The British Empire Library

Botswana: The Road to Independence

by Peter Fawcus with the collaboration of Alan Tilbury

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Michael Twaddle (Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London University)
This is an account of the transformation of Bechuanaland in Botswana by an author who was Government Secretary and then Resident Commissioner and Queen's Commissioner during the 1950's and 1960's. The author was an important actor in many of the events which he describes and he was an observer with privileged knowledge of many other vital developments in which he was not himself an important participant.

This explains part of the memoir's importance, but not all of it. Botswana is unusually interesting among African countries nowadays in being economically and democratically a success story. Anything which throws light on this development must be welcomed, particularly given the tribute paid to the author of this book in the foreword contributed to it by Botswana's second president, Sir Ketumile Masire. The book should be read by anyone interested in Botswana's development story as well as in the details of its attainment of independent statehood. It is an important study.

Unfortunately, this importance is masked to some extent by two authorial tendencies: one attractive in small doses but immensely damaging in large quantities, the other understandable but equally damaging when taken to excess.

The more attractive tendency is the author's modesty and drive - 'A self-effacing but intense man', as Masire characterises him (p.xi). Clearly, this must have contributed to Sir Peter Fawcus's success in bringing out many of the best qualities of his younger colleagues' contributions to Bechuanaland's transformation into Botswana.

But, in an author, it sometimes leads in my view to a book which is difficult to read. The chap is too modest. He doesn't seem ready enough to take the credit for the creditable things. He needs to blow his trumpet at least once or twice.

Secondly, Sir Peter Fawcus describes his book as not the work of a professional historian but 'an account of the decade of transition by officials who were intimately concerned with the events described' (p.xiv). At one level, this is fair enough comment but, at another, it seems to be associated with an excessively defensive attitude. Fawcus starts his book by attacking the view that 'Britain never developed the (Bechuanaland) Protectorate, never educated its people and never localised the civil service, and had done virtually nothing to prepare the country for independence when it came in 1966' (p.xiii) and then, in the main body of the book, fascinatingly shows how substantially accurate this view was and yet how he and his colleagues managed to circumvent local neglect by Westminster quite triumphantly. The qualification which is attached to the criticism at the front of the book - 'some of this criticism is justified, but accusations of neglect should not be allowed to stand where the evidence shows that qualification is required' - is far too modest and restrained. Britain did neglect Bechuanaland and kowtow excessively to white-ruled South Africa over the High Commission Territories. Fawcus provides massive evidence in his memoir of this neglect. But the memoir also provides magnificent evidence of the drive and intelligence with which local British administrators managed to subvert this neglect - and build upon it one of the great success stories of modern African history.

The memoir is therefore in this reviewer's opinion far too modest and restrained in style. There is a good and important story to be told here. For what is told, we must all be grateful. But another book also needs to be written, one which is twice as long and which is directed at readers with less initial knowledge of the country. The author's former colleagues, too, need to write accounts of other aspects only touched upon briefly in the book - alliances with local people at district level; debates with the CDC; drought; education; how to deal with disease, for a start.

British Empire Book
Peter Fawcus
Alan Tilbury
The Botswana Society and Pula Press