Home, home in the Kalahari

Justice is served in Botswana -- the Bushmen can return to the desert

By Andrew Leonard
Published December 14, 2006 4:32PM (EST)

In September, after I waxed lyrical about Botswana's amazing economic growth over the last three decades, (in The Battle of Dimawe, a selection that I should have included in my one-year anniversary list of favorites) readers were quick to point out that Botswana is no paradise. Specifically, they noted a long-running dispute with a tribe of San Bushmen who had been brutally displaced from their traditional hunting grounds near a diamond mine.

Yesterday, the Botswana High Court ruled in favor of the Bushmen, allowing them to return to their ancestral home in the central Kalahari desert.

Africa gets a lot of grief from conservative economists for lacking the "institutions" necessary for steady economic growth. This is a handy way of blaming Africa for its own problems, without seeing them in the larger historical context of colonialism and imperialism. But the lesson of Botswana is that, by managing to escape the direct impact of colonialism to a degree most other African nations were unable to avoid, the country gained the breathing room to develop institutions -- like independent courts willing to rule against the Government -- that directly linked back to existing tribal traditions. It's no accident that justice was served in Botswana yesterday.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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