Former Presidents of Botswana Sir Seretse Khama (right) and Sir Ketumile Masire (left) and Former President of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda (middle)

Omphile Morake - Contributor 
Jul 24, 2017
Relationship Between Democracy and Economic Growth
Martin Jacques author of When China Rules the World states that “very few countries have combined democracy with the process of economic take-off”. Meaning that a large number of the developed nations experienced their industrialization and economic growth (moving from a largely agrarian society to a largely industrial society) as monarchies, military states and other undemocratic governments. Britain experienced its economic take-off in the late 18th century and by 1850 only one-fifth of men had the right to vote with women only experiencing that right over a 130 years after the Industrial Revolution. The rest of Western Europe was also either a monarchy or absolutist during their respective economic take-offs. In Asia, among the East Asian Tigers, South Korea and Taiwan were governed by military dictatorships, Hong Kong a British colony not afforded democracy and Singapore was described as authoritarian while Japanese males only got the right to vote in 1925. The United States only allowed male whites to vote in the 1850s. This is all while these countries are experiencing industrialization. Martin goes on to argue that for developing nations democracy isn’t necessarily the most important thing to acquire; economic growth, ethnic harmony, a fight against corruption, and sustained order and stability could be argued to take precedence over democracy.
The reason why industrialization is rarely synonymous with democracy, is because industrialization occurs at the expense of the people. A prime example is the low-wage manufacturing industry taking place in China. Citizens of an industrializing nation will accept low-wages when moving from an agricultural society. But this seldom goes on forever, especially as their governments and corporations see increase in revenues as their wages remain stagnant, a large example of this is the famous labour movement in America in the early 1900s. Before allowing workers their fair share, corporations make technological improvements and move their manufacturing across borders once the labour unions have won the wage wars. This is evident in American companies shipping jobs to China and the continuing shift in manufacturing jobs in China from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in search for lower wages. With governments in the 1800s having allowed; harsh working conditions, long working hours, child labour, industries without health benefits and what would be now considered unlawful termination in now-developed nations all at the expense of industrialization, workers discontent was either tolerated by coming from worse living conditions or silenced by an undemocratic government and massive profits enjoyed by the corporations.
Botswana’s Relationship Between Economic Growth and Democracy
From its inception, the Botswana government has been democratic and has championed; labour rights, human rights, and social welfare. Botswana once known as one of the poorest countries in the world, in 1966 had a GDP per capita of about US$ 60, has since then during its first two presidencies (from 1966–1998) experienced the highest economic growth rate in the world. The then newly formed government awarded its presidents 18-year terms in office. This turned out to be a positive for the citizens of Botswana, who’s Presidents had to govern through droughts and an ever looming apartheid South African government. Botswana was lucky enough to have its first two presidents who alongside democracy, championed ethnic harmony, economic growth, sustained order and stability, and strong measures against corruption. Former President Sir Seretse Khama united Botswana’s tribes under an equal banner as Batswana. He united the; Batawana, Batlokwa, Bagammangwato, Bangwaketse, Barolong, Bakgatla, Bamalete, and Bakwena during a time when tribal rivalries made it impossible to focus on the goals of a nation-state. Botswana has experienced political stability through Khama’s 14-year presidency and through Former President Sir Ketumile Masire’s 18-year presidency. Masire who also served as Khama’s Vice President and Minister of Finance and Development Planning is largely responsible for Botswana’s astonishing growth from one of the world’s poorest nation to middle income status.
During these two presidential terms Botswana moved from being a largely agrarian society to a mineral based society. It had 32 years governed by one party-the Botswana Democratic Party-which focused policy on fostering economic development by establishing an export economy built around beef, copper and diamonds. To further growth, The Botswana Development Corporation was established in 1970 to attract foreign investment in tourism, manufacturing and agriculture. With revenues from the mining, agricultural and tourism sectors, the Botswana government invested into the development of health, educational, power and transport and communications infrastructure. It then, over these two lengthy presidential terms, concentrated its efforts on economic growth and the establishment of government institutions. Had its first two presidents’ terms not been as extensive and as comparable in economic policy as they were, Botswana’s economic growth would have never experienced the heights it has.
The Exception Rather than the Rule
Botswana is among the few countries Martin Jacques describes to have combined democracy and economic take-off, as opposing as they are. The Botswana government took a process (economic growth) that has been mostly at the expense of the people and made it a process that is for the people. By using all revenues to build health, education, judicial, and other government institutions it made economic growth something that was welcomed by its citizens and not a protested phenomenon as citizens in other countries experienced worker exploitation and low-wages. Botswana’s democratic start was similar to undemocratic governments that prioritized industrialization, in terms of having a party that governed unopposed for 32 years with an above all mission of achieving economic growth. Because of this lengthy period of focused economic policy, Botswana were able to escape not achieving constant economic growth. Which has been found impossible to achieve with ever changing economic policies brought by a constant change in ruling parties.
History has shown that there are more undemocratic governments that have obtained democracy and improved standards of living after industrialization, than there have been democratic nations that have achieved industrialization and improved standards of living after democracy; what does it say about the championed, all important democratic way of governing. Do we need to have longer terms, to implement and to allow economic policy to fruition? Should countries prioritize economic growth, national stability and ethnic harmony alongside democracy? What should be regarded as the beacon of modernity, economic growth or democracy? All I can say is my first two presidents championed ethnic harmony, democracy, economic growth, sustained stability, and had long enough terms to see their policies come to fruition. As Batswana, we will be forever be indebted to them for selflessly and above all economically laying the foundations of this country.
Back to Top