While a protectorate of Britain, Botswana – formerly known as Bechuanaland – flew a flag with an image of the Union Jack and Botswana’s coat of arms, both on a field of blue. On September 30, 1966 Botswana gained its independence from Britain and adopted a new flag. When Botswana had the opportunity to design its own flag the country kept symbols from its coat of arms and the wide swathe of blue from its earlier flag and imbued the new flag with various meanings celebrating the country and its people.
The modern Botswanan flag has a simple design: 5 horizontal lines stacked on top of one another. Soft blue bars sandwich a black strip outlined in white to create the flag’s design: a straightforward and highly recognizable design with symbolic meaning.
The blue bars, which constitute the majority of the flag, represents water, particularly rain. Home to the Kalahari Desert, Botswana suffers from frequent droughts. Most of Botswana’s population lives in a narrow strip in the Southeast corner of the country. Near three rivers, this area can support a vibrant population. Yet droughts lasting five to six years can wreak havoc on agriculture and livestock, an important livelihood for many Botswanan families. The conflicting realities of extreme drought and need for agriculture elevate the importance of rain in the region and explains the prominent reference to rain in Botswana’s flag. The blue in the flag also makes a direct reference to Botswana’s motto found in its coat of arms: ‘Pula’. Pula translates to ‘Let there be rain’ in Setswana, Botswana’s national language.
Black outlined in white, the remaining colors of the Botswana flag, symbolize two important but different ideas. Again referencing Botswana’s coat of arms, the black stripe outlined in white symbolizes Botswana’s national animal, the zebra. In addition to the national animal, the black and white stripes symbolize Botswana’s commitment to racial harmony and cooperation. Bordered by South Africa, Botswana saw the injustices of apartheid firsthand and sought to avoid the damaging system of apartheid in the new country. To emphasize the possibilities of peaceful and equitable coexistence between different racial groups, Botswana placed these lines in close proximity with one another.
From the rain to the importance of peaceful coexistence among racial diversity, Botswana’s flag holds significant meaning for all of its residents.