Thursday, March 22, 2012

Botswana

Once again I have neglected my blog. When people ask me what country I am up to they invariably laugh that I am still in the B's. In my defence, there are a LOT of nations beginning with B, including of course Botswana.

The land surface of Botswana is 70% covered by the Kalahari Desert. The people of this semi-arid savanna are, by necessity, an extremely resourceful people who make use of what the gods provide. For instance if the gods saw fit to gift an empty coke bottle to their chosen people, the Kalihari Bushmen would see not trash, but a grindstone, a musical instrument, or a paining tool. Such are the ways of these people. While the Bushmen of the Kalahari may be the most famous of the Botswana people, it is the 'Batswana' or 'Tswana' people that make up over 80% of the population, and for whom the country is named. 

Prior to European rule, these people lived as herders and farmers in numerous different tribes. Like the rest of Africa however, this was destined to change. In 1885 the British established the 'Bechuanaland Protectorate' after appeals by King Khama III, chief of the Bamangwato, a large Batswana tribe, to provide support against his enemies. After surviving several assassination attempts by his own father Sekgoma, and ultimately defeating him in a war for the chieftainship, Khama wanted to hang on to his rule. With incursions coming from the Boers in the south, Ndebele from what is now Zimbabwe in the north, and German colonists in the west, Khama aligned himself with British colonial interests and secured British protection for his territories. The existence of modern day Botswana is largely due to the efforts of Khama, who went so far as to travel to England to petition against Cecil Rhodes himself, who wanted to make the protectorate a colony open to white settlement. Khama was successful, and ultimately the Republic of Botswana was established in 1966 after a period of British protectorship. Khama's lineage continues to rule modern Botswana, with his great-grandson Seretse Khama Ian Khama holding power since 2008.

Economically, Botswana is one of the success stories in Africa. The nation has one of the fastest per capita growth rates in the world, and one of the highest levels of economic freedom in Africa. They also boast one of the least corrupt governments in Africa. Despite this economic success, Botswana is experiencing one of, if not the worst HIV/Aids epidemics in the world. Almost a quarter of 15-49 year olds are HIV positive, and I was astounded to discover that the life expectancy at birth has plummeted from 65 to 35!


With the frightening spectre of the HIV epidemic, and the optimism of economic prosperity, the people of Botswana must be experiencing such a unique, and at times contradictory way of life that western stereotypes of Africa fail to comprehend. The BBC and HBO recently sought to dispel the common African stereotype with their comedy/ drama series,  'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency'. This was the first major television or film production to be set and filmed in Botswana ('The Gods Must Be Crazy, while set in Botswana, was filmed in South Africa), and according to producers, the show attempts to present a modern, relatively prosperous African nation to a large audience, and do justice to the people of Botswana. While I am yet to see the show, I certainly intend on seeing what is hopefully an accurate (albeit comedic) portrayal of life in a southern African city.

Botswanan, like other southern African cuisine, is known as 'Rainbow Cuisine' as it adopts many cultural influences from Europe and Asia. Thankfully this meant I could find the required ingredients in my local supermarket. I was sceptical about finding a supply of Mopane worm, a popular delicacy cooked in hot ashes. Interestingly though, the watermelon is thought to have originated in Botswana; a fact I discovered after already preparing this supposed Botswanan version of groundnut stew. The groundnut (which comes from west Africa) is replaced here by the peanut (native to Peru) so I am hopeful that this dish falls under the banner of Botswanan rainbow cuisine and I can move on the the next B on the list.

(Botswanan) Groundnut Stew


Ingredients

500g Diced Chicken breast
1 Tbsp Vegetable oil
1 Onion, chopped.
1 Green capsicum, chopped 
1 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Peanut butter
1 Can Tomato paste
1 Tsp Grated fresh ginger root
2 Tbsp brown sugar
Pinch of ground red pepper

Directions

In a bowl, combine the sugar, red pepper, ginger, peanut butter, and tomato paste. Slowly stir in the water, a small amount at a time, until the sauce is smooth. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, cooking 5-7 minutes until onion is translucent. Add cut-up chicken and capsicum. Cook until the chicken and the onion are browned.

Pour in the peanut sauce and stir well. Cover the pot simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

To serve, spoon stew over rice balls (cooked white rice that is mashed and formed into balls), or on a bed of white rice.

This very simple dish was surprisingly delicious and was served with sautéed spinach leaves (to substitute native African greens).

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