- The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secured a parliamentary majority in the October elections, and interim president Mokgweetsi Masisi was sworn in for a full term in November. While regional observers called the contest free and fair, the opposition claimed that that it was rigged.
- In June, a judicial panel ruled that a criminal statute banning same-sex relations was unconstitutional, though the government publicly vowed to appeal the decision in July.
- Isaac Seabelo Kgosi, the former head of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), was arrested in January on suspicion of tax evasion. A trial against Kgosi was still pending at year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The president is indirectly elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term and is eligible for reelection. The vice president is appointed by the president and confirmed by the National Assembly. The president holds significant power, including the authority to prolong or dismiss the National Assembly. In 2018, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi was named interim president when the term of his predecessor, Ian Khama, expired. The BDP won a majority of seats in the National Assembly in the October 2019 election, which was held concurrently with local government races. Masisi was sworn into office in early November.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
Botswana has a unicameral, 65-seat National Assembly. Voters directly elect 57 members to five-year terms, while 6 members are nominated by the president and approved by the National Assembly. The president and attorney general serve as ex officio members. The BDP won 38 seats with 52.7 percent of the vote in the October 2019 elections, while the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) won 15 seats with 35.9 percent of the vote, the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) won 3 seats with 4.4 percent of the vote, and the Alliance of Progressives (AP) won 1 seat with 5.1 percent of the vote.
Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) election observers called the poll free and fair, but criticized the lack of indelible ink and the use of translucent ballot boxes at polling stations. The UDC, however, claimed that voters were allowed to cast multiple ballots, and that voters and election officials were bribed. The UDC petitioned the High Court to throw the results out, but their case was dismissed in late December 2019.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) administers elections, and is generally considered independent and capable. However, a voter registration drive preceding the 2019 elections saw the theft of two voter registration books, containing a few dozen complete and incomplete registration forms, from an electoral officer’s house. The IEC was also affected by budgetary constraints and a shortage of staff, which impacted its voter education and registration drives.
The Electoral Amendment Act of 2016, which originally mandated electronic voting for the 2019 elections, caused controversy after its passage. The opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) claimed that electronic voting was susceptible to manipulation in favor of the BDP, and threatened to boycott the 2019 polls. The government withdrew several sections of the act in 2018, including the electronic voting mandate, and the BCP settled a lawsuit against the government in April 2019.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
The right of political parties to form and operate is guaranteed in law and is respected in practice. However, the opposition has alleged that the BDP abuses state resources, including the influential state media, to its own benefit. The lack of a public financing system also leaves opposition parties at a disadvantage. However, the withdrawal in 2018 of a section of the Electoral Amendment Act of 2016 that increased fees for candidates brought some relief to opposition parties.
The UDC claimed that its leader, Duma Boko, faced harassment and interference from government agencies during the 2019 election campaign. In July, the party reported that the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) harassed Boko’s family members, and asked them about his movements. In early October, Boko reported that he was harassed by police officers and alleged that the authorities impounded a light aircraft used by the UDC to campaign in remote areas.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
The BDP, drawing on the advantages of its long incumbency, has dominated the political landscape since 1966; no opposition party has ever won power.
In 2012, several opposition parties formed the UDC to contest elections. However, infighting within the UDC–including the 2018 expulsion of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD)–threatened to affect its competitiveness ahead of the 2019 contests. The opposition vote was further split when former president Khama quit the ruling BDP in April 2019 and helped form the BPF.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
People’s political choices are largely free from domination by unelected outside groups. The House of Chiefs, a 35-member body composed mostly of traditional leaders, representatives they elect, and representatives appointed by the president, advises legislators on tribal and customary matters. While the House of Chiefs is not decisive in affecting the popular will, election observers noted the potential for tribal chiefs to influence voters.
Election monitors also noted that Botswana’s political parties rely on foreign donations, which could allow for external interference in domestic politics.
There have been some past reports of vote buying during elections.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
Women have full political rights, but cultural factors limit their participation, and their interests are not necessarily addressed by elected leaders. Only 11 female candidates ran for seats in 2019, a decline from the 17 who participated in 2014. Seven women currently sit in the National Assembly.
Smaller ethnic and tribal groups tend to be left out of the political process. People with disabilities have participated at low levels in recent parliamentary elections. Political parties generally do not represent the interests of LGBT+ people.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
Elected executive and legislative officials determine government policies. However, opposition parties have criticized the executive branch for dominating the National Assembly and rushing bills through the legislative process without adequate deliberation or consultation. In 2016, lawmakers approved an amendment that increased the number of National Assembly members appointed by the president from four to six. Opposition leaders argued that the change would further strengthen executive power at the expense of the legislative branch.
In 2018, Masisi transferred the DISS and the Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA) to the president’s office, prompting concerns about the improper centralization of power. The DISS was formerly part of the Justice Ministry, while the FIA was part of the Finance Ministry.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Corruption laws are generally well enforced. In 2017, Botswana enacted a bill to protect whistleblowers. In August 2019, the National Assembly passed the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Bill, which was originally proposed in 1996, though opposition parties questioned its effectiveness in fighting corruption.
However, Botswana’s main anticorruption agency, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), has been accused of ineffectiveness in fully pursuing high-level cases, and its independence was questioned when it was transferred to the Office of the President in 2012. The DCEC also disclosed difficulty in recruiting qualified staff in its 2018 annual report. Despite these challenges, the DCEC revived 13 cases that were previously closed for lack of evidence in April 2019.
The authorities also grappled with new corruption cases in 2019. Isaac Seabelo Kgosi, the former head of the DISS, was arrested on suspicion of tax evasion in January. The state seized several of Kgosi’s assets in July, and a trial against him was still pending at year’s end. In August, President Masisi’s permanent secretary, Carter Morupisi, was charged with money laundering, bribery, and abuse of office for misappropriating funds from Capital Management Botswana (CMB), a public asset management body. Morupisi’s wife also faced charges, and their trial was pending at year’s end.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
Botswana lacks a freedom of information law, which limits government transparency. Budget processes are opaque, and public contracts are often awarded through patronage networks. Section 44 of the Corruption and Economic Crime Act prohibits publishing information on DCEC investigations. Public officers and the heads of private organizations are now expected to disclose their assets under the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Act, but opposition lawmakers called the legislation ineffective ahead of its August 2019 passage.
Election monitors noted that the IEC provided limited information on the electoral process in their report on the October 2019 polls.
|Are there free and independent media?
Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed. However, journalists have endured harassment and intimidation under Khama’s government, and concerning incidents have also been reported under the Masisi administration.
State-run media outlets dominate the broadcasting sector, and have exhibited a progovernment bias in their programming. However, election observers reported that state-run media provided unbiased coverage of the October 2019 polls. A government ban on advertising in private media remains in place, and harms the competitiveness and economic viability of many outlets. The 2008 Media Practitioners Act (MPA) established a statutory media regulatory body and mandated the registration of all media workers and outlets—including websites and blogs—with violations being punishable by a fine or prison time. A UDC lawmaker called for the MPA’s repeal with a parliamentary motion, but it was defeated in April 2019.
Journalists have faced harassment and scrutiny from the DISS, as well. A group of detectives and DISS personnel, who were investigating Isaac Kgosi on allegations that he unlawfully revealed the identity of intelligence agents earlier in the year, raided the home of Tsaone Basimanebotlhe, a political reporter for news site Mmegi, in July 2019. The agents ordered her to surrender her mobile phone, admonished her for informing her editor of the raid, and threatened colleagues who visited her home with arrest.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
Religious freedom is generally respected, though all religious organizations must register with the government.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
Although academic freedom is generally respected, professors often practice self-censorship when addressing sensitive topics. In the past, foreign academics have been deported for publishing work that was critical of the government, contributing to cautiousness among many scholars.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
Freedom of expression is constitutionally protected, but is restricted in practice, prompting self-censorship among members of the public. Insulting the president, a lawmaker, or public official is punishable by a fine. The 2008 Public Service Act restricts the ability of public-sector workers to air their political views. In recent years, the DISS has developed capacity to monitor private online communications.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution and largely upheld in practice. However, the Public Order Act requires citizens to seek permission from the police to exercise this right. The constitutionality of this clause has been questioned in the past, and permission at times has been denied on unclear grounds by the police.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including human rights groups, generally operate without restrictions.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
The right to form a union is respected, but the Trade Dispute Act places restrictions on who can strike. As a result, the government declares many strikes to be illegal, putting employees’ jobs at risk. The law does not always protect workers from antiunion discrimination by employers.
In 2018, the government attempted to derecognize public service unions for alleged noncompliance with provisions of the Public Service Act of 2008, but a trade court blocked the attempt. President Masisi promised to restore the dormant Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) that year, but this did not occur by the end of 2019.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
The judiciary is generally independent and free from interference. In 2017, a judicial crisis involving former President Khama’s attempts to reappoint justices after their fixed terms raised concerns over executive interference, but there were no controversies of that scale since. However, there have been calls to improve the transparency, impartiality, and public oversight of the selection and appointment processes for judges.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
The right to a fair trial is protected by the constitution and generally upheld in practice. However, the judiciary lacks human and financial resources, which has led to case backlogs, lengthy pretrial detentions, and the postponement of cases. Attorneys are provided to all defendants in capital cases, but defendants in noncapital cases must pay for their own counsel. The DISS has the power to arrest suspects without a warrant if agents believe they have committed or will commit a crime.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
Although citizens are largely protected from the illegitimate use of force, corporal punishment is sometimes imposed. Instances of police brutality have been reported, and perpetrators are rarely held accountable. Botswana still lacks an independent body to investigate police abuses. The DISS has historically been besieged by corruption allegations and has been accused of unlawful arrests and extrajudicial killings.
Over the past two decades, at least 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans were killed in antipoaching operations. In 2018, President Masisi ended an unwritten shoot-to-kill policy originally adopted in at least 2013, and possibly earlier, to deter wildlife poachers; the ban on poaching was revoked altogether in May 2019.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Customary law, commonly applied in rural areas, often discriminates against women. The indigenous San people tend to be economically marginalized and lack access to education and other public services including use of their language in schools, government meetings, and state media. There have been reports of beatings, abuse, and arbitrary arrests of San by police and park rangers. Botswana has no human rights body to investigate violations.
Same-sex relations were criminalized until June 2019, when a judicial panel ruled that the ban was unconstitutional. However, the government vowed to appeal the ruling in July, and the case remains pending at year’s end.
Refugees in Botswana have been detained in encampments and have been denied the ability to work and integrate into local communities. In September 2019, the government returned 94 refugees to Namibia; the refugees, who number over 800, originally fled in 1999 after a secession attempt there failed. They previously opposed voluntary repatriation for fear of persecution by the Namibian government.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
Most citizens can move freely throughout the country and travel internationally. However, in addition to the movement restrictions on refugees and asylum seekers, San have limited access to their traditional lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The government’s long-standing policy has been to relocate San out of the reserve, and those who still have relatives living there must apply for a permit to visit them.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
Botswana has generally sound legal protections for property rights, and they are enforced in practice. However, customary law discriminates against women in property and inheritance matters; for example, a woman has no right to her husband’s property upon his death. The country’s regulatory framework is considered conducive to establishing and operating private businesses.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
Domestic violence and rape are pervasive problems. The law does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. Customary law restricts women’s rights within a marriage. When husbands and wives separate, custody is traditionally granted to the father. Child and forced marriages still occur under customary law. In 2018, Parliament passed the Penal Code Amendment Bill, which introduced stronger penalties for rape, and raised the age of consent from 16 to 18.
Women can experience harassment for not dressing conservatively.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Workers enjoy a number of protections against exploitative labor practices. However, employer abuses in retail stores, the tourism industry, and private security sector are an ongoing problem. Botswana lacks a strong regulatory framework for labor brokers that dispatch workers to clients on short-term contracts, in which exploitation is common. Human trafficking remains an ongoing challenge. The Anti-Human Trafficking Act was amended in 2018 to include stiffer financial penalties.
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Global Freedom Score72 100 free