Thursday, December 2, 2010

Commerce - Botswana style

Unity Dow
Michael and I just returned from Botswana where we were researching our fourth book.  (You may ask, where is our third?  Sore point!  It has been with our editor for 8 months!).  It was a very successful trip that included a wonderful interview with Unity Dow, first female High Court, current judge on the Kenyan Constitutional Court, and prolific author.  You must read Screaming of the Innocent

We wanted to talk to her because the third book Death of the Mantis has as its back story the plight of the Bushmen, and she was on the court that heard the famous case challenging the government's order that the Bushmen had to move from traditional lands within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.  The court ruled largely in favour of the Bushmen although, as usual, the issues are more complicated than some of the Bushmen supporters (eg. Survival International) like to make out.

Our fourth book, in progress, deals with the harvesting of body parts for the purposes of witchcraft - they're called muti murders.  Screaming of the Innocent deals with the same subject. 

Botswana's formal economy is simple - diamonds and tourism.  Botswana is home to the two richest diamond mines in the world – Orapa and Jwaneng, owned by Debswana – a 50-50 partnership between Botswana and De Beers.  It is the revenues from these that have made Botswana economically stable. These two mines are modern, well run, and immensely profitable - when people are buying diamonds.

Orapa mine
Also important is the tourism industry.  Botswana has taken the approach of “low impact, high revenue”.  That is, they want a few tourists paying a lot of money.  Although fine for the environment, this also means that locals find it difficult, if not impossible to visit the great game reserves of Botswana.  Probably if I were advising the Botswana Government, I would also suggest this approach.  Actually in some parts of Botswana normal people encounter wild animals every day.  In Kasane, for example, it is not unusual to have elephants walking through town, disrupting travel.  It is a wonderful sight.  

However it is the informal economy that is the most fascinating.  One of the pleasures of roaming around Gaborone and Mochudi and other small Botswana towns is looking at the signage of roadside entrepreneurs.  There is nothing slick about it, but there is enormous appeal.  When Kubu drives through Mochudi to visit his parents, for example, this is typical of what he would see.



Where's Part 1?

Here's Part 1
Where's Part 2?

Barbershops are big business in Botswana.  Unfortunately we could not photograph our favourite place – the sign had disintegrated – the Taliban Hair Cut and Car Wash.  But the other signs give you the idea!



Stan - Thursday


Earlier in the year I wrote about Kulula Airlines in South Africa ( and the innovative approach they take to keep passengers entertained.  On Tuesday, I flew from Johannesburg to George on Kulula, and was I in for a treat.  As the doors shut, the lead flight attendant asked the passengers to welcome a staff member, Kay Lula, who had just returned to duty from having triplets.  Could we give her a big round of applause?  Which we dutifully did.  She then said that Kay would handle all the announcements thereafter.  At that moment, Kay emerged from the cockpit, all six feet of her!  Tall, elegant, attractive, she caught the attention of the male passengers.  She then proceeded to give one of the funniest cabin briefings I have ever heard.  Of course I should have taken notes, but was laughing so hard that I forgot.

Once en route, Kay came back on the intercom to invite all kids and any adults to join her at the back of the aircraft to have their faces painted, free of course.  I wasn’t surprised to see several kids dash back, but I was taken aback by the fact that several adult Hasidic Jews, yarmulkes and all, headed back there for their decorations.  It was weird to sit there looking at people wearing yarmulkes painted like Long John Silver and other literary reprobates.

Before landing, Kay told some very funny jokes – that unfortunately don’t work in print.  And as the plane  rolled to a stop on the tarmac at George, she thanked us, hoping we "didn’t find the flight a drag!"

Fly Kulula!

1 comment:

  1. Last week I had to plan organize a reception after a funeral. I would have loved to use the Betterplace Cattering Service. We didn't need tents, stage,or caperts but we did need a lot of cattlelery. Their business brochure would have done a lot to lift the atmosphere.

    Mr Puncha Cell would be a great name for a start-up mobile company. Give the advertising budget to a bunch of college kids and Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T would collapse in despair. They couldn't compete.

    Labeling bars Part 1 is a great practical joke to play on newcomers and on those who have already had too much to drink and want to find Part 2.

    Every flight could use jokes before landing as long as they are not jokes about landing.