The protectorate of Bechuanaland: AD 1885-1966

When the region north of the Molopo river is made the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, in 1885, the expectation is that it will merge eventually with Cape Colony to the south - or, after the success of Rhodes's venture in the early 1890s, with Rhodesia to the north.

This intention is frustrated by the resolute action of a tribal chief who sees the implicit dangers for his people. Khama III, king of the Ngwato and a convert to Christianity, travels in 1895 to London with two other local chieftains. They persuade the colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, to promise their region the continuing protection of the crown. In return he extracts a strip of their territory for construction of the Railway to the north.

Inevitably the tribal areas become dependent economically on their rich neighbours, providing migrant labour for both the Transvaal and the Cape colony. After the Union of south africa, in 1910, there is frequent pressure from Cape politicians to annexe Bechuanaland. But the British government holds to Chamberlain's pledge, confirming in 1935 that no transfer of sovereignty will take place without the agreement both of the people of Bechuanaland and of the British government.

Nevertheless Westminster's tacit collusion in the politics of South Africa becomes evident in a case which wins world-wide attention in 1950 - that of Seretse Khama, grandson of Khama III and heir to the leadership of the Ngwato.

Seretse, while studying at Oxford, marries a British woman, Ruth Williams. This causes consternation in South Africa, where just two years previously the new Nationalist government has introduced Apartheid laws against sexual relationships between different races. Under South African pressure the British ban Seretse Khama and his wife from Bechuanaland.

It is six years before Seretse is allowed to return - as a private citizen, still banned from inheriting the tribal kingship. But in 1965, when internal self-government is introduced, he takes his place at last at the head of his nation. By now Sir Seretse Khama, is he elected Bechuanaland's first prime minister.

Independence: from AD 1966

In the spirit of the 1960s, when the British empire is being rapidly dismantled, independence follows only a year after Bechuanaland's internal self-government. The new republic takes the name Botswana, with Seretse Khama as its first president.

During the 1970s Botswana allies itself with other independent nations of the region (first Zambia and Tanzania, and subsequently Mozambique and Angola) to put pressure on Rhodesia and South africa to introduce majority rule. With increasing unrest in the white-dominated nations, Botswana receives a flood of refugees, many of them politically active. This results in frequent raids from South africa during the 1980s.

Seretse Khama dies in 1980 and is succeeded as president by his deputy, Ketumile Masire. Masire remains president for most of the next two decades, being elected for a new five-year term in 1994. He steps down in 1998 and is succeeded by his vice-president, Festus Mogae.

Ever since independence a majority of seats in the national assembly has been won by the Botswana Democratic Party, founded in 1965 by Seretse Khama. But the elections have been fair, and the Botswana National Front (also dating from 1965) has provided a genuine opposition. Botswana's relative wealth, from the export of diamonds, and the wise leadership of two long-serving presidents have given the republic an unusually stable record.