CLIO mr brice - page 12

The discovery of diamonds was not in itself enough
to kick-start the economy; rather it was the way Khama
dealt with it. Before the discovery was announced,
he tweaked legislation so that minerals found were
to be for the benefit of the state. He then used the
diamond revenue to build up infrastructure and invest
in education, thereby creating a politically centralised
state. It is easy to think that diamonds would be greatly
beneficial to any country that discovered them but, as in
the case of Sierra Leone, they can cause a nation to fall
apart.
Discovered in Sierra Leone in the 1930s, the British
colonial rulers immediately monopolised their trade and
extraction, complete with a private army to prevent any
competition. However these alluvial diamonds could
just be sifted out of the riverbed and so enforcing such a
monopoly was almost impossible, leading to widespread
conflict and instability. It was from this chaos that Sierra
Leone gained its independence in 1961.
Like Botswana, Sierra Leone began with democratic elections, but after narrowly winning the 1967
election, Siaka Stevens and his deceptively named Sierra Leone People’s Party set about establishing a military
dictatorship. One of the first steps Stevens took was to nationalise the diamond mining process, including giving
the government a 51% stake in its unchallenged profits. It was with this money that he set about shoring up his
power by surrounding himself with a military bubble, bribing or arresting challengers and seizing the profits of
cocoa farmers, thereby destroying Sierra Leone’s main export market. Counter-intuitively, the wealth of diamonds
was the ruin of Sierra Leone.
Stevens’ dictatorship crumbled into a decade-long
civil war that ended in 2002; consequently Sierra
Leone is now the ‘least liveable’ country in the
world according to the UN. It is interesting to see
the many parallels between colonial Sierra Leone
and Stevens’ dictatorship; how the extractive nature of the former was
subsequently adopted by the latter. All this contrasts Botswana’s actions
post independence, aided by the pre-existing democratic institutions
that had survived the colonial era. Khama’s government also had a
half share in the diamond mining process through a similar process
to that in Sierra Leone. The difference was that in Sierra Leone the
government was effectively a dictatorship run by Siaka Stevens, who
used the diamond reserve as a medium through which he could add to
his personal wealth. Botswana’s share and profits were for the purpose
of investment, development and progression. Today, Botswana enjoys
78% of its export revenue from diamonds.
Throughout its uncertain history, Botswana has endured many
conflicts; from the threat of colonial usurpation to powerful and hostile neighbours. Its overall success lies in
enduring and overcoming these conflicts where its counterparts have failed. The story of Botswana shows the
importance overcoming early obstacles when even greater challenges are presented at later times. With each victory,
however small, the Tswana’s values and institutions were reinforced against future challenges. Moreover it shows
that with the appropriate set of core political and economic institutions, all countries can have a shot at prosperity.
Seretse Khama
The three
chiefs: Khama,
Bathoen and
Sebele
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