CLIO mr brice - page 11

Despite the exposure, the Kongolese did not trade or experience any advance in technology simply because
they had no incentive to - it was all very well purchasing a new plough to till your land more efficiently, but what
would be the point when the king and his government could arbitrarily seize it from you? The elite themselves
thrived off this governance through fear through the use of military coercion and an arbitrary taxation system
(which included a citizen's tax whenever the king's beret fell off). This had the effect of making a tiny subsect of
society fantastically rich while the rest got poorer. In fact the Kingdom's staple item of trade was people – the
government actually collaborated with the beginnings of the European slave trade, sending its own people across
the Atlantic in chains because it was a further source of profit for the narrow elite. A Kingdom that subjected its
own people to slavery was evidently one where the population’s values were not upheld.
The Kingdom of the Kongo collapsed in the 17th century and is one of many factors behind the poverty
and instability of the present day Democratic Republic of Congo. This provides stark contrast to Botswana’s
relative wealth derived in part from its democratic foundations. In fact these foundations were not unique to the
Tswana, with other equally democratic institutions existing throughout sub-Saharan Africa; the key difference was
that where others had their foundations erased by the subsequent colonial era, the Tswana’s remained intact.
Ntwa kgolo ke ya molomo.
‘The highest form of war is dialogue.’
Colonialism reached its zenith during the 1884
Berlin Conference, where European powers took part
in the ‘Scramble for Africa’, carving up the continent
between themselves. The Tswana were consequently
powerless when their lands were declared part of the
British Protectorate of Bechuanaland in 1885. While
this new but fairly loose control did not particularly
affect the Tswana way of life, the real threat came from
Cecil Rhodes and the expansion of his British South
Africa Company towards Tswana land. Invasion seemed
imminent due to Rhodes’ military superiority and the
Tswana knew only exploitation and ruin would follow.
However in 1895 three chiefs provided resistance to
this seeming inevitability – not by use of weapons, but
words.
Khama, Bathoen and Sebele sailed all the way to London in order to lobby the support of Joseph
Chamberlain (Secretary of State for the Colonies). After some negotiation, they convinced Chamberlain to block
annexation by Rhodes and to allow the chiefs to ‘rule their own people’. A potential crisis for the Tswana had been
averted thanks to the trio’s diplomatic skills. The Tswana’s political foundations were instrumental in the success of
the chiefs’ daring gambit. They had a high level of authority in their tribes due to the kgotla which allowed them
to make quick decisions with maximum effect. This, combined with intelligence of the three chiefs, allowed the
Tswana’s democratic institutions to stay and the people to prosper from them.
Ditabana di tswala ditaba.
‘The mighty rises from the trivial.’
The Tswana were allowed relative autonomy in their governance right up until their official independence
in 1966. Nevertheless with the sudden removal of British protection, the new country of Botswana was
precariously poised, not to mention desperately poor due to a chronic lack of British investment. With a total
12km of paved road, 22 university graduates, and surrounded by the regimes of South Africa, Namibia and
Rhodesia ruled by hostile white minorities, the young nation seemed to be doomed before it had even begun.
A kgotla in action.
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