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Botswana President Says Country Faces Challenges to Future Growth - 2003-11-13

Botswana's president, Festus Mogae, says that while his nation is prospering economically, it still faces challenges to its future growth.

At a news conference at the Voice of America in Washington, President Mogae spoke about Botswana's progress and about how the AIDS epidemic could hurt its continued development.

President Mogae acknowledges that Botswana has enjoyed some of the highest growth rates in the world over the past three and a half decades. The country has been a democracy since the mid-1960s and has flourished economically.

Mr. Mogae divulged his country's secret of success. "I believe one of the secrets of our success has been our commitment to empowering all members of our society," he said. "And in this respect, we take special pride in our progress toward gender equality. According to the 2003 U.N. Human Development Report, Botswana was ranked 16th in the world in terms of total percentage of females serving as legislators, senior officials and managers. The combined figure for women occupying leadership positions in our country as of 2002 was 35 percent."

A downside to the country's development has turned into what President Mogae describes as the greatest single challenge facing Botswana, and that is the fight against HIV/AIDS. Thirty-five percent of the population of Botswana is affected with the virus. That is 300,000 people between the ages of 15 and 49 affected out of 1.7 million people. Mr. Mogae says the large number of people affected by HIV/AIDS has adversely affected future development of the country.

"The experts tell us that the effect of the HIV prevalence in our population would reduce our potential growth rate by one-and-a-half percentage points annually," he said. "In other words, whatever economic rate we achieve, it would be one-and-a-half percentage points less than what it would have been in absence of HIV."

President Mogae says his country is taking action in the fight against the AIDS epidemic.

"First, of course, we are teaching the A-B-Cs, abstain, be faithful and condomize," he said. "That's the method we have been preaching. But you might say that is an old fashioned, tired message, but we don't know any alternative to that. Over and above that, of course, we are in a position to provide anti-retroviral therapy to citizens without charge. We also have prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs in our alternative clinics."

President Mogae emphasized the prospect that there is no quick solution to the AIDS problem. Though his country is receiving international support, he says it is up to the people of his country to work together to fight AIDS. In addition to this challenge, President Mogae says his second biggest challenge is assuring the overall welfare of the people of Botswana through continued economic development. One way he hopes to achieve this is through the tourism industry.