The history of Botswana starts more than 100,000 years ago, when the first humans inhabited the region. The original inhabitants of southern Africa were the Bushmen (San) and Khoi peoples. Both speak Khoisan languages and lived as hunter-gatherers. About a thousand years ago, large chiefdoms emerged that were later eclipsed by the Great Zimbabwe empire, which spread into eastern Botswana. Around 1300 CE, peoples in present-day Transvaal began to coalesce into three main linguistic and political groups, including the Batswana.
The Batswana (plural of "Motswana"), a term used also to denote all citizens of Botswana, remain the country's major ethnic group today. Prior to European contact, the Batswana lived as herders and farmers under tribal rule. As groups broke off and moved to new land, new tribes were created. Some human development occurred before the colonial period.
Contacts with Europeans
During the 1700s, the slave and ivory trades were expanding. To resist these pressures, Shaka, the king of the Zulu Empire, mobilised an army. Conquered tribes began to move northwest into Botswana, destroying everything in their path. In their efforts to re-establish themselves at the end of this period, tribes began to exchange ivory and skins for guns with European traders, who had begun to reach the interior. Christian missionaries sent from Europe also spread to the interior, often at the invitation of tribal chiefs who wanted guns and knew that the presence of missionaries encouraged traders. By 1880 every major village had a resident missionary, and their influence became permanent. Christianization was completed in Botswana under the reign of king Khama III (reigned 1875–1923). There were eight principal tribes (or chiefdoms); the dominant was the Bangwaketse.
In the late nineteenth century, hostilities broke out between Tswana inhabitants of Botswana and Ndebele tribes who were making incursions into the territory from the north-east. Tensions also escalated with the Dutch Boer settlers from the Transvaal to the east. After appeals by the Batswana leaders Khama III, Bathoen and Sebele for assistance, the British Government put Bechuanaland under its protection on 31 March 1885. The northern territory remained under direct administration as the Bechuanaland Protectorate and is modern-day Botswana, while the southern territory, British Bechuanaland, became part of the Cape Colony and is now part of the northwest province of South Africa. The majority of Setswana-speaking people today live in South Africa.
When the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 out of the main British colonies in the region, the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Basutoland (now Lesotho) and Swaziland (the High Commission Territories) were not included, but provision was made for their later incorporation. However, their inhabitants began to be consulted by the UK, and although successive South African governments sought to have the territories transferred, the UK kept delaying; consequently, it never occurred. The election of the Nationalist government in 1948, which instituted apartheid, and South Africa's withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 1961, ended any prospect of incorporation of the territories into South Africa.
An expansion of British central authority and the evolution of tribal government resulted in the 1920 establishment of two advisory councils to represent both Africans and Europeans. The African Council consisted of the eight heads of the Tswana tribes and some elected members. Proclamations in 1934 regulated tribal rule and powers. A European-African advisory council was formed in 1951, and the 1961 constitution established a consultative legislative council.
In June 1964, the United Kingdom accepted proposals for a democratic self-government in Botswana. The seat of government was moved in 1965 from Mafikeng in South Africa, to the newly established Gaborone, which sits near Botswana's border with South Africa. The 1965 constitution led to the first general elections and to independence on 30 September 1966. Seretse Khama, a leader in the independence movement and the legitimate claimant to the Ngwato chiefship, was elected as the first President, subsequently re-elected twice.
The presidency passed to the sitting Vice-President, Quett Masire, who was elected in his own right in 1984 and re-elected in 1989 and 1994. Masire retired from office in 1998, and was succeeded by Festus Mogae, who was elected in his own right in 1999 and re-elected in 2004. The presidency passed in 2008 to Ian Khama (son of the first President), who had been serving as Mogae's Vice-President since resigning his position in 1998 as Commander of the Botswana Defence Force to take up this civilian role.
A long-running dispute over the northern border with Namibia's Caprivi Strip was the subject of a ruling by the International Court of Justice in December 1999, which ruled that Kasikili Island belongs to Botswana.