This essay discusses geopolitics – the way that factors such as the geography, the economy, and the demographic make-up of a country affect its politics, and in particular its foreign policy (Definitions of Geopolitics, n.d.). The focus country in this instance is Botswana, a landlocked republic in Africa that is lightly populated and of which about two thirds is part of the Kalahari desert. The popular view of Botswana is that it is a stable, peaceful nation that has – according to a government news bulletin “Botswana on track says President Khama” (President Khama, March 2013) – come a long way since gaining independence in 1966.
The “Tuli Block” is – according to Lewis (2011) – an example of a zone originating from a conflict now past, which as a consequence of geopolitics has become an area rich in wildlife. This history of the Tuli Block dates back to a tripartite conflict in the 19th century between British colonials, white Boers (cattle herders) and the indigenous local population. Whilst the country was operating as a British Protectorate (Bechuanaland) the King Khama III ceded a part of the area bordering South Africa to the British South Africa Company (founder Cecil Rodes). The arrangement appeared to suit the interests of both parties; on the one hand the king saw the move as helping him keep out encroaching immigrants from South Africa, whilst Rhodes saw the Tuli Block as facilitating a railroad route he wanted to construct – the so-called “Cape to Cairo” line.
In the event, as Lewis related, the geology of the Tuli Block proved unsuitable for use as a rail route, so the land was sold in large chunks to white cattle ranchers. That too was found to be less profitable than had been hoped, even in better times, interspersed by losses during the frequent seasons of drought. As a result, the ranchers added “game ranching” to their business, hosting paying guests to view and/or hunt the indigenous wildlife on their lands. That became so successful that many ranches abandoned cattle ranching altogether, concentrating solely on managing the habitat to encourage proliferation of the game species.
Although – as the same article reported – the Tuli Block is less known than other larger reserves and parks to the north, because it is close to South Africa it can attract many visitors from there, although investment is need in infrastructure such as roads and cell phone reception improvements. Profits can be made, but the article noted that margins can be tight, so some ranchers encourage voluntary workers from overseas to help manage their lands and prevent over-encroachment of invasive cactus species. Unexpected consequences of the development of game ranching in the Tuli Block could be twofold: unnatural changes to the habitat as a result of clearing land of invasive plant species to better suit the wanted wildlife inhabitants, and possible over-population of those animal varieties by artificially enhancing their environment in that way.
The second geopolitics example concerns the construction and erection of an electric fence. As reported by Kopinski and Polus (2012), the fence project was announced by the Botswana government in 2003, supposedly to protect the Botswana livestock against the spread of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD). However, it was noted that whilst there had indeed been two previous FMD epidemics in the two years prior to the fence announcement, and that they had emanated from neighboring Zimbabwe and caused the loss of around 13,000 animals from Botswana’s cattle herds, there were also other considerations that may well have triggered or at least influenced the decision to build the electric fence.
The Kopinski and Polus paper stated that thousands of Zimbabwe citizens were at that time wanting to emigrate (illegally) to the more stable and economically successful Botswana, to escape the civil unrest within Zimbabwe. As a consequence, the authors considered that the building of the fence was motivated by other considerations in addition the stated one of creating an FMD barrier, including issues such as those having impacts on the economy and the country’s wildlife.
The opinion of Kopinski and Polus was that the primary reason for constructing the 2.4 metre (almost 8 feet) high fence was to halt the flow of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe along the 800 kilometre border between the two countries. Whilst it may well have effectively stopped the flow of FMD-infected cattle and illegal immigrants across the border, it also created a barrier between communities on either side that had enjoyed peaceful co-existence and shared water sources before the fence was built. The authors also mentioned people in some of those communities having family links across the border – now forcibly cut. Their overview of the fence construction was that it was “reminiscent of Cold War rivalry and the period of anti-apartheid campaigning.”
It is clear from the two examples cited in this essay that geopolitics can have a major influence on government policies, and can have consequences other than those intended when the policies were planned / initially implemented. In the Tuli Block case described by Lewis, the sale of that land to Rhodes and his Company solved the immediate problem of halting the flow of South African immigrants, but was not the success that Rhodes had envisaged, in that the geology of the area provide unsuitable for the construction of his rail route. As for the electric fence project recounted by Kopinski and Polus, whilst it helped protect the Botswana cattle from Zimbabwe-sourced FMD and was effective in the (“hidden”) objective of stopping the illegal immigrant traffic, it also split communities in the cross-border areas.
“Definitions of Geopolitics.” (n.d.). Ask.com. Web. 29 March 2013.
Kopinski, D., and Polus, A. (2012). Crossing African Borders: Migration and Mobility. Center of African Studies (CEA)/ISCTE-IUL, University Institute of Lisbon. Lisbon, 2012. ISBN: 978-972-8335-22-9 [Digital Edition]. Web. 29 March 2013.
Lewis, M., W. (Sep 2011). Geopolitics, Wildlife, and Tourism: Botswana’s Tuli Block. GeoCurrent. Web. 28 March 2013.
President Khama. (March 2013). Botswana on track says President Khama. Web. 29 March 2013.