Botswana | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


The government of President Festus Mogae in 2002 was defending its policy toward the country's indigenous Basarwa, or San (red people). Authorities early in the year cut off remaining services, such as health care, to the 600 to 700 Basarwa who were still living on traditional lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, saying the cost was prohibitive. Opponents to the relocation scheme, however, contend that the government wants to protect diamond reserves in the region from potential claims by the Basarwa. The government denies this. The Basarwa lost their court bid against their removal from the game reserve in April 2002 on a technicality. They have the right to appeal.

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 A referendum on whether the president should be directly elected was withdrawn shortly before a scheduled vote in late 1997.

Economic progress in Botswana has been built on sound fiscal management and low rates of corruption. Privatization is progressing slowly. Efforts are underway to diversify an economy where diamonds account for 75 percent of all export earnings. AIDS has taken a toll on the country's economy and has torn its social fabric. More than one-third of the country's population is infected with HIV.

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 House of Chiefs represents the country's major tribes and some smaller ones, and mainly serves an advisory role to the National Assembly and the government. Critics say it favors majority tribes.

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. Prisons are overcrowded, but new facilities were under construction in 2002.

Botswana has an excellent record in Africa for human rights, although there are occasional reports of police misconduct and poor treatment of the indigenous San. Almost 50,000 San have been resettled from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to villages or as laborers on farms. The Botswana Center for Human Rights, Ditshwanelo, said the government's move in 2002 to cut off basic services to the remaining San on the reserve was "wrongful and unlawful."

There is a free and vigorous press in cities and towns, and political debate is open and lively. Several independent newspapers and magazines are published in the capital. 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 system has a limited reach. There are two private radio stations. Journalists in 2001 protested a draft bill to set up a press council that could impose fines and jail terms against journalists and publishers.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed, although all religious organizations must register with the government. Progress in improving the rights of women has been slow, but analysts say the election of more women to parliament in 1999 and the appointment of more women to the cabinet were important steps. 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.