People and culture
The most recent statistics (2001) put Botswana's population at around 1,586,000, with a population growth per year of 0.47%. This growth rate is low by African standards, and results from about 49% of fertile women using contraceptives. This is exceptional for sub-Saharan Africa and reflects the educated people with a prosperous and generally developed economy (Botswana's GDP is around US$6,600 per capita).
UNICEF's current statistics indicate that 95% of the population has access to safe water, 66% to adequate sanitation, and that well over 90% of children under one have been immunised with polio, diphtheria and the BCG triple vaccine shots. These are very good levels by the continent's standards, and are no doubt helped by the government's policy of paying the full cost of all these vaccines.
Primary school enrolment is around 98/99% for boys/girls, and secondary school enrolment is around 61/68%. Literacy is 74/80% for men/women. This pattern of the girls generally receiving more education is unusual in Africa, where sons are often favoured by their parents over daughters – but given women's pivotal role in bringing up children and running households in this traditional society, it bodes well for the future.
About 49.6% of the population is under 18, and the average life expectancy is about 47 years. It's sobering to note that this life expectancy has been going down recently, largely due to the impact of the high rate of AIDS infection in the country.
However, these statistics say nothing of what Botswana's people are like. If you venture into the more rural areas, take a local bus, or try to hitchhike with the locals; you will often find that people are curious about you. Chat to them openly, as fellow travellers, and you will find most to be delightful. They will be pleased to assist you where they can, and as keen to help you learn about them and their country as they are interested in your lifestyle and what brings you to Botswana.
That said, I find that it's not uncommon, especially in the towns, to find people surly and largely uninterested sometimes … just as they are in London, or New York, or many modern cities.
A note on 'tribes'
The people of Africa are often viewed, from abroad, as belonging to a multitude of culturally and linguistically distinct tribes – which are often portrayed as being at odds with each other. Whilst there is certainly an enormous variety of different ethnic groups in Africa, most are closely related to their neighbours in terms of language, beliefs and way of life. Modern historians eschew the simplistic tag of 'tribes', noting that such groupings change with time.
Sometimes the word tribe is used to describe a group of people who all speak the same language; it may be used to mean those who follow a particular leader or to refer to all the inhabitants of a certain area at a given time. In any case, tribe is a vague word that is used differently for different purposes. The term 'clan' (blood relations) is a smaller, more precisely defined, unit – though rather too precise for our broad discussions here.
Certainly, at any given time, groups of people or clans who share similar language and cultural beliefs do band together and often, in time, develop 'tribal' identities. However, it is wrong to then extrapolate and assume that their ancestors will have had the same groupings and allegiances centuries ago.
In Africa, as elsewhere in the world, history is recorded by the winners. Here the winners, the ruling class, may be the descendants of a small group of immigrants who achieved dominance over a larger, long-established community. Over the years, the history of that ruling class (the winners) usually becomes regarded as the history of the whole community, or tribe. Two 'tribes' have thus become one, with one history – which will reflect the origins of that small group of immigrants, and not the ancestors of the majority of the current tribe.
Botswana is typical of many African countries. Currently historians and linguistics experts can identify at least 26 different languages spoken here. As you will see, there are cultural differences between the people in different parts of the country. However, in many ways these are no more pronounced than those between the states of the USA, or the different regions of the (relatively tiny) UK.
There continues to be lots of inter-marriage and mixing of these peoples and cultures – perhaps more so than there has ever been, due to the efficiency of modern transport systems. Generally, there is very little friction between these communities (whose boundaries, as we have said, are indistinct) and Botswana's various peoples live peacefully together.