Africa Lite, Part I of II

Botswana, with its well-managed diamond wealth and social safety nets, looms as Africa’s city on a hill: generally free of corruption and violence, a record of fair democratic elections, a military un-deployed during its forty years of independence. You can imagine, then, why some jokingly call Botswana “Africa Lite” or “Africa: Chapter One.” In the last few weeks, I have had two stark, personal reminders of Botswana’s exceptionalism.

The first was a visit with Father George, a South African priest still bearing the physical scars of that country’s apartheid era. The Unites States, of course, has its own dirty history of racial violence; South Africa’s Afrikaners, however, implemented a systematic ethnic cleansing of blacks from what they strove to transform into “white” cities. After years – decades – of peaceful protest against a violent and dehumanizing system, blacks turned to violence, winning majority rule under Nelson Mandela. George spent two prisons terms and the entirety of his young life struggling against apartheid; along with Mandela and other far-sighted leaders who came to power in 1991, he has spent the latter half battling for peaceful reconciliation between blacks and their former white oppressors. South Africa’s current president, by contrast, will be remembered in the history books only as the man who allowed AIDS to cripple southern Africa while he and a small group of crackpot scientists debated publicly whether or HIV or simply poverty caused AIDS…

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