The Telegraph

‘Here in Botswana, dry January has been mandated by the government’

It’s dawn in the Okavango Delta – a wilderness in Botswana’s north western region that’s home to vast concentrations of lions, elephants, hippos and crocodiles. And as the sun rises, warming the vast sky with a dusting of pink over the endless stretch of green wetlands that surround our tented camp, I wonder what 2021 will bring. The previous year (I still can’t believe I can finally refer to 2020 as the past) saw the people of Botswana struggling to cope with two national lockdowns, regular curfews and tight restrictions on alcohol consumption that have carried through into January. But, as a hippo rises its head up out of the water and a scattering of huge winged herons come down to land, I’m reminded that the natural world has continued to thrive throughout the pandemic. And nowhere is nature more vibrant than in this beautiful corner of southern Africa. The Covid picture in this landlocked country – with only 2.3 million inhabitants, despite being the size of France – is quite different to the UK. Named as one of the world’s poorest nations when it achieved independence in 1966, Botswana quickly became Africa’s greatest development success story thanks to significant diamond wealth, a stable government that prioritised universal health care and education, and a small population. The government’s no-nonsense approach to handling the pandemic didn’t initially sit well with my British libertarian sensibilities. Why, I repeatedly asked, while looking out at the armed soldiers patrolling past my house, did we have to wear masks even while exercising outdoors (they remain mandatory at all time outside the home)? Was it fair, I wondered, to expect all children, even those as young as five, to wear masks all day long in the classroom? How would my daughter, aged seven, and 11-year-old son cope? When a third national alcohol ban was announced, without warning, just two weeks ago, leaving me to take part in a government-enforced dry January, I felt I’d been pushed over the edge.