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.
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.
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.
To date, the BSE is one of Africa’s best performing stock exchanges, averaging 24% aggregate return in the past decade. This has allowed the BSE to be the third largest stock exchange in terms of market capitalization, in Southern Africa.
Given Botswana's lack of exchange controls, stable currency and exceptionally performing stock market, the financial sector has attracted a host of global investors seeking better returns.
Botswana's currency -- the pula -- is fully convertible and is valued against a basket of currencies heavily weighted toward the South African rand. Profits and direct investment can be repatriated without restriction from Botswana. The Botswana Government has eliminated all exchange controls. Despite a 12% devaluation in May 2005, the pula remains one of the strongest currencies in Africa.
Gaborone is host to the headquarters of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC). A successor to the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), which focused its efforts on freeing regional economic development from dependence on apartheid in South Africa, SADC embraced the newly democratic South Africa as a member in 1994 and has a broad mandate to encourage growth, development, and economic integration in Southern Africa. SADC's Trade Protocol, which was launched on September 1, 2000, calls for the elimination of all tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade by 2012 among the 11 signatory countries. If successful, it will give Botswana companies free access to the far larger regional market. The Regional Center for Southern Africa (RCSA), which implements the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Initiative for Southern Africa (ISA), is headquartered in Gaborone as well.