Since independence, Botswana has had the highest average economic growth rate in the world, averaging about 9% per year from 1966 to 1999. The relatively high quality of Botswana's statistics means that this figure is likely to be quite accurate. Growth in private sector employment has averaged about 10% per annum over Botswana's first 30 years of independence. The government has consistently maintained budget surpluses and has extensive foreign exchange reserves.
Botswana's impressive economic record has been built on a foundation of diamond mining, prudent fiscal policies, international financial and technical assistance, and a cautious foreign policy. It is rated the least corrupt country in Africa, according to an international corruption watchdog, Transparency International.
Trade unions represent a minority of workers in the Botswana economy. In general they are loosely organized "in-house" unions, although the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) is consolidating its role as the sole national trade union centre in the country.
Agriculture still provides a livelihood for more than 80% of the population but supplies only about 50% of food needs and accounts for only 3% of GDP. Subsistence farming and cattle raising predominate. The sector is plagued by erratic rainfall and poor soils. Tourism is also important to the economy. Substantial mineral deposits were found in the 1970s and the mining sector grew from 25% of GDP in 1980 to 38% in 1998. Unemployment officially is 21% but unofficial estimates place it closer to 40%. The Orapa 2000 project doubled the capacity of the country's main diamond mine from early 2000. This will be the main force behind continued economic expansion.
Two large mining companies, Debswana (formed by the government and South Africa's De Beers in equal partnership) and Bamangwato Concessions, Ltd. (BCL, also with substantial government equity participation) operate in the country.
Since the early 1980s, the country has been the world's largest producer of gem diamonds. Four large diamond mines have opened since independence. De Beers prospectors discovered diamonds in northern Botswana in the early 1970s. The first mine began production at Orapa in 1972, followed by the smaller mine at Letlhakane. What has become the single-richest diamond mine in the world opened in Jwaneng in 1982. In 2002, a fourth diamond mine, Damtshaa, began operations. Botswana produced a total over 30 million carats (6,000 kg) of diamonds (about 25% of worldwide production) from the three Debswana mines in 1999, and is the highest producer of diamonds by value in the world. The Orapa 2000 Expansion of the existing Orapa mine was opened in 2000. A fifth diamond mine and the first not operated by Debswana is scheduled to begin operations in 2008 in Lerala.
Most (70%) of Botswana's electricity is imported from South Africa's Eskom. 80% of domestic production is concentrated in one plant, Morupule Power Station near Palapye. Debswana operates the nearby Morupule Colliery to supply coal to it.
BCL, which operates a copper-nickel mine at Selebi-Phikwe, has had a troubled financial history but remains an important employer. The soda ash operation at Sua Pan, opened in 1991 and supported by substantial government investment, has begun making a profit following significant restructuring.
Private sector development and foreign investment
Botswana seeks to diversify its economy away from minerals, the earnings from which have levelled off. In 1998-99, non-mineral sectors of the economy grew at 8.9%, partially offsetting a slight 4.4% decline in the minerals sector. Foreign investment and management have been welcomed in Botswana.
External investment in Botswana has grown fitfully. In the early 1990s, two American companies, Owens Corning and H.J. Heinz, made major investments in production facilities in Botswana. In 1997, the St. Paul Group purchased Botswana Insurance, one of the country's leading short-term insurance providers. An American Business Council (ABC), with over 30 member companies, was inaugurated in 1995.
Hyundai operated a car assembly plant in Botswana from 1994 to 2000.
Because of history and geography, Botswana has long had deep ties to the economy of South Africa. The Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU), comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa, dates from 1910. Namibia joined in 1990. Under this arrangement, South Africa has collected levies from customs, sales, and excise duties for all five members, sharing out proceeds based on each country's portion of imports. The exact formula for sharing revenues and the decision-making authority over duties--held, until at least 1996, exclusively by the Government of South Africa--have been increasingly controversial, and the members began renegotiating the arrangement in 1995. Following South Africa's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO--Botswana also is a member), many of the SACU duties are declining, making American products more competitive.