PR Political Rights 28 40
CL Civil Liberties 44 60
Last Year's Score & Status
72 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

While it is considered one of the most stable democracies in Africa, Botswana has been dominated by a single party since independence. Media freedom remains under threat. The indigenous San people, as well as migrants, refugees, and LGBT+ people, face discrimination.

header2 Key Developments in 2020

  • In July, the government gazetted a bill that would effectively prohibit national and local legislators from defecting to other parties. The bill progressed through Parliament and awaited President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s signature by December, though it had not been signed by year’s end.
  • President Masisi declared a COVID-19-related state of emergency in March, and wide-ranging emergency legislation was gazetted in April. The Emergency Powers Act (EPA) prohibited the right to strike and prohibited the dissemination of purportedly false pandemic-related news among other provisions. Authorities reported 14,205 COVID-19 cases and 40 deaths to the World Health Organization (WHO) by year’s end.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3.003 4.004

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 predecessor Ian Khama expired. The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won a majority of parliamentary seats in the October 2019 elections. Masisi was sworn into office that November.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

Parliament includes a unicameral, 65-seat National Assembly and an advisory House of Chiefs. Voters directly elect 57 National Assembly members to five-year terms, while 6 members are nominated by the president and approved by the National Assembly. The president and attorney general are ex officio members. The 34-member House of Chiefs is composed mostly of traditional leaders, representatives they elect, and representatives appointed by the president. It advises legislators on tribal issues, land matters, and the constitution.

The BDP won 38 National Assembly seats with 52.7 percent of the vote in the October 2019 elections, while the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) won 15 seats and 35.9 percent, the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) won 3 seats and 4.4 percent, and the Alliance of Progressives (AP) won 1 seat and 5.1 percent.

Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) observers called the poll free and fair but criticized the lack of indelible ink and the use of translucent ballot boxes. The UDC 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 December 2019. The Court of Appeal agreed to hear the matter in January 2020, but dismissed it later that month, citing a lack of jurisdiction.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3.003 4.004

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) administers elections and is generally considered independent and capable. However, the IEC was affected by budgetary constraints and a staff shortage during the 2019 electoral period, impacting its voter-education and registration drives.

The Electoral Amendment Act of 2016 (EAA), which 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 pro-BDP manipulation and threatened to boycott the 2019 polls. The government withdrew the electronic-voting mandate and other provisions of the EAA in 2018, and the BCP settled a lawsuit against the government in 2019.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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? 3.003 4.004

The right of political parties to form and operate is legally guaranteed 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 2018 withdrawal of an EAA provision that had increased candidates’ fees brought some relief to opposition parties.

The UDC and its leader, Duma Boko, reported harassment and interference from government agencies during the 2019 election campaign, including the harassment of Boko’s family members and the impounding of an UDC-owned light aircraft.

In July 2020, amid concerns that BDP parliamentarians intended to join other parties, the government gazetted a bill that would effectively prohibit local and national legislators from doing so. While the bill awaited Masisi’s signature by December, he did not sign it into law by year’s end.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 2.002 4.004

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, subsequent infighting within the UDC threatened its competitiveness during the 2019 contests. The opposition vote was further split when former president Khama quit the BDP in 2019 and helped form the BPF. In October 2020, the AP, BPF, and UDC signed an agreement to cooperate in future by-elections.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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? 3.003 4.004

People’s political choices are largely free from domination by unelected outside groups. While observers noted the potential for tribal chiefs to influence voters, an Afrobarometer survey published in January 2020 showed that most respondents did not see chiefs as influential.

Election monitors noted that Batswana 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.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2.002 4.004

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, with observers noting that members are disadvantaged by the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system. People with disabilities have participated at low levels in recent parliamentary elections. Parties generally do not represent the interests of LGBT+ people.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3.003 4.004

Elected officials determine government policies. However, opposition parties have criticized the executive for dominating the National Assembly and rushing legislation without adequate deliberation or consultation.

In 2016, lawmakers approved an amendment increasing number of National Assembly members appointed by the president from four to six. Opposition leaders argued that the change would strengthen executive power at the legislature’s expense.

In 2018, Masisi transferred the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) and the Financial Intelligence Agency from their respective ministries to the president’s office, prompting concerns over the improper centralization of power.

President Masisi declared a COVID-19 state of emergency in March 2020 while Emergency Powers Act (EPA), which gave the president wide-ranging powers, was gazetted in April. The state of emergency remained in force through year’s end after Parliament approved an extension in September.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3.003 4.004

Botswana has a comprehensive legislative anticorruption framework. Whistleblower-protection legislation was passed in 2016. In 2019, legislators passed the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Act (DALA), though opposition parties questioned its effectiveness in fighting corruption. DALA called for the creation of the Ethics and Integrity Directorate, which became operational in January 2020.

The main anticorruption agency, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) has been accused of ineffectiveness in pursuing high-level cases, and its independence was questioned when it was transferred to the president’s office in 2012. In July 2020, then DCEC director general Joseph Mathambo voiced concerns over the agency’s budgetary resources in front of a parliamentary committee. Mathambo was dismissed in August.

High-profile cases, including that of former DISS head Isaac Seabelo Kgosi, who was originally accused of tax evasion, continued during the year. In February 2020, Kgosi was formally accused of misusing money from National Petroleum Fund, but was acquitted in December along with several codefendants.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2.002 4.004

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 subject to DALA. In August 2020, legislators passed the Income Tax Amendment Bill, which is meant to improve transparency on tax matters.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2.002 4.004

Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed. However, incidents of intimidation and harassment against journalists have been reported under the Masisi administration.

State-run media outlets dominate the broadcasting sector and have exhibited progovernment bias. A government ban on private-media advertising remains in place, harming the competitiveness and viability of many outlets.

The 2008 Media Practitioners Act established a statutory media regulator and mandated the registration of all media workers and outlets—including websites and blogs—with violations punishable by a fine or imprisonment. Journalistic activity is also affected by provisions of the National Security Law, DALA, and the DISS Act.

Journalistic activity was also affected by COVID-19 measures. Under the EPA, Batswana were prohibited from using sources other than the government or the WHO.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

Religious freedom is generally respected, though all religious organizations must register with the government.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3.003 4.004

Although academic freedom is generally respected, professors often practice self-censorship when addressing sensitive topics. Foreign academics have previously been deported for publishing work that criticized the government, contributing to cautiousness among many scholars.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of expression is constitutionally protected but is restricted in practice, prompting self-censorship amongst Batswana. Insulting the president, a lawmaker, or a public official is punishable by a fine. The 2008 Public Service Act restricts the ability of public-sector workers to air political views. The DISS is able to monitor private online communications.

Batswana were also affected by restrictions when discussing the COVID-19 pandemic. In late March 2020, the communications regulator issued a public notice warning that the penal code and Communications Regulatory Act prohibited so-called false-news dissemination. The EPA included COVID-19-related false-news provisions. Offenders face a $10,000 fine, imprisonment of up to five years, or both.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and largely upheld in practice. However, the Public Order Act requires citizens to seek police permission to exercise this right. The constitutionality of this clause has been questioned in the past, and police have sometimes denied requests for unclear reasons.

The government declared a COVID-19-related state of emergency in March 2020, restricting the size of public assemblies; assembly restrictions remained in effect through year’s end.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

Nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, generally operate without restrictions.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2.002 4.004

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 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 that year, but has not yet done so.

The right to strike was restricted by the EPA.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 3.003 4.004

The judiciary is generally independent and free from interference. However, there have been calls to improve the transparency, impartiality, and public oversight of the selection and appointment processes for judges. While the Judicial Service Commission advertises vacancies and interviews potential members of the High Court, the appointment process for Court of Appeal judges is relatively nontransparent.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3.003 4.004

The right to a fair trial is constitutionally protected and generally upheld in practice. However, the judiciary lacks human and financial resources, leading to case backlogs, lengthy pretrial detentions, and the postponement of cases.

Attorneys are provided to defendants in capital cases, but defendants in noncapital cases must pay for their own counsel. The DISS can arrest suspects without a warrant if agents believe they have committed or will commit a crime.

While courts were affected by COVID-19 mitigation measures, they remained largely operational during the year.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3.003 4.004

Although citizens are largely protected from the illegitimate use of force, corporal punishment is sometimes imposed. The DISS has historically been accused of corrupt activity, unlawful arrests, and extrajudicial killings. Instances of police brutality have been reported, and perpetrators are rarely held accountable.

Antipoaching operations have resulted in fatal incidents over the past two decades. In 2018, President Masisi ended an unwritten shoot-to-kill policy originally adopted in at least 2013 to deter wildlife poachers. The poaching ban was revoked altogether in 2019. However, in April 2020, soldiers killed 5 suspected poachers, while another was killed in June.

Motswana law allows for capital punishment, with three people being executed in February and March 2020. In October, Amnesty International called for a moratorium on executions.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2.002 4.004

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. 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 2019, when the High Court ruled that ban unconstitutional. The government took its case to the Court of Appeal, which was considering the matter in 2020.

Refugees in Botswana have been detained in encampments and have been denied the ability to work and integrate into local communities. In June 2020, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’s (UNHCR) Botswana mission chief called on the government to facilitate the integration of refugees. Defense, Justice, and Security Minister Kagiso Mmusi offered to open a dialogue on the issue later that month.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3.003 4.004

Most citizens can move freely throughout the country and travel internationally, though refugees and asylum seekers face movement restrictions. San people 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. In October 2020, San signatories sent a petition to President Masisi calling on the government to recommit to a dialogue to resolve the land-access dispute.

Movement restrictions were imposed when a COVID-19-related state of emergency was declared in March 2020, with Batswana requiring permits to travel within the country in some cases. International travel restrictions were in effect for much of 2020, but were loosened beginning in November.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3.003 4.004

Botswana has generally sound legal protections for property rights which are enforced in practice. The country’s regulatory framework is considered conducive to establishing and operating private businesses. Land rights for wives, widows, and orphans were improved in September 2020, when President Masisi signed amendments to the Land Policy of 2015 into law.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2.002 4.004

Gender-based violence (GBV), including domestic violence and rape, is pervasive. Spousal rape is not considered 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. Women can experience harassment for not dressing conservatively.

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. In September 2020, the government published a draft of the Sexual Offenders Registry Bill, which would impose a registration and monitoring system for sex offenders among other provisions. The bill passed a parliamentary reading in December, proceeding to the committee stage.

In August 2020, the Botswana Nurses Union warned that GBV incidents increased after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. In November, 25 dedicated courts were established to adjudicate GBV cases.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3.003 4.004

Workers enjoy protections against exploitative labor practices. However, employer abuses in the retail, tourism, and private-security sectors 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 of 2014 was amended in 2018 to include stiffer financial penalties. However, the US State Department reported that the judiciary was unfamiliar with the legislation in the 2020 edition of its Trafficking in Persons Report, hindering antitrafficking efforts.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    72 100 free