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Research Paper No. 2009/40 Botswana as a Role Model for Country Success James A. Robinson*
June 2009 Abstract I argue that the economic success of Botswana can be explained by the historical development of its institutions which is related to the trajectory of the Tswana states over the past 200 years. These institutions created a much more stable and accountable government than elsewhere inAfrica after independence with the desire and incentive to adopt good economic policies. There are two main lessons from this experience. The first is how successful an African economy can become using simple orthodox well-understood policies. The second is that successful development in Africa will be helped by a focus on the development of state institutions. Though Botswana inherited differentinstitutions from elsewhere, it also built on these, in particular trying to create a national identity and to continually modernize and adapt institutions. There are many lessons for other African countries from these policy choices.

Keywords: governance, patrimonialism, state formation JEL classification: O10, H1

Copyright © UNU-WIDER 2009

* Harvard University, Department of Government andIQSS, Cambridge, MA02138, email: This study has been prepared within the UNU-WIDER project on Country Role Models for Development Success, directed by Augustin Fosu. UNU-WIDER gratefully acknowledges the financial contributions to the project by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the financial contributions to the research programme by the governments ofDenmark (Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Finland (Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs), Sweden (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency—Sida) and the United Kingdom (Department for International Development). ISSN 1810-2611 ISBN 978-92-9230-211-5

Acknowledgements This paper was prepared for the UNU-WIDER project on country role models directed by Augustine Fosu. The ideas that Idiscuss in this paper reflect many discussions over the years with Robert Bates, Clark Leith and particularly Neil Parsons.

Acronyms BDP Botswana Democratic Party SSA Sub-Saharan Africa

The World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) was established by the United Nations University (UNU) as its first research and training centre and started work in Helsinki, Finland in 1985.The Institute undertakes applied research and policy analysis on structural changes affecting the developing and transitional economies, provides a forum for the advocacy of policies leading to robust, equitable and environmentally sustainable growth, and promotes capacity strengthening and training in the field of economic and social policy making. Work is carried out by staff researchers andvisiting scholars in Helsinki and through networks of collaborating scholars and institutions around the world.

UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) Katajanokanlaituri 6 B, 00160 Helsinki, Finland Typescript prepared by Liisa Roponen at UNU-WIDER The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). Publicationdoes not imply endorsement by the Institute or the United Nations University, nor by the programme/project sponsors, of any of the views expressed.



Botswana is a land-locked, ecologically marginal country. Though like many SubSaharan African countries it is made up of a mosaic of different tribes, the dominant factor has been the Tswana states which migrated into theterritory in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The paramount chiefs of the Tswana states who ruled the area in the 19th century, were recognized by the British in their institutions of indirect rule and most Botswana nationals today still acknowledge membership of one of these eight ‘tribal’ state identities.1 As these states expanded, they brought many other groups under their...
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