Botswana | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Trend Arrow: 

Botswana received a downward trend arrow because of two incidents that constricted press freedom.


Botswana drew uncharacteristic international attention in 2001 with the sensational trial of a white South African woman who was convicted of murdering her best friend in order to marry the woman's husband. Marietta Bosch, who protested her innocence in the murder of Ria Wolmarans, was subsequently hanged without notification of her family. She was executed in March after President Festus Mogae refused an appeal for clemency. Capital punishment is legal in Botswana, but the case became known because Bosch was the first white woman hanged in the country since independence. The story led to a setback for press freedom when the government barred Botswana Television from airing a documentary on the case.

Botswana is Africa's longest continuous multiparty democracy; elected governments have ruled the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1966. In October 1999 Botswana held its seventh general elections since independence. President Mogae, a former central bank chief, succeeded Ketumile Masire as president in April 1998 and Mogae was confirmed as the country's leader in October 1999. A referendum on whether the president should be directly elected was withdrawn shortly before a vote scheduled in late 1997.

The Balopi Commission, which includes former members of parliament, issued its report in 2001 on whether three articles in the constitution that created a "House of Chiefs," or consultative body to parliament, in 1966 were discriminatory. The commission recommended some change in the way the House of Chiefs is constituted and suggested a form of territorial representation. The House of Chiefs represents the country's major tribes and some smaller ones, and mainly serves an advisory role. Critics say it favors majority tribes.

Economic progress in Botswana has been built on sound fiscal management and low rates of corruption. Privatization is progressing slowly. Efforts are under way to diversify an economy in which diamonds account for 75 percent of all export earnings. The country's gross domestic product will continue to rise in 2002, largely because of diamonds, but will do so at a lower rate than in previous years because of AIDS. An estimated one-third of the country's population is infected with HIV. There is concern that the health system will not be able to care for the growing number of children left orphaned by the disease; there were 78,000 in 2001.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Botswana's national assembly, elected for five years, chooses the president to serve a concurrent five-year term. The assembly's choice is confirmed by the courts when the winning party receives more than half the seats in the parliament. The Independent Election Commission created in 1996 has helped consolidate Botswana's reputation for fairness in voting.

Botswana uses a constituency system in which the candidate who polls the highest number of votes in a constituency wins the parliamentary seat. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which has held power since independence, won by a wide majority in legislative and local elections in October 1999, soundly defeating a fractured opposition. In the October 1999 election the BDP swept 33 of 40 national assembly seats. The opposition had gone into the election holding 13 seats. The historical opposition party, the Botswana National Front, won 6 seats, while the breakaway Botswana Congress Party was reduced to a single seat, a reflection of voter dissatisfaction with the split in 1998. The BDP initially had more airtime on radio and television, but after complaints were made opposition parties were given equal access.

Botswana's courts are generally considered to be fair and free of direct political interference. Trials are usually public, and those accused of the most serious violent crimes are provided public defenders. The University of Botswana Legal Assistance Center and the Botswana Center for Human Rights offer free legal services, but are limited by a lack of resources. Prisons are overcrowded, but new facilities were slated for construction in 2001.

Botswana has an excellent record in Africa for human rights although there are occasional reports of police misconduct and poor treatment of indigenous Basarwa (San, or "red people"). Concern has been raised because of government relocation schemes, including forcible evictions from traditional lands on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to make way for game parks and cattle ranching. Only a few thousand Basarwa are permitted to practice traditional nomadic lifestyles in the central Kalahari Desert. Almost 50,000 others have been resettled in villages or as laborers on farms. Nevertheless, some Basarwa were allowed to return to their traditional areas in 1999. However, a cabinet minister in 2001 announced that by 2002 the government would cut off remaining services, such as health care, to the "remote area dwellers" in the reserves because the cost was prohibitive.

There is a free and vigorous press in cities and towns, and political debate is open and lively. The opposition and government critics, however, receive little access to the government-controlled broadcast media. Botswana easily receives broadcasts from neighboring South Africa. The private Gaborone Broadcasting Corporation Television has a limited reach. There are a number of private radio stations in Gaborone.

Two incidents reflected a slight setback in press freedom in 2001. The government barred state-run Botswana Television from airing a documentary about the convicted murderer Marietta Bosch, which prompted the station's editor to resign. Later in the year, media organizations sued the government after officials banned advertising in the Botswana Guardian and Midweek Sun newspapers. There was also a ban on the purchase of those publications by government offices. The reports that raised the government's ire alleged that Vice President Ian Khama had made unauthorized use of military aircraft. Journalists in December protested a draft bill to set up a press council that could impose fines and jail terms against journalists and publishers.

Progress in improving the rights of women has been slow, although analysts say this could begin to change with the election of more women to parliament. Domestic violence is reportedly rampant, but security forces rarely intervene in domestic affairs, especially in rural areas.

Concentration of economic power has hindered labor organization. While independent unions are permitted, workers' rights to strike and to bargain for wages are restricted. Legislation being drafted in 2001 was expected to further liberalize the labor sector.