Identity Management: The Creation of Resource Allocative Criteria in Botswana

by Angela Gapa

Abstract

Botswana’s escape from the “resource curse” is an anomaly in the trend toward low economic growth and political instability in resource-rich developing economies. In literature on the resource curse, distributive injustices of resource wealth have traditionally been understood to occur along ethno-linguistic and sectarian lines and potentially cause weak institutions, social unrest, and, at times, violent conflict. Because of their high levels of ethnic diversity and abundant natural resource wealth, African countries are especially prone to these effects. The present article argues that part of the reason Botswana escaped the resource curse was a bid by Botswana elites to buffer the negative effects of ethnicity on resource distribution through identity management, specifically assimilation, at various points in the country’s history. This was mainly achieved through the political entrepreneurship of pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial elites, and through social and colonial discourses predicated upon materialistic production and exchange, that led to the establishment of a new identity category. In doing so, Botswana elites created a new criterion for resource access based on successful assimilation that largely excluded those who failed to assimilate.

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Angela Gapa is Assistant Professor of International Relations at California State University-Chico. She received her PhD in International Relations at Florida International University. Her research primarily centers on resource politics and African political development, with a particular focus on Botswana.