Botswana has one of the highest mobile market penetration rates in Africa, approaching 170%. Popular use of multiple SIM cards from different operators has delayed the introduction of mobile number portability, with the telecom regulator not convinced of the facility’s economic benefits at present. After a period of stagnation, the number of internet users has also risen strongly in recent years, largely the result of lower prices following improvements in international connectivity. Historically, the landlocked country has depended on satellites for its international bandwidth, and on other countries for transit capacity to landing points of international submarine fibre optic cable systems. The Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) is the regulatory agency in Botswana.
Until the global recession, Botswana maintained one of the world’s highest economic growth rates since independence in 1966. Diamond mining fueled much of the economic expansion and currently accounts for one quarter of GDP, approximately 85% of export earnings, and about one-third of the government’s revenues. Tourism is the secondary earner of foreign exchange and many Batswana engage in subsistence farming and cattle rearing. Through fiscal discipline and sound management, Botswana transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country with a per capita GDP of approximately $16,900 in 2016. Botswana also ranks as one of the best credit risks in Africa.
Botswana’s economy closely follows global economic trends because of its heavy reliance on a single luxury export. According to official government statistics, unemployment is around 20%, but unofficial estimates run much higher. De Beers, a major international diamond company, signed a 10-year deal with Botswana in 2012 and moved its rough stone sorting and trading division from London to Gaborone in 2013. The move was geared to support the development of Botswana’s nascent downstream diamond industry.
Botswana’s economy recovered from the 2008 global recession in 2010, but has only grown modestly since then, primarily due to the downturn in the global diamond market, though water and power shortages also played a role. In 2016, Botswana entered its fourth year of drought, detrimental to Botswana’s small, but vital agriculture sector, but diamond exports increased to their highest levels since 2013, buffering economic growth. As a result, the economy registered 2.9% growth in 2016.