The Botswana are well prepared for us. An official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations meets us at Sir Seretse Khama Airport and clears us through the VIP lounge, where we are served with coffee and tea. It is a welcome most of us are not used to. It is marvellous. We are all impressed.
The airport itself does not reflect the famed diamond wealth of this tiny southern African nation (only 1.7 million population). But critical observers, aware of how thrifty the Batswana can be with their diamond wealth, give the thumbs up to the functionality and cleanliness of the place. Here they do not build for show.
There is really no comparison the Southern Sudanese can make between what they see here with what they left behind in their war-wasted countryside and towns. They can only compare with what they have seen in Khartoum (our capital), Nairobi in Kenya or Kampala in Uganda.
In Gaborone (the capital of Botswana), the roads are wide with fresh tarmac and dual carriageways for major roads. Our group is impressed with the new and clean look of the cars on the roads. No grating engines, no unnecessary tooting of horns, no smoke from exhaust pipes and no matatus (the "killer boxes" called commuter buses in East Africa)! In Gaborone, the buses look new and clean. Those who operate them and the passengers are orderly and no shouting of any kind!
Even traffic lights look new and, above all, they work as expected. Drivers wait for green lights even when the road is clearly empty in all other directions. Pedestrian crossings are clearly marked and respected. In Nairobi, drivers behind would shout and toot at your daring to stop for pedestrians!
Smart office blocks and large shopping malls are easily located in the centre and in suburban Gaborone. No crowds the likes of which are seen in Nairobi, Kampala and Khartoum. It all seems calm and secure.
"Are there thieves or robbers in Gaborone?" one of the youths wonders aloud.
"Yes," says the official from the ministry, "there are a few thieves. Robberies are very rare, but they are often committed by people from across the border", pointing towards South Africa.
There have always been robbers from that direction. Once upon a time, for instance, a hoard of white robbers from the south threatened to annex the land of the Batswana. But some native chiefs had heard of a powerful white queen called Victoria and they wrote to her for protection. The white queen obliged and the land we now call Botswana became known as Bachuanaland, a protectorate of Her Majesty Queen Victoria of Britain and its colonies.
The Afrikaans knew better than to mess around with the English queen and they...