The history of Botswana does much more than cover a gap between the histories of neighbouring South Africa and Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, and Zambia. In prehistoric and very recent times the Kalahari thirstlands of Botswana have been central in the historical geography of the region, as the intermediate territory between the savannas of the north and east and the steppes of the south and west. Between the s and its independence in the s, however, Botswana was a poor and peripheral British protectorate known as Bechuanaland. The country is named after its dominant ethnic group , the Tswana or Batswana 'Bechuana' in older variant orthography , and the national language is called Setswana aka 'Sechuana'. Since the later s Botswana has gained in international stature as a peaceful and increasingly prosperous democratic state.