Set in a little gem of a country in Africa called Botswana is a series of light hearted novels by Alexander McCall-Smith, titled “The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency”.  I refer to Botswana as ‘little’ because, although it is geographically roughly the same size as Texas, it has a total population of only 1.8 million people.

The last time I visited Botswana, I rediscovered the contented happiness among African people that I last saw in Rhodesia before it became Zimbabwe.  Almost alone among post independence African nations, Botswana seems to be at peace with itself.  These favourable impressions I had of Botswana were strengthened yesterday by an article in the Sunday Times “Precious Ramotswe: a very special investigator”.  A televised version of “The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series is being made in Botswana, and Mma Ramotswe is the main fictional character from these light hearted novels. 

Botswana is Zimbabwe’s south-western neighbour, yet the contrast could hardly be greater.  Unlike Zimbabwe, which was once the “bread basket of Africa” because of its wonderful climate and soils, Botswana’s land surface is 70% desert.  The only big river in Botswana is one of the few major rivers in the world that is unable to reach the sea, because it is soaked up far inland by the sands of the mighty Kalahari Desert.  I drove through almost the entire length of Botswana – from the capital City, Gaberone in the south, to the Chobe River on the northern border.  It’s incredibly dry and mostly suitable only for raising drought resistant cattle and goats – much less than 1% of Botswana’s total land surface is arable. 

But, like Zimbabwe, Botswana has mineral resources… and diamonds.  It also has the most wonderful wildlife – both in the Kalahari Desert and in the fantastic Okavango Delta.  This delta forms where the Okavango River runs into the Kalahari and disappears beneath the sands.  But before the river is lost, it creates a paradise of swamps, waterholes, still lakes and flowing rivers – all going nowhere.  It teems with wildlife of all kinds.  I went on safari there about five years ago and saw scores of antelope, buffalo, cheetah, crocodile, elephant, giraffe, hippopotamus, hyena, jackals, lions, plus a multitudinous variety of birdlife, including vultures waiting impatiently for lions to leave a recently killed giraffe so they could pick the bones. 

The Okavango Delta has tourist areas that are carefully managed by private enterprise hosts who run camps under license from an enlightened Government.  My wife and I were two in a group of only four people in a whole area within the Delta’s Moremi National Park.  Although a second group of ten people spent some time there too, the guides and trackers knew how to avoid each other, so we never saw the other group while out on safari; only when in camp.  This was a far cry from places like Kenya where dozens of vehicles, all full of tourists, might surround a single leopard.  The only shooting anyone does is with a camera.  The wildlife is truly wild and free.  We were thrilled, and not a little nervous, when our open vehicle was charged by a bad tempered lioness.  She was not happy that we were so close to the lions’ kill, and we backed off; lucky for us, so did she.  We were very privileged to see this part of Botswana, but what also impressed me was how cheerful everyone appeared to be – even in the dry, barren parts of the countryside. 

According to Wikipedia, “Botswana has transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country with a per capita GDP of $14,700 in 2007.  Economic growth averaged over 9% per year from 1966 to 1999”, although this has slowed slightly to an estimated 4.7% in 2007. 

So Africans really can succeed if they have the right government.  Let us hope that the people of Zimbabwe are able to change their government when they go to the polls at the end of this month!  But what hope is there when the Chief of Zimbabwe’s Police Force has said he would not “allow ‘puppets’ to rule” (meaning anyone other than Mugabe) and the Chief or the Military has made similar threats, ordering his soldiers to vote for Mugabe?  And the (rebel) Anglican Bishop of Zimbabwe has told the Government controlled Herald, that Mugabe “is a prophet of God who was sent to deliver the people of Zimbabwe from bondage”.


Author, Peter Davies was a soldier in Rhodesia from 1963 to 1975, where he took part in the capture and interrogation of terrorists.  His novel, Scatterlings of Africa, is based on his own experience during Rhodesia’s war on terror, and personal observations of how terrorist activities impacted Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and its people.

Readers who would like to make a contribution to help innocent pensioners, who are unable to buy food and other basic necessities in Zimbabwe, should please contact Patricia Williams by email

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