This is pretty much what drives me up the wall about the cottage industry that’s grown up in development circles that aims to identify the magic variables that have allowed Botswana to have a positive trend line in so many areas. Here’s how I see it: you can list all the variables you like, test them out in the data, and probably identify many valid contributing factors. But as a historian, I have to tell you that a lot of it goes back to subtle contingencies involved in the manner of Botswana’s incorporation into the British Empire, the particular political and cultural leadership of certain 19th Century Tswana chiefs, the complicated social history of many Tswana communities in relation to Christianity, and the proximity of industrializing South Africa. And then from that, diamonds and a single major ethnicity and a rather enlightened postcolonial elite and so on.

So: history. And non-reproducible history at that. Not a strategy chosen off of a menu of options in an abstract setting.

This is why historians aren’t generally a big presence at the policy-makers’ table.