At 50, Botswana discovers diamonds are not forever

Mon Sep 26, 2016 8:33am EDT
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By Ed Cropley

GABORONE (Reuters) - When David Magang opened Botswana's first domestic law firm shortly after independence in 1966, he and his country were starting from scratch.

Since then, both he and the former British protectorate, which celebrates its 50th birthday this week, have traveled a huge distance based largely on Botswana's vast diamond wealth. With those riches running low, the outlook is less rosy.

Trained in London, Magang was one of only two local lawyers - the rest being British or South African - while Botswana, an expanse of arid scrubland the size of France, had just 7 km (4 miles) of tarred road and a capital that amounted to little more than a railway station.

"On the face of it Botswana was very poor - good for hunting and not much else. It was basically an agrarian, subsistence society," Magang told Reuters. "All we had was a railway, and that was owned by South Africa and Rhodesia."

The 77-year-old is now chairman of a luxury golf and housing estate on the outskirts of Gaborone - still known by some as 'The Station' - while Botswana is the world's biggest diamond producer and one of Africa's richest and most stable countries.

Its road network stretches for nearly 7,000 km, the government's credit rating is the highest on the continent and per capita income has risen 13-fold to $7,000 thanks to growth averaging 8.2 percent a year, according to the World Bank.

Over the past half century, only South Korea and China boast such dramatic increases in national wealth.

"I compare it to an ant and an elephant," President Ian Khama, the son of founding father Seretse Khama and his British wife, Ruth, told Reuters in his wood-panneled offices in the heart of Gaborone's bustling government district.   Continued...

Diamonds are displayed during a visit to the De Beers Global Sightholder Sales (GSS) in Gaborone, Botswana November 24, 2015.  REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo