Typing in ‘Gaborone’ in the New York Times search engine and taking a look at the first 21 articles makes for some curious maths. Of these first 21 pieces, 5 were published in the 1970s, 7 in the 1980s, 2 date back to the 1990s and 7 were written in the 2000s. The average publication year of the first 10 is 1989. Of the first 13 articles, the second most recent one (from 2003) is off Alexander McCall Smith’s hand, the British author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, that take place in Gaborone. He opens his article with
What strikes you first is the sky and its emptiness. There is nothing there, just air of a blue that is so attenuated that it is almost white. You stand there, on the tarmac of Seretse Khama Airport, you breathe in the dry air, feel the sun upon your neck and you know that now you have reached the edge. Just a few miles away, over the scrub plain, is the Kalahari and its singing emptiness.
The latest piece that mentions Gaborone went online last year and covers the country’s mining industry. It refers to Gaborone as “Botswana’s capital city, which is an unappealing mix of scattered one-story concrete boxes.”
It’s not just the New York Times who gives the impression that Gaborone is an utter bore. Prosperous, but a bore. For the tourist, the city may serve as a stopover to the country’s wildlife and enchanting nothingness. To the business (wo)man, it might be an economic opportunity to get a sweet slice of the mining cake. Yet reasons to stretch a visit beyond the strictly necessary are hard to find. Has this dull heart of emptiness simply stood still under its comfortable and continuing diamond shower?
It hasn’t. An exploratory drive through the city presents fresh business parks, rapidly developing construction sites and other new developments. Close to the (many) malls, you’ll find fine dining, sushi, global cuisine, coffee bars, lush tea gardens and (behold!) even night clubs and bars. There’s a yacht club, a museum with an art gallery, cinemas and even a wildlife park at only a stone’s throw away.
It might not be Dakar or Nairobi, but Gaborone certainly does not look empty.