By Howard A. Van Vranken
U.S. Ambassador to Botswana
“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” – An African Proverb.
While few know the precise origins of this quote, it describes the relationship between the United States and Botswana. Our journey dates to Botswana’s independence in 1966 when Batswana welcomed American Peace Corps Volunteers into their homes and their lives. Together, Batswana and Americans, with a common belief in the promise of this brand new, proud nation, established the foundations of Botswana’s education, healthcare, and agriculture – the mainstay of the economy at that time. This collaboration was by no means accidental. Rather, it was borne of our two nations’ shared values of mutual respect, democratic principles, and prosperity for our people.
As the new Ambassador of the United States of America to Botswana, I am committed to growing this partnership and ensuring that our nations continue to thrive together. Botswana’s founding fathers, like those from the United States before them, recognized that democracy was the best form of government. They also recognized that democracy required nurturing and safeguarding if it was to stand the test of time and deliver the promises of a bright future that their citizens deserved. Our mutual respect for democracy is exemplified in Botswana by the kgotla – a forum for engaging citizens in consultative decision-making. Our countries both prioritize the well-being of our people. We instinctively extend helping hands to our neighbors and friends, while fostering self-respect and respect for the rights of others. Responsible governance, an independent judiciary, and unity that transcends national borders are the enduring hallmarks of our relationship.
Botswana’s inspiring example resonates beyond its borders, where it has consistently played a crucial role in Southern Africa and the global community. Botswana’s principled support to uphold the UN Charter and Ukraine’s rights as a sovereign nation in the face of Russia’s aggressive and illegal war reaffirmed Botswana’s commitment to democracy. This sent a strong message to free nations across the world, and especially to people aspiring for freedom but living, for now, under the jackboot of authoritarianism. Batswana need not look far abroad to see the debilitating and corrosive impact of corruption and poor governance.
2023 is an auspicious year in our bilateral history. Reflecting on the notion of going farther together, I am proud to be here in the year in which we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and its $1 billion investment in the people of Batswana. Many will recall with sadness the lives lost from the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the crushing of so much human potential. However, together, Botswana and the United States, under the umbrella of PEPFAR, can celebrate a new era. We have walked this journey together, and today we know that ending the HIV epidemic in Botswana is possible. In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) awarded Botswana “Silver Tier” status for lowering its mother to child transmission rate to less than five percent and providing prenatal care and antiretroviral therapy (ART) to more than 90 percent of pregnant women living with HIV. In 2022, the Botswana AIDS Impact Survey V (BAIS V) revealed that Botswana is now living in a new era in which ending the HIV epidemic is possible. Moving forward together, the United States will remain a steadfast friend and partner, with PEPFAR as a cornerstone of our collaboration.
Another exciting event we are anticipating this year is the upcoming U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Gaborone in July, hosted by Botswana and the U.S.-based Corporate Council on Africa. This will bring our business communities closer and broaden the economic ties between our two countries.
Botswana has sunshine, passionate young people, and an entrepreneurial spirit in abundance. These are powerful forces that, when harnessed, promise climate resilience, prosperity, and a Botswana poised to face the complexity of a world increasingly shaped by rapid developments in technology. We will need that passion and spirit as we face urgent global challenges that affect both the United States and Botswana if we are to secure a prosperous future. We must work together to safeguard Botswana’s environment and to mitigate the impact of climate change in order to ensure economic growth and diversification through tourism, agriculture, renewable energy, and a thriving private sector. In the area of Human Rights, we are committed to standing up for the rights of the most vulnerable and at risk populations. This includes stopping the scourge of human trafficking, safeguarding LGBTQI+ populations, and supporting efforts to fund worthy initiatives that advance these causes.
I am eager to experience Botswana’s rich culture, meet its remarkable people, and learn directly from Batswana. People-to-people interactions – which lie at the heart of diplomacy – will continue to be a priority for the United States, whether through our Peace Corps Volunteers, exchanges of teachers, professionals, and youth, or cultural engagement. Together, through these engagements, we will pursue mutual prosperity, reinforce the rule of law, and combat corruption. We will foster the enterprising spirit of the people of Botswana through increased trade that benefits both nations. My family and I are grateful for the awesome opportunity to explore Botswana’s breathtaking landscapes, from the Okavango Delta to Tsodilo Hills to the Kalahari.
Our nations are like brothers and sisters, which means we may not always agree on every issue. However, open, honest, and frank conversations are possible because they stem from a foundation of care, humility, and genuine interest in each other’s well-being. As the U.S. Ambassador to Botswana, I assure all Batswana that we will engage as interested partners and welcome their candid opinions, even when they diverge from our own.
Let us continue this journey of collaboration as family, embracing our similarities and recognizing our differences, and working together towards a brighter, more prosperous future for all.