Freedom in the World

Botswana

Botswana

Freedom in the World 2006

2006 Scores

Status

Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2
Overview: 


While Africa's longest-lasting multiparty democracy continued to demonstrate stability, Botswana saw a slight deterioration in civil liberties in 2005. In June, Australian-born professor and frequent government critic Kenneth Good was deported from the country after President Festus Mogae declared Good a prohibited immigrant earlier in the year. The following month, two Zimbabwean journalists were expelled without adequate explanation. A court case against the government brought by 243 San (Bushmen) forced off ancestral lands by a government mandate continued during the year. Meanwhile, the government continued to vigorously combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in Botswana and announced a series of relief measures to counter drought-related food and water shortages.

Elected governments-all led by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)-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on whether the president should be directly elected, rather than chosen by the elected National Assembly, was withdrawn shortly before a scheduled vote in late 1997. Festus 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.

Legislative elections held in October 2004 saw the BDP firmly defeat a fractured opposition, sweeping 44 of the 57 contested seats in the National Assembly and securing Mogae a second term in office. The main opposition party, the Botswana National Front, won 12 seats, while the Botswana Congress Party won a single seat. International observers declared polling free and fair, but recommended measures to strengthen the democratic process, including giving the opposition equal access to state-run media and setting the date for elections well in advance.

In January 2005, an application brought by 243 San to overturn a government decision to evict them from traditional lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and resettle them in nearby settlements resumed hearing at the high court in Lobatse. The San, an indigenous group that traditionally lives by hunting and gathering, claim the government acted unlawfully by cutting off water, food, and health services in the reserve in 2002, forcing them to leave what they consider their ancestral lands. The government has argued that maintaining the services was prohibitively expensive and has asserted its right to clear the area for wildlife and tourism. However, the San and some rights groups contend that the government intends to exploit diamond resources in the reserve, and in June, the Botswana high court agreed to launch an investigation to discover whether diamond mining was already occurring. In August, the rights group Survival International accused the government of launching a "massive crackdown" on the San and blocking their access-along with legal representatives and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)-to the game reserve. The government denied these allegations.

Economic progress in Botswana has been built on sound fiscal management and low rates of corruption, and privatization is progressing slowly. Efforts are under way to diversify an economy where diamonds account for 75 percent of export earnings and 33 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). However, unemployment is an estimated 40 percent. After drought conditions led to significant cereal and water shortages in 2005, Mogae declared the government would implement a relief package consisting of public works, price subsidies, and food aid.

AIDS has taken a toll on the economy; almost 40 percent of the population is infected with HIV. The government has taken a pioneering regional role in combating the pandemic, including offering free antiretroviral 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; despite being elected indirectly, the executive enjoys significant power. The courts confirm the Assembly's choice when the winning party receives more than half the seats in parliament. The BDP has enjoyed a majority in the National Assembly and has held the presidency since independence. 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 appointed vice president, Seretse Ian Khama.

The House of Chiefs, which primarily serves an advisory role to parliament and the government, represents the country's eight major Setswana-speaking tribes and some smaller ones. Groups outside the eight majority tribes tend to be marginalized from the political process; under the tribal Territories Act, land in ethnic territory is distributed under the jurisdiction of majority groups. In 2004, a constitutional amendment bill providing for the election of 20 representatives from eight minority groups was introduced into parliament. 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.

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 32 out of 159 countries surveyed in the organization's 2005 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. However, the government dominates the broadcast media-by far the most broadly used medium in the country-and provides inadequate access to the opposition and government critics. In addition, the government sometimes censors or otherwise restricts news sources or stories that it finds undesirable.

In August, Zimbabwean journalists Rodrick Mukumbira and Charles Chirinda were deported from Botswana after the authorities canceled their work permits; no specific reasons were given, though the Media Institute of Southern Africa expressed concern that Mukumbira's expulsion was related to his work covering the San people of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The private Gaborone Broadcasting Corporation television system and two private radio stations have limited reach, although Botswana easily receives broadcasts from neighboring South Africa. The government does not restrict internet access, though it is almost absent outside the cities. Botswana does not have a freedom of information law, and critics accuse the government of excessive secrecy.

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

Academic freedom is generally respected. However, in February, President Mogae employed the National Security Act of 1986 to declare Australian-born academic Kenneth Good a "prohibited immigrant" and deport him from Botswana. Good had criticized the government as being run by a small elite and as manipulative of state-run media; he particularly criticized the process of selecting the successor to the president and declared the appointed vice president, Seretse Ian Khama, to have "decidedly authoritarian tendencies." Upon losing his appeal to the Botswana high court in June, Good was deported.

The government generally respects rights to freedom of assembly and association, which are guaranteed by the constitution. NGOs, including human rights groups, operate openly without government harassment. However, in September, police used rubber bullets to prevent a demonstration of San from entering the Central Kalahari Game Reserve; at least 21 people were arrested, including San leader Roy Sesana. The government contended that police resorted to force after being attacked by the demonstrators. While independent unions are permitted, workers' rights to strike and bargain collectively for wages are restricted. In May, members of Botswana's private and public sector unions marched in Gaborone to protest the firing of 461 mine workers by Debswana, a company owned jointly by the government and the diamond giant DeBeers. The marchers called on the government to enact labor reforms that protect union workers from unfair dismissals and HIV/AIDS-related job discrimination.

The courts are generally considered to be fair and free of direct political interference, although the legal system is affected by staffing shortages and a large backlog of cases. 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. Trials held under the National Security Act may be held in secret.

Authorities have been reported to occasionally use beatings and abuse to obtain evidence and elicit confessions. Botswana has been criticized by rights groups for continuing to impose corporal and capital punishment. Prisons are overcrowded and suffer from poor sanitary conditions, but the government has been making moves to address the problem by building new facilities and providing prisoners with access to HIV/AIDS testing.

Discrimination against ethnic minorities is a problem. Since 1985, authorities have relocated about 5,000 San to settlements outside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Almost all of those remaining-530 people-left in 2002 when the government cut off water, food, health, and social services. In October 2005, Survival International claimed the government forced another 35 San out of the reserve at gunpoint; the government argued that the 35 San wanted to leave, and guns were not used. In general, officials deny that the government forced the San to move; they insist the San were adequately compensated in money and cattle and are provided decent education and health facilities in the settlements. 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 do not enjoy the same employment opportunities as more privileged groups.

Illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe and Zambia are the targets of increasing xenophobia and are accused-sometimes legitimately-of criminal activity. These immigrants are subject to exploitation in the labor market. Botswana is building an electric fence along its border with Zimbabwe, ostensibly to control foot-and-mouth disease but popularly supported as a means of restricting illegal immigration. In January, the government deported two Namibian asylum seekers back to the disputed Caprivi province of that country, claiming they had forfeited their refugee status. In November, the government announced it would not renew the work permits of foreign teachers and drivers, part of a larger policy pursued by the government in recent years of restricting the employment of foreigners.

The government has restricted the entry of San-rights organizations, including the First People of the Kalahari group, from entering the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

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. However, in December 2004, the government enacted the Abolition of Marital Powers Act, establishing equal control of marriage estates and equal custody of children, removing restrictive domicile rules, and setting the marriage age at 18. Domestic violence is rampant, and law enforcement officers rarely intervene in domestic affairs, especially in rural areas. Trafficking in women and children for purposes of prostitution and labor is a problem.  The law prohibits homosexuality.