Monday, March 31, 2014

Paper on Botswana's Extractive Industries

A paper I wrote at Penn State in 2013.

Botswana Extractive Industries and Land Conflict

Christopher R. Besserer

            The country of Botswana gained Independence from the British in 1966 at a time when many other Sub-Saharan countries were also breaking away from colonial rule. Botswana, luckily, was left largely untouched by its British colonial rulers and undeveloped when it citizens reclaimed freedom. Today, decades later, Botswana is being heralded as an economic success story among African countries. GDP growth has been increasing at a substantial rate year over year since Independence, even exceeding some fast growing East Asian countries. In this paper, I will examine how and why Botswana was able to avoid conflict within the country over this time period, especially when so many other Sub-Saharan African countries have fallen victim to conflict traps. The mining industry in particular has played a crucial role in helping to foster economic development within the country. When you look at many African countries and resource extraction, one often finds that if there is an abundance of natural resources, there can also be an added risk of conflict. Yet, Botswana has proved to be an exception and it has been able to achieve real, sustained, growth as a result. I will look at how the government has been able to prevent this conflict while fostering the mining industry in the country, an industry that requires extensive land to tap into and mine. Specifically looking at land ownership in Botswana, it is important to note that tribal ownership of land in the country has increased since Independence. Time and again in Sub-Saharan Africa there are many cases in which African governments arbitrarily seize tribal land in order to pave the way for extractive industries and commercial farming endeavors. As a result of these policies, tension and conflict can likely occur as people are pushed off their land without the proper compensation. However, in Botswana we do not see this conflict, in fact we have seen little to no conflict in the 50 years since the country gained Independence. It's under this stability that the Botswana economy has flourished. Looking at everything from the natural geographic features of the country, to the land boards put in place by proper governance, and lastly the nature of its citizens, we can see how Botswana differs from other African countries that lag behind.
Botswana benefits from several natural factors that decrease the odds for conflict without the government or people having done anything to achieve it. The natural landscape of the country, the continued urbanization, and the type of diamonds found in Botswana are all some natural factors that help diminish the risk of conflict within the country. To start, there are two types of diamonds that can be extracted from the earth, alluvial diamonds and kimberlite diamonds. One type is found on the bottom of riverbeds and requires a large amount of human capital to gather. This is the type of diamond you may have seen being extracted and smuggled by rebels in the Hollywood movie “Blood Diamond”.  Due to the fact that it requires labor intensive and not a lot of capital, it can be easy for rebel groups or other factions to extract the diamonds and then use that money for arms and corruption. On the other hand, kimberlite diamonds are not found in riverbeds, they require mines be built and are found mainly in mountains. These diamonds require a large amount of capital investment and equipment that only a government can afford and maintain. Botswana is lucky enough to have kimberlite diamonds within the country and very few sites for alluvial diamonds. Therefore, there is less opportunity for rebel groups to take advantage and try to mine diamonds for their own cause. This decreases the odds and incentive of rebel groups to attempt to take control of the diamond resources for their own benefit. Next, the increased urbanization of Botswana has climbed from around 4% living in cities upon Independence in 1966, moving to 17% in 1980, and then climbing past the halfway mark to around 57% in 2005 (UN World Urbanization 2006). This aids an environment where more people are moving to cities and therefore less people are fighting over rural land within the country as a result. This urbanization also aids the population because it is much easier for citizens to gain access to water, education and other social programs provided by the government in an urban environment. It is much easier for the government to provide services and health benefits to those living in a city than it is if the country is sparsely populated in rural areas. Furthermore, there are just over two million people living inside Botswana, a relatively small number. Consider that in Nigeria, there are over 170 million people in an area that is only roughly 1.5 times larger than Botswana, resulting in a population density that dwarfs that of Botswana. This can put considerable pressure on a country in a number of ways and may be a factor in creating institutional fragmentation within Nigeria. However, in Botswana there are much less people vying for land and having competing interests. Another point to note is that the ethnicity of the Botswana people, again we will use Nigeria as a relative comparison. In Botswana, there are roughly five ethnic groups, the largest of which happens to make up 80% of the population, with the next largest at only 11%. Compare that to Nigeria where there are over 200 different ethnic groups and Bostwana appears relatively homogeneous. Now, it is not clear whether a large number of ethnic groups can be considered a root cause of conflict or not. Some research has suggested that it matters not how many ethnic groups there are within a country, but how polarized those ethnic groups tend to be towards each other. So if the 200 ethnic groups of Nigeria are not polarizing, then there is less probability of conflict between them. Conversely, if there are only two ethnic groups within a country and they are very polarized, there would likely be conflict between them. Either way, this much is clear, on a continent that has seen it's fair share of genocides and ethnic conflict, it is certainly an innate advantage for Botswana to have a relatively ethnically homogeneous citizenry. So overall, the natural factors of the country tend to favor a more stable and manageable populace that the government can be held accountable from. These factors have given Botswana a good foundation to take advantage of, and the country has certainly done.
            When mixing customary laws and statutory laws of the government, there can often be conflict and pressure over the differences. As this pressure builds up, people that continue to support or practice customary laws may suffer or be taken advantage of by the government and new statutory law. This can be especially true if the government is authoritarian and is not held accountable by the people through elections. The groups that uphold customary law can be in the majority and yet not have a say over what is happening on the statutory side of the law. Conflict can occur when land ownership comes into question and the government makes new laws either privatizing or making the land state owned. Meanwhile, tribes or villages may have been living on the land for as long as anyone can remember under customary law. Upon Independence in Botswana, there were both customary and statutory laws and yet the government has done an excellent job of balancing the two to help mitigate conflict. A large part of this may be due to the fact that Botswana is a functioning democracy and has been since Independence in 1966. We know that a democracy has the ability to cut down on corruption and change the behavior of government. According to Transparency International, Botswana is the least corrupt country within the African Continent, scoring a 5.8 on the index, beating out many East Asian countries and even ranks right behind some Western European countries like Portugal (Transparency International 2010). The good governance that Botswana has been able to maintain and establish since Independence is crucial to economic and social success. This is particularly true of creating institutions that foster accountability to the public, through a decentralization of power within the country. According to one author, “the decentralization process has, for example, championed representative local government which has resulted in many urban councils being dominated by councilors from the opposition national political parties at various times (Hope, 2000). This means that the local governments are sometimes comprised of opposing political parties relative to the national body in power, which can lead to compromise, and more importantly, to checks and balances. This is crucial to good governance within a country, and the local governance helps keep leaders accountable to the people. Apparently, this system has been largely successful, “local residents have been able to provide significant input into the governance of their communities and, through their elected councilors, their concerns and policy preferences have also been articulated and implemented” (Hope, 2000). This is a huge step forward for an African country, seeing as many other Sub-Saharan countries tend to have authoritarian, unaccountable, federal governments and limited local governance. To further this point, we must look into the land boards that have been set up and function as landowners, making decisions regarding land use within the country. This plays an especially prominent role in the relationship between the citizens of Botswana and foreign companies and corporations trying to mine within the country, as well as the government using land for public works and infrastructure projects.
            The land boards in Botswana are of particular interest and many credit the creation and function of these land boards as having been the leading force behind economic growth and lowering the chance of conflict. In the country, there are three different land types, tribal land, state land, and freehold land. Tribal land is a traditional land tenure category that exists in rural areas and has been administered under customary rules and is therefore by right the same as customary land (Adams 2003). The way tribal land was administered was through a chief, who was responsible for allocating land to villagers and would do so by allocating to subordinate chiefs who then apportioned the land to ward heads and representatives, and then that group gave land to family heads. It would be very hard to use this system of customary land ownership in conjunction with modern property right laws and the ability of government and corporations to come in and properly compensate for land and gain access to land without conflict. It would be very difficult for the government to gain access to this land for mining or other resource extraction without causing conflict with the tribes or villages over customary law. However, since Independence, tribal land has gone up from 48% of total land, to over 70% at 1998 (White, 1999). State land holdings have been cut in half, from 47% at Independence to 24% in 1998. These numbers are astonishing and unlike what most African countries have seen since their own Independence. Generally speaking, a large number of Sub-Saharan African countries have cut down on domestic tribal land and taken it over, either to give away to foreign companies for commercial farming or for other resource extraction. However, Botswana has seen the complete opposite take place and the land boards can be said to be responsible. The land boards are decentralized and adhere to the Tribal Lands Act and tribal land is held by the land board or administered out on customary grants and common law leases (Adams 2003). So, upon Independence, the State transferred tribal lands from the chief of a tribe or village to the land boards. However, these land boards are not run by the central government or federal government, they are decentralized and localized. This adds local knowledge and local accountability to those in charge of making decisions. There were some issues upon the creation of the land boards, these local members were often illiterate and did not understand the role of the land boards. The government put resources into training and the education of those elected to serve on land boards. Today, there are standards for anyone who wants to serve on the land board, for instance, candidates have to be at least 26 years of age and no older than 65 and all elected members must receive a certain period of training before assuming the duty (Adams 2003). There are also numerous levels of land boards that can be appealed to in cases of conflict. There is the local level and then one step higher, then ultimately there is the main land board of the country. In total, there are 12 main land boards and 39 subordinate land boards that function together (Collin 2010). Though, the level and complexities of the land board tiered system can be difficult to understand, the devolution of power from a main land board all the way down to a locally elected land board that is responsible for a small area seems to provide accountability and representation for a broad base of land owners. Put another way, “The structure of customary rights urges a peaceful coexistence within the villages. By having a more decentralized system, disputes within these areas can be solved rather quickly” (Collin 2010). For instance, if a corporation wants to come into the country and set up a mine or establish a commercial farm, it must go through and seek approval by the main land board. Conversely, in many other African countries, we see a corporation that deals directly with the federal government or state government, which then confiscates the land from a tribe or village and cuts a deal with a foreign transnational corporation to start resource extraction. This is especially true in countries without democracies because the government is not accountable to the people. Furthermore, when the government can cut deals with transnational corporations, it can then use the profit from those contracts to stay in power through more military spending and corruption payoffs to officials. This can become a vicious cycle and lead to conflict. The government does not feel responsible to the people because it no longer needs tax dollars as revenue when it can gain a lot of revenue from the resource extraction, creating a poor environment for institutions and proper governance. Botswana is able to avoid this by decentralizing and localizing decision making, and by incorporating many tribal leaders and those who practice customary laws into the decision making process. Put in broader terms, “The primary objectives of decentralization include, but are not limited to, overcoming the indifference of government bureaucrats to satisfying the needs of the public; improving the responsiveness of governments to public concerns; and increasing the quality of services provided” (Rondinelli et al, 1983). So, according to this logic, Botswana benefits from decentralization of the land boards, which increases the quality and responsiveness of the institutions to the public and to land owners. This was a huge step for the government to make upon Independence and relative to other African countries, is unprecedented and wildly successful. Many countries are even trying to replicate the land board system within their own respective country. To conclude, the land board system in Botswana has been a contributor to mitigating conflict between different groups and the government by adding participation and accountability to decisions and officials in charge of the difficult task of merging customary and statutory laws and practices.

            Although it is worth noting that land boards within Botswana have taken criticism from some. Among the complaints is that there have been some cases of conflict between villagers and land board members. Also, some claim that land board members are not properly educated and are restrained by travel costs; nevertheless the Botswana government continues to improve conditions and standards for the members, which strengthens the role of land boards. However, in my opinion and many others, it seems that land boards, coupled with the natural environment and landscape of Botswana has enabled the country to grow substantially since Independence. Today, Botswana is marveled as a great economic success story in Sub-Saharan Africa and its citizens have largely benefited from that success. I conclude that through a combination of natural factors including the layout of the land, population ethnicity and urbanization, plus the decentralizing land boards and good governance, Botswana has been able to capitalize on this good fortune and use extractive industries to boost the economy and thus benefit its society as a whole.

Cited Works:
Adams, M., Kalabamu, F., & White, R. (2003). Land tenure policy and practice in Botswana-Governance lessons for southern Africa. Journal fur Entwicklungspolitik19(1), 55-74. 
Collin, L., & Bornegrim, L. (2010). Administration of Tribal Land in Botswana(Doctoral dissertation, University of G√§vle).
Hope, Kempe Ronald (10/2000). "Decentralisation and local governance theory and the practice in Botswana".Development southern Africa (Sandton, South Africa) (0376-835X), 17 (4), p. 519.
Rondinelli, D. A., McCullough, J. S., & Johnson, R. W. (1989). Analyzing decentralization policies in developing countries: a politicaleconomy framework. Development and change20(1), 57-87.
          Transparency International. Corruption Perceptions Index 2010. Retrieved from
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2005 Revision (2006). Retrieved from

White, R. 1999. ‘Livestock and Land Tenure in Botswana’. Conference on New Directions in Land Tenure. The Hague: Africa Studies Centre, University of Leiden.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Eating Lunch in Florence, Pino's

Pino's. It's a name that almost every American student in Florence knows. However, this place has it all whether or not your a one time visitor or a local. Don't be intimidated or turned away by the presumable line of 20 something Americans. As a student on a budget, in a city bubbling with tourist traps, it's easy to get caught overpaying for an underperforming meal. Not at Pino's. This panini place near the famous Santa Croce Church is a lunch spot that I highly recommend. In between our classes, the line would funnel out onto the sidewalk, as Pino whisked away at the deli slicer just a few feet inside, grin on his face. He makes sure to greet every customer with a smile and a hello, and it's not hard to imagine that this man genuinely enjoys making great tasting sandwiches for a living.A family run establishment, Pino has the help of his wife and daughter to quickly turn the line out the door into a line of panini eating students at crowded tables. True to the Italian spirit, it's the little things in life, and a great tasting panini can go a long way.

The deli meats and bread are fresh and there is every kind of meat you can think of. One of my favorites was to get some spicy salami coupled with pecorino or goat cheese plus just the right amount of spicy sauce. Of course there is something there for everyone. Cold feet? Grab the menu filled with examples and suggestions from Pino himself. The panini's are then grilled once Pino is done putting his finishing touches your sandwich, so if you'd rather it cold (I don't recommend it) just make sure to ask him in advance.

Although this place is not the most genuine, authentic Florentine panini place, it still is a must visit lunch sport. For under five Euro, you can enjoy a freshly made panini, choosing from a menu of Pino's favorites or customizing it yourself upon order. However, there is another menu option that allows you to get a plate of pasta for the same price, ask for extra red sauce and a little bread to go with it and you've got yourself a well priced pasta lunch instead.

Ordering tip: ask Pino about his famous inferno sauce, he really enjoys a customers reaction to his spicy magical blend. One time he even came to the back of the restaurant check on us and make sure we were satisfied with it.

Pino with that everlasting smile hard at work.

Some of the sauces you can add (sun-dried tomatoes, spicy sauce etc)

Grabbed a goodbye picture with Pino before heading back to the States for good.

Some review's on Pino's (Old name:Salumeria Verdi)
Trip Advisor Review

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Cliffs of Mohr, West Coast of Ireland

Our fortune continues. Irish luck this time, over Spring Break last week we were able to have list the Cliffs of Mohr on the west coast of Ireland. That's a major perk of studying abroad for a spring semester, your Spring Break allows you to jet off to Ireland for a few days. Following up one night in the town of Galway, a night that surely ended up being one of my favorites from our entire 10 day trip, we jumped out of bed early in the a.m. ready for the day ahead. We had booked a bus tour that included stops along the way to the Cliffs and ultimately ended at the wonder itself. The tour left at 10am from right beside our hostel but before heading off on the tour we headed into town for a quick breakfast. I say "into town" but our hostel was only around a ten minute walk to the center. However, in Ireland, every street crossing felt like the scene from "Dodgeball", scampering across the streets, dodging traffic that was coming the wrong way. It sounds basic, but we had only been on Ireland for less then a day and the traffic takes a second to get used to. We finally ended up at a place called "Cafe Express" located near the City center on the corner of Eyre Square. As Americans living in Italy for the past two and a half months, this place was a blessing in disguise. I usually pick places while abroad that seem busy with locals, a sure sign that the establishment is worth a visit. When we walked past, I observed that telling sign of locals and with a quick glance at the menu in the window, we headed in. The hostess told us to sit wherever, and so we sat. Serving up a nice American breakfast of bacon, sausage, omelets, pancakes and good coffee we were satisfied. Having read that the lunch stop on our tour was expensive and not too tasty, we made a last stop at Subway to grab sandwiches for the road and headed back to embark on our bus tour to the cliffs. A quick note on the tour (Galway Tour Company)... after searching through multiple travel sites and travel forums, I decided that a tour was probably the best option for our situation, meaning 3 college students with no way to rent a car, so 20 Euros later (student discount) the journey started and off we went.

From the start of the tour, our Irish guide exclaimed multiple times that, "you get to see the four seasons in one day up there on the cliffs." Except you almost couldn't understand it, a heavy Irish accent can be one of the hardest things to comprehend even if your fluent in English. Well he wasn't mistaken. We got our fair share of hail, rain, wind, sun, and take a look... a rainbow while there. I mention the weather because I was extremely anal about the weather leading up to this trip as I had heard that if you get enough rain you may not even be able to see the cliffs. We had just one day to take the tour, Monday, so if the weather was bad we were shit out of luck. For ten days beforehand I checked the weather religiously, even visiting multiple weather sites to get differing opinions about the "ever changing weather". I was getting borderline crazy about what weather we would have. In the end, with some luck of the Irish, we had a picture perfect day for the tour. A day which, according to our guide, "You just don't see that kind of weather out here very often, it itself." He liked to add that onto most phrases, "in itself" or "of itself." Must be an Irish thing. As we ended up with good weather, I was more relaxed, but my fears were certainly not misdirected and I was vindicated after our guide exclaimed that his work partner, "took about 7 or so journeys up to the Cliffs of Mohr before she actually got to see them in person due to the weather." It's worth noting this dude did quite a bit of talking. Though, he was friendly and informative, I would say he has a tough job, talking to a bus full of people for a good five or so hours while driving over roads so narrow that at some points of two way traffic, one vehicle has to stop, back up, and move to the side to let the other pass. During the tour, it's almost non-stop talking and lecturing for the guide, to the point that you might rather he just pipe down and let you enjoy the ride in your own thoughts. Well, enjoy the ride as much as you might be able to. The roads in west Ireland, the Burren as it's called, are quite hilly, quite narrow, and quite bumpy. This is all amplified of course by being in a bus that is moving a little faster than it probably should be. My friend exclaimed she was feeling car sick after only a half hour or so, and, "she never ever ever gets like this, it's so weird." Well so it goes, she got carsick. Getting to the cliffs takes over three hours, including stops.

Our bus popped up the parking lot after a rushed day in and out of some minor stops along the way to our final destination. After the guide announced we had exactly one hour 30 minutes at the cliffs, people quickly scurried off the coach to make the most of the precious time. Once up on this Cliffs, you get a very stunning view. Your first thought might be that, "Glad I came on the 5 hour tour bus for this" but after stretching out the legs and forgetting the carsickness, you can really start to take in the enormity of the cliffs. It's hard to imagine how the Earth managed to prop itself up hundreds of feet vertically from the ocean floor. Teutonic plates create some of the magnificent forms on the planet. Up on the cliffs, the wind was so fierce that it actually managed to drive some ocean water up the side of the cliff and over the edge, right into our faces. Mother nature is something special. Walking along the designated path, there is a 4 foot stone wall that bares you from going any further to the edge. However as you travel further only the coast, the wall ends and you enter some dangerous, or rather adventurous territory. There is no wall, and as you keep rising in elevation upon the cliffs, the wind gets even more fierce, if you had a bag or purse, you had to hold onto it at times. It's really something to be that high up, that close to the edge of the cliff.. with the waves pounding away, eroding the rock that will last long after I leave and long after a million new visitors come. These cliffs have withstood the test of time and will for the next thousand years. Incredible to think about. There was one jetted out rock a couple hundred feet from the actual cliff, and over years and years, the waves had actually carved a sort of panel into the rock through erosion. I'll post a picture below. Out in the ocean, you can spot the Aran Islands, home to some 400 Irish inhabitants that have lived there for hundreds of years and only starting getting electricity in the 1970s. The homes of the people are entirely on the side of the island that faces away from the Atlantic. This is to protect it from the ferocious waves and wind, so when looking from the coast, you see half the island completely deserted and rocky, and the other half dotted with small houses hidden away in the rocks. 

Ultimately, it's an adventure stop that was fulfilling and I'm very happy and thankful to have gone. My advice to anyone would probably be to rent your own car before taking a tour bus due to the rushed feeling that can stress you out a bit, as well as any carsickness you may get. If you have your own car, you can plan your own route (there are numerous suggestions on travel sites), take your time, and spend as much time as you want at each site. The major benefit of doing a tour is the guide accompanying you, but ours talked so much it was hard to decipher what was important from what was really just mumble jumble. That being said, I will say he did have some bright moments that were worth listening to throughout. As every bartender in Ireland says upon handing you a drink, Cheers.

Below are some pictures from my visit, followed up by a link to the travel company if you're interested.

This sign greets you before entering the area of the cliffs. "We were told to not get to close to the edge, might be the last picture you ever take if a good gust of wind comes along" -tour guide

Zoomed in look

Up on the Cliffs in some rain, close to the edge!

Storm blows over and woah, out comes the rainbow

Sun was out and the cliffs were looking fine.

The eroded rock I mentioned earlier. The waves have carved a little nook into the front, creating an almost shelf like rock.

Here is a link to the Tour Company we used: Galway Tour Company

I'd say they did a decent job. It was nice to stop off at other historic sights along the way to the cliffs. However, it does feel a bit rushed. You're talking 10-15 minutes per stop, that includes emptying out a bus full of tourists, milling around, snapping pictures, exploring, taking it in, etc. As i mentioned earlier, I'd say you're better off renting a car, if you can manage driving on the other side of the road that is.