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, and many institutions answer to the office of the president. Media freedom is threatened by hostile lawsuits against journalists and attempts by the government to introduce closer oversight of the press corps. The Indigenous San people, as well as migrants, refugees, and LGBT+ people, face discrimination.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • President Mokgweetsi Masisi held a historic meeting in January with representatives of the country’s leading LGBT+ rights organization, Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO). At the meeting, he promised to respect the 2019 decriminalization of same-sex relations.
  • In September, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Review of the Constitution of Botswana presented its report to the president. President Masisi stood accused of employing a top-down, nonparticipatory, and nontransparent approach to constitutional reform.
  • In September, the Law Society of Botswana (LSB) asked Chief Justice Terrence Rannowane to resign following allegations that, together with the minister for state president, he tried to influence a judge in a case against lawmaker and former cabinet member Thapelo Matsheka. LSB also accused him of manipulating the allocation of high-profile cases that the executive had a vested interest in.
  • In July, Parliament passed the Media Practitioners’ Association Bill. Journalists expressed concern about the bill’s creation of a formal register for journalists and media enterprises. Earlier in the year the government had attempted, but failed, to push through a bill that contained provisions for warrantless surveillance; journalists had expressed alarm about potential introduction of the practice.

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 to a second term. 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. He was then sworn into office that November, after the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won a majority of parliamentary seats in the October 2019 elections.

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 35-member House of Chiefs (Ntlo ya Dikgosi) 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. In August 2022, Parliament passed the Constitution Amendment Bill, which will increase by four the number of elected members of Parliament from 57 to 61.

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. There have been calls for the IEC to be removed from the mandate of the Office of the President to allow it greater independence.

In September, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Review of the Constitution of Botswana presented its report to the president. President Masisi stood accused of employing a top-down, nonparticipatory, and nontransparent approach to constitutional reform.

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 a provision that had increased candidates’ fees brought some relief to opposition parties. There were calls in 2022 during consultations on constitutional reform for laws to further regulate political-party funding.

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 July 2020, amid concerns that BDP parliamentarians intended to join other parties, the government introduced 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.

Several attempted opposition coalitions since 2012 have failed to coalesce into a potent political force due to political infighting, mistrust, and the prevalence of personality-based leadership.

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, a 2020 Afrobarometer survey 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.

In August 2022, a lawmaker introduced a motion requesting that Parliament ban external funding of elections.

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 and resource constraints limit their participation, and their interests are not necessarily addressed by elected leaders. Only 11 female candidates ran for legislative seats in 2019, a decline from the 17 who participated in 2014. Seven women currently sit in the National Assembly. The SADC Gender and Development Monitor 2022, published in August, reported that Botswana was among the worst performers among South African Development Community (SADC) countries as far as women’s representation in national assemblies.

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, and for rushing legislation without adequate deliberation or consultation.

President Masisi was criticized for single-handedly initiating a 2022 constitutional review process without seeking input from important stakeholders, including Parliament.

In July 2022 Parliament passed a bill establishing a standing committee on the remuneration of elected representatives, members of the House of Chiefs, and some other specified offices. The inclusion of ministerial appointees with voting rights in the committee was criticized by some lawmakers for fear that that would undermine the committee’s independence.

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.

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), and an Ethics and Integrity Directorate became operational in January 2020. However, anticorruption operations are constrained by a lack of funding.

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 July, Parliament dismissed a legislative move, backed by civil society groups, to make the DCEC independent.

The DCEC is prone to leadership instability and has had a high turnover of directors general. In June 2022, Director General Tymon Katlholo was suspended from office, a move some perceived as political interference in its work. In an appearance before a parliamentary committee that month, Katlholo said the DCEC had 215 cases with prosecuting authorities, 140 cases before the courts, and a backlog of 619 active investigations.

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. A new Procurement Act, which decentralized public procurement, came into effect in 2022 and is aimed at addressing corruption and strengthening transparency and accountability. In March 2022, Botswana committed itself to a tax transparency agenda by endorsing the Yaoundé Declaration. Authorities have also published clear information on the emergency use of COVID-19 funds.

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, there were legislative developments during 2022 that caused concern among media workers and press freedom advocates.

In a move that prompted alarm among journalists, the government attempted, but ultimately failed, to include provisions for warrantless surveillance in the 2022 Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigations) Bill, which Parliament enacted in February. In July, Parliament passed the Media Practitioners’ Association Bill. Although viewed as a significant improvement over the draconian 2008 Media Practitioners Act, journalists expressed concerns over about the creation of a formal register for journalists and media enterprises.

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. Journalistic activity is also affected by provisions of the National Security Law, DALA, and the DISS Act, as well as the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) by the rich and powerful to suppress critical press.

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 at times 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 has some capacity to monitor private online communications. In October 2021, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern over an increase in the “scale and scope” of intrusive surveillance methods used against Batswana by the authorities in recent years. The government’s failed attempt to introduce warrantless surveillance provisions into the Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigations) Act 2022 heightened concerns about the government’s perception of free-expression rights.

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 hold demonstrations. The constitutionality of this clause has been questioned in the past, and police have sometimes denied requests for unclear reasons. In April 2022, the Women in Politics movement reported that it had been refused permission by the office of the presidency to march to the office’s grounds and present a petition expressing concern about gender-based violence.

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 restriction.

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 and other unfair employment practices in the workplace. In December 2022, Botswana committed itself to upkeeping an effective system of labor inspections by ratifying two International Labor Organization (ILO) labor inspection conventions.

In May 2022 President Masisi reiterated an unfulfilled promise from 2018 to revive the dormant Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC), but had failed to do so by year’s end.

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 have ruled against the government in several high-profile cases in recent years.

The year 2022 saw a number of organizations, including the Law Society of Botswana (LSB), condemn several acts involving the chief justice. The LSB accused the chief justice of manipulating the allocation of cases involving high-profile disputes in which the executive has a vested interest. The attorney general registered similar concerns. In September, the LSB called for the immediate resignation of the chief justice following accusations that, working together with Minister for State President Kabo Morwaeng, he tried to influence a judge in the a case against parliament member and former cabinet minister Thapelo Matsheka. The chief justice denied interfering.

Calls to improve the transparency, impartiality, and public oversight of the selection and appointment processes for judges persist. 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.

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. In February 2022, the chair of the LSB called out a lack of disciplinary actions against judges who failed to deliver timely judgments. Among other things he pointed to the case of a judge who retired without delivering more than 100 pending judgments. A directive was issued to restart the cases at the expense of litigants.

In August 2022, Justice Gaolapelwe Ketlogetswe lambasted the government for detaining Matsheka without a warrant or charge for more than the legally permitted 48 hours.

Attorneys are provided to defendants in capital cases, but defendants in noncapital cases must pay for their own counsel. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention observed during its July 2022 visit that legal aid was only available in civil proceedings and capital cases. It also raised concern about the automatic and often indefinite detention of irregular migrants. The DISS can arrest suspects without a warrant if agents believe they have committed or will commit a crime.

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 allows for capital punishment. During its July 2022 visit to the country, the UN Committee Against Torture noted inhumane treatment of people on death row. The state does not provide them or their families with details about the date and time of execution, and their bodies are not always given to their families for burial.

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 no human rights body to investigate human rights abuses, but has conferred that function to the Office of the Ombudsman. The penal code does not define torture as a crime. In February 2022, the defense, justice, and security minister was criticized for instructing police at a police conference to “eliminate” suspected criminals.

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. In January 2022, an inquest found that soldiers who had killed four suspected poachers in November 2020 were not criminally liable.

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. President Masisi promised to respect the ruling during a historic meeting January 2022 with representatives of the LGBT+ rights group LEGABIBO.

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

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 December 2022, the Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision denying an elderly San man the right to be buried in his ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Tribal rights group Survival International has accused the government of ill-treating San people residing inside the reserve.

All COVID-19-related movement restrictions were lifted in 2022.

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, and these are generally 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 2015 Land Policy 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, 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 of any children 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.

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. Subsequent amendments introduced longer sentences for rape and provide compensation for victims. Women’s rights activists expressed concern over certain aspects of the reforms, including the criminalizing of false rape allegations. Other interventions include a sex offenders registry, a toll-free line for victims of gender-based violence, an interministerial committee on gender-based violence, and 25 courts dedicated to gender-based violence cases.

Same-sex relations have been decriminalized, but there is no legislation yet that legalizes same-sex unions.

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, although the government increased its efforts to combat it in 2022 compared to the previous year. Cooperation efforts with foreign governments improved, as well as the identification and referral of victims to care.

Forced and child labor, particularly on San cattle farms, remain challenges. No labor inspections were conducted in known problematic areas in 2022.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    72 100 free