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 2021

  • In August, the High Court acquitted former intelligence agent Welheminah “Butterfly” Maswabi of corruption charges after finding that she had been prosecuted based on fabricated evidence. The court also recommended that the government take action against implicated state officials.
  • The controversial Emergency Powers Act (EPA), which was introduced in early 2020 to address the spread of COVID-19 and included provisions prohibiting strikes and the dissemination of false pandemic-related news, was lifted in September.

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.

In December 2021, President Masisi appointed a commission to review Botswana’s constitution. The long-awaited constitutional review process could potentially address electoral reforms, which opposition groups say are necessary to ensure free and fair elections.

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. 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 a light aircraft used by the UDC for campaigning. The Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) has also been accused of harassing opposition parliamentarians; in November 2021, the DISS reportedly arrested three members of the opposition BPF.

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. The law came into force in February 2021.

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. However, persistent political infighting and the prevalence of personality-based leadership continues to impede the creation of a unified opposition.

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 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 its influence over Parliament, which is situated within the office of the president, and for rushing legislation without adequate deliberation or consultation.

In 2016, lawmakers approved an amendment increasing the 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 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, and the Emergency Powers Act (EPA), which gave the president wide-ranging powers, was gazetted that April. The state of emergency remained in force until September 2021.

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. However, anticorruption operations are constrained by a lack of funding; of the 182 cases before the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), 20 percent have been pending for 10 or more years.

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 has been questioned since it was transferred to the president’s office in 2012. In June 2021, the president’s office carried out an “unprecedented overhaul” of the DCEC, transferring a number of top investigators out of the agency without informing its director. The transfers, which came as the DCEC was pursuing high-profile cases involving top government officials, were later reversed.

In recent years, state anticorruption bodies have faced criticism for their perceived reluctance to pursue corruption cases against high-level individuals and for allegedly conducting politically motivated prosecutions. In August 2021, a high-profile corruption case involving former DISS agent Welheminah “Butterfly” Maswabi was dismissed by a High Court judge who condemned the case as “contrived” and “malicious,” and recommended that the officials who initiated the proceedings be prosecuted.

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.

The government embarked on a review of the public procurement law in April 2021 to address corruption and strengthen transparency and accountability. In November, President Masisi announced that a single law regulating public procurement would be adopted “soon.”

Opposition figures have criticized the government for a lack of transparency and making secretive deals, including the purchase of a luxury resort in May 2021. Local media outlets have also accused the government of suppressing public access to COVID-19-related information.

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. However, incidents of intimidation, harassment, and physical assaults against journalists have been reported under the Masisi administration. In May 2021, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that Botswana authorities routinely use digital forensics technology to extract information from devices seized from detained journalists.

The CPJ also condemned the repeated arrests of several media workers in January and March 2021 while they were investigating a missing persons case. While the individuals were detained, police confiscated and searched their computers and mobile phones. The charges from the group’s March arrest were dropped in April.

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 World Health Organization (WHO). In 2020 and 2021, several journalists, including the editor of the Botswana People’s Daily News, Oratile Dikologang, were arrested for allegedly publishing “fake news” about the COVID-19 pandemic. Dikologang faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

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 among 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. In October 2021, the UN Human Rights Committee (OHCHR) expressed concern over an increase in the “scale and scope” of intrusive surveillance methods used against Batswana by the authorities in recent years.

Batswana were also affected by restrictions when discussing the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, the communications regulator warned that so-called false-news dissemination was legally prohibited. 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.

In September 2021, prominent religious leader Thuso Tiego was arrested for participating in an antigovernment protest march without a permit. Protesters who gathered outside the police station to demand his release were violently dispersed by police; some were also arrested.

The government declared a COVID-19-related state of emergency in March 2020, which restricted the size of public assemblies until it was lifted in September 2021.

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 (NGOs), 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. In September 2021, the Botswana Federation of Public, Private, and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) threatened to take the government to court for failing to reinstate the dormant Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) despite the president’s 2018 promise to do so. The PSBC was not restored by year’s end.

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. Judges ruled against the government in several high-profile cases in 2021, including in August, when a High Court judge dismissed a corruption case against former DISS agent Welheminah “Butterfly” Maswabi, characterizing the prosecution as “malicious.” The same month, another High Court judge condemned government officials for their “incompetence” in investigating alleged embezzlement from the state’s National Petroleum Fund (NPF), while another court ordered the state to reimburse former president Ian Khama for costs incurred after he was denied the use of government-owned transport during a 2019 trip.

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 (JSC) advertises vacancies and interviews potential members of the High Court, the appointment process for Court of Appeal judges is relatively nontransparent. In July 2021, the Law Society of Botswana (LSB) accused the JSC of routinely promoting junior magistrates through a nontransparent process.

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. The LSB has advocated for the “naming and shaming” of judges who delay in delivering rulings.

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 2020 and 2021.

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 law also allows for capital punishment; three people were executed in 2021.

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. Botswana has yet to investigate cases of police brutality reported during the enforcement of the COVID-19-related state of emergency.

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 2020, soldiers killed six suspected poachers. Botswana authorities began an inquest into the killings in November 2021. The inquest remained ongoing at year’s end.

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.

Same-sex relations were criminalized until 2019, when the High Court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional. The Court of Appeal upheld the ruling in November 2021.

Refugees in Botswana have been detained in encampments and have been denied the ability to work and integrate into local communities.

In July 2021, Parliament voted to expand the mandate and the powers of the Ombudsman to include the “protection and promotion of human rights.” The process of restructuring the Ombudsman’s office began in October and continued through year’s end.

In August, Botswana ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Civil society groups praised the decision to ratify the convention, which came two months after the Albinism Society of Botswana reported the country to the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) for persistently failing to address the challenges faced by people living with albinism.

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.

International and domestic movement restrictions were imposed under a COVID-19-related state of emergency beginning in March 2020, with Batswana requiring permits to travel within the country in some cases. The state of emergency ended in September 2021, lifting most restrictions on movement.

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. In May 2021, the High Court found the compulsory acquisition of tribal land to be unlawful in a ruling that the SALC praised as “vital” to protecting tribal land rights.

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. Perpetrators are rarely prosecuted. Women can experience harassment for not dressing conservatively. During 2021, Batswana reported being turned away from COVID-19 vaccination sites run by community councils for failing to adhere to traditional dress codes. Such policies disproportionately affected women.

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. The government proposed further amendments to the Penal Code in 2021, which would introduce longer sentences for rape and provide compensation for victims. Women’s rights activists expressed concern over certain aspects of the reforms, which also proposed criminalizing false rape allegations.

In November 2020, 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 2021 edition of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report noted a “substantial decrease” in the government’s antitrafficking efforts in 2021. Despite acknowledging the appearance of forced and child labor—particularly on San cattle farms—the government largely failed to address the problem during the year.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    72 100 free