Acemoglu et al - An African Success Story: Botswana

Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., & Robinson, J., ‘An African Success Story: Botswana’ in Rodrik, D., (ed.) Search of Prosperity: Analytical Narratives on Economic Growth, p. 80-119, (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003)


The management of natural resource wealth has proved challenging for many resource rich countries and has led to the popular resource curse concept. This paper focuses on the natural resource management in Botswana and factors responsible for its successes. The authors note that Botswana has had the highest rate of per capita growth of any country in the world in the last 35 years despite adverse initial conditions, including minimal investment during the colonial period and high inequality.

The authors argue that Botswana pursues good economic policies notwithstanding that such policies are not generally politically feasible in Africa. The platform for these policies, the authors posit, were the existence of good institutions which they refer to as institutions of private property. They conjecture further that private property institution arose in Botswana due to several factors which include: first, Botswana possessed relatively inclusive pre-colonial institutions, placing constraints on political elites; second, the effect of British colonialism on Botswana was minimal, and did not destroy these institutions; third, following independence, maintaining and strengthening institutions of private property were in the economic interests of the elite; fourth, Botswana is very rich in diamonds, which created enough rents that no group wanted to challenge the status quo at the expense of ‘rocking the boat’; and finally, a number of critical decisions made by the post-independence leaders, particularly Presidents Khama and Masire, helped to legitimize these institutions given very broad political base.

These factors, they argue further, helped to strengthen the institutions in the country which have protected property rights of investors, provided political stability, constrained the elites within a strong political system and ensured the political participation of a broad cross-section of society. Case study examples of Lesotho, Somalia, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire were made in this regard to examine the presence or absence of some of these factors and whether it made any difference within the country context.

The authors conclude that neither of these factors can explain the success story of Botswana but rather, a juxtaposition of these factors.

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