Botswana | Freedom House

Freedom in the World


Freedom in the World 2016
Freedom Status: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Net Freedom Status: 

While democratic traditions are strong in Botswana, critics of President Seretse Khama Ian Khama have expressed concerns about creeping authoritarianism, particularly in light of crackdowns on the media and questionable actions by Khama regarding the judiciary.

Botswana saw economic difficulties in 2015, attributed to a decline in diamond exports as well as significant electricity and water shortages. Following two quarters of economic contraction, the country had entered a recession by the year’s end.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political Rights: 28 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 10 / 12

Khama is the son of Botswana’s first president. The president is elected indirectly by the National Assembly and holds significant power, including the authority to prolong or dismiss the legislature, which cannot impeach him. Democracy advocates have alleged that power has become increasingly centralized around Khama, with many top jobs going to military officers and family members.

Botswana has a unicameral 63-seat National Assembly, of which 57 members 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. All members serve five-year terms with no term limits.

In the 2014 elections, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won 37 of the 57 contested seats. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) won 17 seats, and the center-left Botswana Congress Party (BCP) won the remaining 3 seats.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 10 / 16

The BDP has dominated the political scene since Botswana’s independence in 1966. In 2012, the opposition parties (Botswana Movement for Democracy [BMD], Botswana National Front, and Botswana People’s Party) coalesced under the Umbrella for Democratic Chance but continue to retain separate identities within constituencies.

The House of Chiefs is a 35-member national body that serves an advisory role on matters of legislation pertaining to tribal law and custom. It is composed primarily of members of the country’s eight major Setswana-speaking tribes. Smaller groups 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 has a high conviction rate. Despite this, President Khama has shielded a number of high-profile allies from indictment and prosecution.

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. In 2015, it emerged that members of parliament had secretly approved significant salary increases for themselves, as well as for the president and vice president. In September 2015, a newspaper reported that a company owned by the secretary general of the BDP won a 40 million pula ($3.7 million) contract to build a new fire station in Molepolole, without any measure of competition or open tender. There have been a number of allegations of corruption involving the politically appointed members of Land Boards.

During President Khama’s terms, several government bodies, including the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), and the state media, have been reorganized under the Office of the President, raising concerns about the consolidation of power in the executive branch. Botswana does not have a freedom of information law, and critics accuse the government of excessive secrecy. Botswana was ranked 28 out of 168 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties: 45 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 12 / 16

Freedom of expression is protected under Section 12 of Botswana’s constitution. The Media Practitioners Act, which has not yet entered into force, compels all resident journalists to receive accreditation from a media council. It also establishes a complaints committee, whose members are appointed by the minister of presidential affairs and public administration, which can fine or deregister journalists who violate its code of ethics. Authorities are reluctant to offer advertising contracts to privately owned newspapers that criticize the government.

There was an uptick in attacks and pressure on Botswana’s media in 2015. In January, the independent newspaper Mmegi experienced a cyberattack that destroyed a significant amount of its archived material. Mmegi’s editor claimed that the DISS was behind the attack, and that it had been carried out as retaliation for an article claiming that the DCEC had questioned DISS director Isaac Kgosi in 2012 about the origin of a large amount of money he had amassed since assuming the directorship. In May, following its publication of an investigative piece that implicated the DISS and BDP in corrupt behavior involving an oil contract, officials from the DCEC raided the offices of the Botswana Gazette and arrested and temporarily detained three staff members and the paper’s lawyer. One of the journalists was reportedly charged under section 44 of the DCEC Act, which bans the disclosure of information related to an ongoing investigation. Also in May, the deputy editor of the Sunday Standard publicly denied that he had fired one of its journalists over an article critical of a government minister who happened to be one of the deputy editor’s relatives. In June, the private radio station Yarona FM suspended its news and assignment editors after they aired a story alleging that the DISS’s network had been hacked.

Nevertheless, Botswana has a vigorous and generally free press, with several independent newspapers and magazines. The private Gaborone Broadcasting Company (GBC) television system and two private radio stations have limited reach, with the result that many people rely on broadcasts from neighboring South Africa. State-owned broadcast outlets, which have a wider reach than the GBC and the two private radio stations, favor the ruling party.

The government does not restrict internet access, though access is rare outside cities. Freedom of religion is guaranteed, but all religious organizations must register with the government. Academic freedom is generally respected.

Private discussion is generally free in Botswana. However, reports of increasing electronic surveillance, rogue intelligence agents, and a lack of proper oversight mechanisms for spy agencies have contributed to a growing climate of suspicion and have reportedly dampened private discussion.


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 people (an indigenous tribal population) from entering the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR), the subject of a long-running land dispute. Demonstrations at the reserve have been forcibly dispersed.

While independent labor unions are permitted, workers’ rights to strike and bargain collectively are dependent upon the type of service they render.


F. Rule of Law: 12 / 16                    

Botswana’s courts are generally considered to be fair and free of direct political interference, though the legal system is affected by staffing shortages and a large backlog of cases. Civil cases are sometimes tried in customary courts, where defendants have no right to legal counsel.

In one of the most publicized cases of 2015, President Khama suspended four High Court judges in August for bringing the judiciary into disrepute and undermining Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo. The four were part of a group of 12 judges that signed a petition calling for Dibotelo’s impeachment, after Dibotelo had accused them of improperly collecting housing allowances. Three of the judges later withdrew their signatures from the petition, and all four were challenging the suspensions at the year’s end. The incident prompted rights group Amnesty International and other observers to express concern about judicial independence in Botswana. Separately, in December, Khama faced criticism for appointing two high court judges who apparently had little legal experience.

Occasional reports of police abuse to obtain evidence or confessions have been reported. Botswana’s justice system includes corporal and capital punishment. In August 2015, foreign inmates who are HIV-positive secured the right to receive free antiretroviral therapy, despite the state’s unsuccessful appeal.

Migrants from Zimbabwe continue to face xenophobia and are often denied salaries by being deported just before payday. Immigration policies in place since 2010 were designed to halt the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country, mostly from Zimbabwe. Botswana has built a fence along its border with that country, ostensibly to control foot-and-mouth disease among livestock; it is widely supported as a means of halting illegal immigration. Following the 2013 Zimbabwean elections, the government stopped granting refugee status to asylum-seekers from that country, stating it no longer necessary as the political situation in Zimbabwe had improved.

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 2015. A 2010 amendment to the Employment Act outlaws workplace dismissal based on an individual’s sexual orientation or HIV status. In 2013, representatives of the NGO Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) filed a case with the High Court seeking review of a decision by the director of civil and national registration and the minister of labor and home affairs denying them registration. In 2014, in a landmark ruling, the Botswana High court determined that the government cannot deny an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) group registration. The government has appealed the decision, with a ruling expected in 2016.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 11 / 16

Since 1985, authorities have relocated about 5,000 San to settlements outside the CKGR. The government insists that the San have been relocated to give them access to modern education and health facilities, rejecting claims that the government wants unrestricted access to diamond reserves in the region. In 2014, the San lost rights to hunt in Botswana, effectively denying them a way of life. There have been reports of beatings, abuse, and arbitrary arrests of San people by police and park rangers. The San tend to be marginalized in education and employment opportunities.

With the exception of the restrictions imposed on the San, citizens of Botswana generally enjoy freedom of travel and internal movement. Botswana’s regulatory framework is considered conducive to establishing and operating private businesses.

Women continue to be underrepresented in the government and judiciary. Since the 2014 elections, women make up roughly 10 percent of the National Assembly. Women enjoy the same rights as men under the constitution, but 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.

Domestic violence and trafficking for the purposes of prostitution and labor remain significant problems. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, unemployed women, agricultural workers, children, and people from poorer rural areas are among the most susceptible to traffickers. Civil servants, including police and teachers, have been reported as clients of children forced to engage in sex work.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

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