Botswana | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Africa's longest-lasting multiparty democracy continued to demonstrate stability in 2004, with general elections held in October that were deemed generally free and fair. President Festus Mogae and his Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) soundly extended their reign. However, AIDS continued to tear at the country's social and economic fabric and members of the indigenous San group took the government to court for forcing the minority group off ancestral lands.

Elected governments have ruled the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1966. A referendum on whether the president should be directly elected, rather than chosen by the elected National Assembly, was withdrawn shortly before a scheduled vote in late 1997. Mogae, a former central bank chief, succeeded Ketumile Masire as president in 1998 and was confirmed as the country's leader in 1999. The ruling BDP won by a wide majority in legislative elections in October 1999. Polling was deemed free and fair, although the BDP enjoyed preferential access to state-run media.

In the October 30, 2004 legislative poll, the BDP firmly defeated a fractured opposition, sweeping 44 of the 57 contested seats in the National Assembly and securing President Mogae a second term in office. International observers declared polling free and fair, but recommended measures to strengthen the democratic process. These included giving the opposition equal access to state-run media and setting the date for elections well in advance.

In July, some 240 San, an indigenous group that traditionally lives by hunting and gathering, challenged in court the government's 2002 policy to evict them from traditional lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. They claim the government acted unlawfully by cutting off essential services to force them from their homes and are asserting their right to return. The resettled San say they are worse off in villages with scant job prospects.

Economic progress in Botswana has been built on sound fiscal management and low rates of corruption, and privatization is progressing slowly. Efforts are underway to diversify an economy where diamonds account for 75 percent of export earnings. However, unemployment is an estimated 40 percent, and AIDS has taken a toll on the economy. More than one-third of the population is infected with HIV. The government has taken a pioneering regional role in combating the pandemic, including offering free anti-retroviral drugs.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Botswana can change their government democratically. The National Assembly, elected for five years, chooses the president to serve a concurrent five-year term. The courts confirm the assembly's choice when the winning party receives more than half the seats in parliament. The Independent Election Commission, created in 1996, has helped consolidate Botswana's reputation for fairness in voting. President Festus Mogae has said that he will not serve a full five-year term and plans to hand over the presidency in 2008, a year before the next elections, to his vice president, Ian Khama.

The House of Chiefs represents the country's eight major tribes and some smaller ones, and mainly serves in an advisory role to parliament and the government. Critics say it favors the Setswana-speaking tribes. Groups outside the eight majority tribes tend to be marginalized from the political process, especially the San, who live in extreme poverty, having lost their fertile ancestral lands. Under the Chieftainship Act, land in ethnic territory is distributed under the jurisdiction of majority groups. A lack of representation in the House has imposed Tswana patriarchal customary law upon minority groups, which often have different rules for inheritance, marriage, and succession than the laws.

The government passed a bill in 1994 that set up an anticorruption body with special powers for investigation, arrest, and search and seizure; the conviction rate has been more than 80 percent. Transparency International has rated Botswana the least corrupt country in Africa for more than five years. Botswana was ranked 31 out of 146 countries surveyed in the organization's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.

A free and vigorous press thrives 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, but state-run radio is the main source of news for much of the rural population, which also lacks Internet access.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed, although all religious organizations must register with the government. Academic freedom is respected.

The government generally respects freedom of assembly and association, which are guaranteed by the constitution. Civic and nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate openly without government harassment. However, concentration of economic power has hindered labor organization. While independent unions are permitted, workers' rights to strike and bargain collectively for wages are restricted.

The 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 with public defenders. Civil cases, however, are sometimes tried in customary courts, where defendants have no legal counsel. Prisons are overcrowded, but the government has been making moves to address the problem by building new facilities.

Botswana has an excellent record in Africa for human rights, although there are occasional reports of police misconduct and poor treatment of the San. Since 1985, authorities have relocated about 5,000 San to settlements outside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The last 530 left in 2002 when the government cut off water, food, health, and social services. The government said the cost of keeping them there was prohibitive. Officials deny that the government forced the San to move and insist it is providing decent education and health facilities. Government officials also have rejected assertions by critics that the government wanted to protect diamond reserves in the region from potential claims by the San, who had lived there for 30,000 years. The San tend to be marginalized educationally, and thus do not enjoy the same employment opportunities as more privileged groups.

Women enjoy the same rights as men under the constitution, but customary laws limit their property rights. Women married under traditional laws are deemed legal minors. Progress in improving women's rights has been slow, but analysts see the participation of more women in parliament and the cabinet as important steps. Domestic violence is rampant, but law enforcement officers rarely intervene in domestic affairs, especially in rural areas.