Welcome to Gabarone

Landing in Gabarone, Botswana, I was full of expectations. In my head, I had one model of Africa; the bustling cities of West Africa full of loud fabric, informal shops, and motorcycle taxis. On the other hand, I had just come from the orderly Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, which reminded me more of a North Virginia shopping center than anywhere I had been in Africa. Neither of these models, prepared me for Gabarone.

My first impression of the city was that it was a ghost town. You saw very few people walking about, almost no commerce outside of shopping malls which themselves were very empty, and got the impression that most of the tall buildings were erected without sufficient demand from tenants.

I spent the duration of our time there trying to figure out where all the people were. First of all, the country only has a population of 2,000,000 and only about 10% of the population is in the capital, so this is certainly a contributing factor. Secondly, the city seemed to be designed for cars. It’s a city with pockets of activity separated by major roads. People do not seem to walk from place to place, which is normal considering we were there in winter and it was still about 90º F every day. Thirdly, and likely the biggest driver behind this observation, is Botswana’s dependence on the diamond mining sector. The country’s wealth and their economic activity is centered around an industry that takes place outside of the city and is almost completely exported.

We were the only people on in the main square in Gabarone’s administrative district.

After spending only a few days in the city as an outsider, I am certain that I am simplifying this observation and its likely causes. During our visit, we met with a few entrepreneurs who are bringing local products and services to the city and injecting it with the vibrancy associated with a large and active youth population. I appreciated my time in the city and the new reference point it gave me for the diversity of African cities.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *