Big game parks. Both owned by a guy named Ratray. We met old Mr. Ratray at Mala Mala, he was wearing red tartan trousers and a red sweater for dinner. His traveling companion was a blue haired woman wearing a pith helmet to lunch.
I kid you not…but first…
Fish, the coolest ranger, ever, told me some Botswanan history while we were walking through the lands. I’m trying to recall this from memory, a week later, so I may have to update it when I have real internet access again.
Great Grandfather Khama was one of three paramount chiefs in the land that later became the country of Botswana. There was nothing of value to Great Britain in Botswana–no minerals, no oil, nothing to be exploited. At this time, the British were doing everything they could to gobble up as much of southern Africa as possible. They claimed Rhodesia, north Rhodesia (Zimbabwe & Zambia), and most of South Africa. The Dutch had previous claims on South Africa, but the British had been harassing them badly, pushing the Afrikaners north east, to the land that became Transvaal.
The British had little interest in Botswana, but were going to colonize it anyway as a matter of principle. They were building a railroad from Cairo to Cape Town, and through Botswana was the perfect choice. Their usual modus operandi was to claim the land, “hire” the natives to help with the manual labor, and pay them off with alcohol, which was largely unknown previously, quite addictive, and easy to manufacture and transport.
Khama and the two other paramount chiefs did the unthinkable. They wore western clothes, learned western manners, and went to England to petition the Queen. The Queen dumped them on her Lord Chamberlain, who just wanted the problem to go away. Khama negotiated a deal where Botswana became a protectorate of England, largely autonomous. They deeded a small strip of their land, the Tule block, to England to build the railroad–think canal zone. He also convinced the crown to agree to immediately settle the Tule block with British subjects.
This was a brilliant move. It created a tripwire between the British and the Dutch. If the Boers tried to cross into Botswana, they’d have to fight the British first. The British, for their part, seeing nothing of worth in Botswana, left the rest of the country alone. This is one of the main reasons why Botswana is so less fucked up than the rest of the region. There was no “civilizing” of the natives by turning them into servants and/or drunken unskilled laborers.
Fast forward to the independence of Botswana. Khama’s grandson, Svetsee Khama (spelling?), made a similar trek to England. Again, there was nothing to exploit in Botswana, the Crown was more than happy enough to give up responsibility for Botswana. In fact, the deal that they negotiated included a hardship provision for Botswana. Cattle were imported to the country, and the UK contractually agreed to buy a huge load of Botswanan beef every year, with no expiration date on this contract.
(Off topic, Svetsee Khama and an English aristocrat fell in love. It was unheard of and totally scandalous that there could be a relationship between a black man, even the leader of a country, and an English woman of high standing. This caused a lot of friction and frustration to the British and a number of times nearly screwed the deal.)
Cattle is now the number two source of income in Botswana. Amazingly enough, just after the deal was inked and Botswana received independence, diamonds were discovered. A LOT of diamonds. Ooops. 🙂
Svetsee Khama negotiated a deal with DeBeers. For 20 years, DeBeers would receive 60% of the profits from diamond exploitation, but part of the provision was that they had to train locals to run and manage the operation. At the end of 20 years, the contracts would be re-negotiated, and, of course, now far more in favor of Botswana. DeBeers got a lot of diamonds, Botswana now controls the operation and gets the majority of profit, everyone’s moderately happy.
I love these guys.