Freedom in the World
You are here
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Elected governments, all led by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), have ruled the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1966, and the BDP—led by President Seretse Khama Ian Khama—continued to dominate the political scene in 2013.
In June 2013, the High Court ruled that the government could not forcibly relocate the residents of Ranyane, a small settlement of the traditionally marginalized San people. In another significant ruling in September, the Botswana Court of Appeal rejected gender-biased customary laws.
In December, gunmen allegedly from the police or Botswanan security forces shot and seriously injured Costa Kalafatis, reviving concerns about the rule of law under Khama and the government’s targeting of the Kalafatis family. Kalafatis’s older brother, John Kalafatis, an alleged organized crime suspect, had been murdered in 2009; three members of the Botswana Defence Force had been convicted of the killing, which occurred amid a spate of extrajudicial killings by security forces, and had reportedly been ordered by the president’s Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS). In 2012, Khama issued a “conditional” pardon to the three convicted men. Additionally, the father of both Costa and John Kalafatis had died in early 2013 as a result of injuries he had sustained the previous year in an attack by unknown assailants.
Political Rights: 28 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 10 / 12
In 2008, then president Festus Mogae retired before the end of his term, leaving 10-year vice president Khama to assume the presidency; Khama is the son of Seretse Khama, an independence leader and Botswana’s first president. Mogae was the second successive president to resign before the end of his term, leading critics to accuse the BDP of subverting democratic institutions through an “automatic succession” process whereby the president prematurely steps aside to allow the vice-president to assume the presidency without a formal vote. Despite being elected indirectly, the president holds significant power. While the president can prolong or dismiss the legislature, the legislature is not empowered to impeach the president.
Members of the 63-seat National Assembly are elected for five years, and choose the president to serve a five-year term. Of the National Assembly’s 63 members, 57 are directly elected, 4 are nominated by the president and approved by the assembly, and 2—the president and the attorney general—are ex-officio members.
Under Khama, the BDP won 45 of the 57 directly elected National Assembly seats in the 2009 elections with 53.3 percent of the vote. The Botswana National Front (BNF) won 6 seats, while the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) took 4. Parliament confirmed Khama for a full presidential term following the elections, which observers declared free and fair.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 10 / 16
The BDP is the dominant party, but has suffered splits in recent years, including with the 2010 formation of a new opposition party, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), by leaders of the so-called Barata-Pathi faction. However, shuffling of legislators between the BMD and BDP has subsequently diminished the former’s representation in parliament and sapped it of key leaders. The BDP and Khama look set to secure another commanding electoral victory in elections set for 2014.
Democracy advocates have alleged that power has become increasingly centralized around Khama, with many top jobs going to military officers and family members. The 2007 Intelligence and Security Services Act created the DIS within the Ministry of Justice, Defense, and Security with substantial powers (for example, the director can authorize arrests without warrants) and without strong parliamentary oversight mechanisms. Director Issac Kgosi is a close confidant of Khama from the military, though relations between the two have soured recently.
The House of Chiefs, a national body that serves primarily in an advisory role, represents the country’s eight major Setswana-speaking tribes and some smaller ones. Groups other than the eight major tribes tend to be left out of the political process; under the Territories Act, land in ethnic territory is distributed under the jurisdiction of majority groups. Due in part to their lack of representation in the House of Chiefs, minority groups are subject to patriarchal Tswana customary law despite having their own traditional rules for inheritance, marriage, and succession.
C. Functioning of Government: 8 / 12
Botswana’s anticorruption body has special powers of investigation, arrest, and search and seizure, and the body generally boasts a high conviction rate. Nevertheless, there are almost no restrictions on the private business activities of public servants (including the president, who is a large stakeholder in the tourism sector), and political ties often play a role in awarding government jobs and tenders. A number of high-profile officials have been cleared of corruption charges in recent years. Most notably, in 2011, the minister of justice, defense and security (and cousin of Khama), Ramadeluka Seretse—who had been charged with corruption in 2010 for failing to disclose his position as a shareholder in a company, owned by his wife, that won a massive defense contract in 2009—was acquitted of all charges. In 2012, the Directorate of Public Prosecution’s appeal of the acquittal was dismissed by the Court of Appeals. Botswana was ranked 30 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Botswana does not have a freedom of information law, and critics accuse the government of excessive secrecy. Khama had yet to hold a domestic press conference by the end of 2013.
Civil Liberties: 46 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 13 / 16
Botswana has a free and vigorous press, with several independent newspapers and magazines. The private Gaborone Broadcasting Corporation television system and two private radio stations have limited reach, though Botswana easily receives broadcasts from neighboring South Africa. State-owned outlets dominate the local broadcast media, which reach far more residents than the print media, yet provide inadequate access to the opposition and government critics. The country’s only broadsheet printing company, Printing and Publishing Company Botswana, is reportedly commercially tied to senior BDP officials and has been accused of pre-publication censorship. In addition, the government sometimes censors or otherwise restricts news sources or stories that it finds undesirable. The 2008 Media Practitioners Act, which had not yet been implemented due to legal challenges by opponents, established a media regulatory body and mandated the registration of all media workers and outlets. The government does not restrict internet access, though such access is rare outside cities.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed, but all religious organizations must register with the government. There are over 1,000 church groups in Botswana. Academic freedom is generally respected.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 10 / 12
The government generally respects the constitutional rights of assembly and association. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including human rights groups, operate openly without harassment. However, the government has barred organizations supporting the rights of the San (an indigenous tribal population) from entering the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR), the subject of a long-running land dispute, and demonstrations at the reserve have been forcibly dispersed. In March 2013, representatives of the NGO Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) filed a case with the High Court of Botswana, seeking review of a decision by the Director of Civil and National Registration and the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs to refuse to register the group. The case was pending at year’s end.
While independent labor unions are permitted, workers’ rights to strike and bargain collectively are sometimes restricted. In 2011, almost 100,000 public sector workers—including “essential” workers in the health sector—staged an eight-week strike, leading to the closure of all public schools, while many clinics and hospitals were forced to close or partially shut down. Unions demanded a 16 percent wage increase but eventually settled for only 3 percent. The government fired nearly 2,600 striking health workers and demanded that they re-apply for their jobs following the settlement. In 2012, unions in the country appealed to the International Labour Organization (ILO) concerning restrictions in the country, including the 2009 deregistration of the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) umbrella group. The complaint was still pending at the end of 2013.
F. Rule of Law: 12 / 16
The courts are generally considered to be fair and free of direct political interference (with the prominent exception of high-profile corruption charges), 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 attorneys. Civil cases, however, are sometimes tried in customary courts, where defendants have no legal counsel. The 2007 Intelligence and Security Services Act created the DIS in the office of the president. Critics charged that it vested too much power in the agency’s director—including allowing him to authorize arrests without warrants—and lacked parliamentary oversight mechanisms. Security forces have also been accused of politically motivated extrajudicial killings in the past, and the shooting of Costa Kalafatis in December 2013 revived concerns about violence by security personnel.
Occasional police abuse to obtain evidence or confessions has been reported, and Botswana has been criticized by rights groups for continuing to use corporal and capital punishment. Prisoners suffer from poor health conditions, though the government has responded by building new facilities and providing free HIV treatment to inmates. However, the government required prisoners who were not citizens to pay for such treatment, a policy that was currently being challenged in the courts.
Since 1985, authorities have relocated about 5,000 San, who tend to be marginalized in education and employment opportunities, to settlements outside the CKGR. Almost all of the remaining San fled in 2002 when the government cut off water, food, health, and social services in the area. In 2006, a three-judge panel of the Lobatse High Court ordered the government to allow the San to return to the CKGR. Several hundred San have since gone back, though disagreement remains as to how many will be allowed to live in the reserve; relatives of those involved in the case are not allowed to enter the area without a permit. By court order, the issue is being mediated by the Botswana Centre for Human Rights. In 2010, those San who had returned to CKGR lost a court battle with the government to reopen a water hole on the reserve. In 2011, an appeals court overturned the decision, ruling that the San have rights to subsurface water, which led to the reopening of the Mothomelo borehole and the return of many San to the area. The government insists that the San have been relocated to give them access to modern education and health facilities and have been adequately compensated, and it rejects claims that it simply wanted unrestricted access to diamond reserves in the region. In 2012, the government began establishing police camps in the CKGR to combat poaching. The rights group Survival International claimed the camps were also intended to intimidate local San.
Separately, in the June 2013 High Court ruling, the court ordered the government to stop forcibly relocating the San residents of Ranyane. San activists alleged that the government was carrying out the relocations because Ranyane was situated in a corridor used by commercial farmers to move their livestock from one area to another. Despite the ruling, there were reports that the government continued to pressure the residents to relocate.
Undocumented immigrants from Zimbabwe face increasing xenophobia and are subject to exploitation in the labor market. In 2010, the government announced a set of new immigration policies to halt the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country, mostly from Zimbabwe. The new policies introduced an online passport system, mandated electronic permits for visitors and immigrants, and increased the number of official workplace inspections. There were regular deportations. Botswana has built a fence along its border with Zimbabwe, ostensibly to control foot-and-mouth disease among livestock, but the barrier is popularly supported as a means of halting illegal immigration.
While same-sex sexual activity is not explicitly criminalized, “unnatural offences” are punishable by up to seven years in prison. However, there were no reported cases during the year.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 11 / 16
With the exception of the restrictions imposed on the San, citizens of Botswana generally enjoy freedom of travel and internal movement. Botswana is viewed as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa, and the regulatory framework is considered conducive to establishing and operating private businesses.
Women are underrepresented in the government, comprising less than 8 percent of the National Assembly seats following the 2009 elections. Women enjoy the same rights as men under the constitution, though customary laws limit their property rights, and women married under traditional laws have the same legal status as minors. The 2004 Abolition of Marital Powers Act established equal control of marriage estates and equal custody of children, removed restrictive domicile rules, and set the minimum marriage age at 18. However, enforcement of the act is not uniform and generally requires the cooperation of traditional authorities, which is not always forthcoming. In September 2013, the Botswana Court of Appeal upheld a 2012 High Court ruling that struck down as unconstitutional a customary law favoring a youngest-born son over older sisters in awarding inheritance, setting a precedent for the supremacy of civil over customary law in Botswana. The court unanimously upheld the High Court’s ruling in the case of Ramantele v. Mmusi and Others, finding that Edith Mmusi and her three sisters were entitled to inherit their family home.
Domestic violence and trafficking for the purposes of prostitution and labor remain significant problems. Same-sex sexual relations are illegal and can carry a prison sentence of up to seven years. A 2010 amendment to the Employment Act outlaws workplace dismissal based on an individual’s sexual orientation or HIV status.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year