series of checks and balances including an anti-corruption agency and a public accounting committee in Parliament help ensure government coffers are not raided.

"We are modest people and may be less tempted to do the wrong thing, [but] we have also tried to fight corruption," said Mogae, who went from tending his family's cattle to studying economics on a scholarship at Oxford.

However, Botswana is facing a potential AIDS disaster. More than 38 percent of adults are infected with HIV -- the highest rate in the world. The government has adopted Africa's most aggressive effort to battle the disease, including a promise to bring AIDS medicine to everyone who needs it.

The US has responded by jointly sponsoring 16 HIV testing centers around the country, donating money to improve health care and helping fund AIDS awareness campaigns, including a serialized radio drama that deals with AIDS-related issues.

In another sign of confidence in Botswana, the US government has based an international law enforcement academy here, training authorities across sub-Saharan Africa on everything from counterterrorism and forensics to fighting organized crime.

Seretse Khama, Botswana's first president, is credited with laying out a roadmap for the country -- one of strong government institutions and fiscal responsibility.

But history and geography also helped.

Tswana chiefs in the second half of the 19th century maintained their relative independence by asking for British help against white settlers moving north from South Africa.

Under British protection but with little British physical presence, Botswana, with no obvious re-sources, was spared the colonial exploitation that plagued many mineral-rich African nations.

The British quietly left the impoverished land of deserts and deltas in 1966.

The next year, diamonds were discovered here.

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