Mac Deford: Looking for good news? Botswana (What, Where!?)
Thursday, March 16, 2017 10:57 AM
The Blizzard of ’17 — the designation from our breathless news channels — was indeed a welcome respite, and not just for CNN.
A recent poll showed up to a third of Americans expect serious civil unrest to break out within a generation
There is, after all, not a lot of good news making the rounds these days. A foot or two of snow blanketing parts of the Northeast — though hardly the rarest of events — is a nice diversion from most of today’s headlines.
To wit: the dismembering of Obamacare will, according to the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, add 14 million Americans to the uninsured ranks over the next year.
Somehow, Republican spokesmen managed to spin this as good news. And why not: those affected will be primarily the working-class poor, the majority of whom voted for Trump. If you can fool ’em once, why not a second time?
But maybe not: a recent poll showed up to a third of Americans expect serious civil unrest to break out within a generation. (And when you realize average income for the bottom half of our labor force has been essentially stagnant for nearly two generations, it’s hardly surprising there might be a little discontent abroad in the land.)
Meanwhile, across the pond — that sophisticated, and trite, designation for the Atlantic Ocean — the ultra-right white nationalists are reportedly making gains pretty much everywhere, with some analysts predicting the British exit from the European Union is only the first step in its ultimate unraveling.
And Trump’s eminence grise in a grise-dominated White House, Steve Bannon, has been quoted as believing an eventual war between China and the US is inevitable. That, as his boss plans to cut funding for the State Department by a third.
So it’s clearly time for a little good news. And since you’re not going to find it in your daily scanning of the internet, try the movies.
There’s a terrific new film out there featuring a country that most of us have never heard of, Botswana. (A recent poll showed that something like 50% of high school-educated Americans couldn’t place Iraq — after all, it’s only been front-page news for 15 years — on a map. 1% for Botswana?)
The film, “A United Kingdom,” takes place in the late ’40s and early ’50s when Bechuanaland, as it was then called, was a British protectorate. Seretse Khama, the young leader of the colony’s largest tribe, is in England to study and he meets a middle-class English girl working as a secretary. They fall in love, get married, and he takes her back to Bechuanaland, where he is soon to become king.
The British colonial authorities were, of course, livid at the prospect of this black tribesman marrying a white Brit, even a non-aristocratic one. South Africa, the large, white-run nation across its southern border, had instituted apartheid in 1948 and was even more mightily offended at the upstart African’s behavior.
And the flip-side: the future king’s uncle, who had been serving as regent during Seretse’s adolescent years, was equally offended that he had chosen a white woman over any of the blacks available back home. He warns his white-loving nephew that the country will explode in a civil war.
The odds are decidedly stacked against the young inter-racial couple — and it only gets worse when Seretse is persuaded to return to England for negotiations about the colony’s future, and is then told he’ll never be permitted to return home.
But Ruth, the young “queen’’ in the desperately poor country, had stayed behind. She manages to ingratiate herself into the local community, at one point working alongside her black neighbors to help build a hut; and then, as a new mother, she joins her husband in London.
The plot is complicated: diamonds are discovered, the Brits ultimately conclude, as they face the reality of a dissolving empire, that maybe the lesser of two evils is to let Seretse and his white wife return to Bechuanaland.
A happy ending, as was the film’s afterlife: Bechuanaland finally gained independence, as Botswana, in the mid-’60s. Seretse was elected its first president and re-elected twice. The country has maintained a strong democratic tradition since then, with a consistent record of fair elections. Its stability, helped by its mineral wealth, has made it one of the great, and rare, success stories of modern Africa.
Its growth rate since independence has been phenomenal, averaging about 9% a year. From being one of the poorest countries on the continent, and indeed in the world, today’s Botswana has the fourth-highest gross national income in Africa, with a standard of living that equals Mexico’s.
Transparency International, the global organization leading the fight against worldwide corruption, lists Botswana as the least corrupt country in the entire continent, ranking it alongside the developed countries of South Korea and Portugal. It’s had 11 presidential elections since Seretse was first elected. Incidentally, in a nod to the American way of democracy, its current president is Seretse’s son.
As one looks at the poverty and civil wars destroying South Sudan and Somalia, the tragedy and destruction wrought by Boko Haram in Nigeria and its neighbors, the Botswana epic is a wonder.
So there is good news out there — in movies as well as real life. With the right person at the right time, things can work out under even the roughest of circumstances.
And with the wrong person.…
With Trump as our president, and his Republican colleagues determined to replace the Affordable Care Act with something that will decimate health care for the poor, while slashing taxes for the super-rich, it is difficult to be too optimistic about our own immediate future.
Maybe that third of Americans who see serious unrest down the road are on to something.