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While considered one of the most stable democracies in Africa, Botswana has been dominated by a single party since independence, and critics of President Seretse Khama Ian Khama have expressed concerns about creeping authoritarianism. Journalists covering corruption or the activities of the opposition face pressure from authorities. The indigenous San people, as well as migrants and refugees from neighboring countries and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people face discrimination.
- The parliament approved a constitutional amendment creating two additional seats in the legislature for “specially elected” lawmakers, who are appointed by the executive and confirmed by the parliament. The two new lawmakers entered the parliament in October. Opposition members criticized the amendment as a means of strengthening executive power.
- In February, the government confirmed that state media outlets had been ordered not to report on some opposition activities.
- In August, nine ethnic San were shot at by an aerial antipoaching unit as they were hunting antelope. They were then arrested on charges of poaching and detained for several days, during which time they were reportedly beaten.
- President Seretse Khama Ian Khama ordered the arrest and deportation of U.S. pastor Steven Anderson, characterizing Anderson’s virulent antigay views as hate speech.
President Khama, the son of Botswana’s first president, 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. The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), now headed by Khama, has dominated the political scene with little substantive opposition since independence in 1966. In October 2016, in preparation for general elections to be held in 2019, the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) entered negotiations, with a formal coalition announcement expected in 2017.
In July 2016, the parliament began to debate a constitutional amendment that would increase the number of “specially elected” members of parliament from four to six; the specially elected members are appointed by the president and approved by a simple majority in the parliament, and are intended to serve as experts to support parliamentary operations. Opposition members criticized the proposed amendment as a means of strengthening executive power. Nevertheless, the amendment was approved, and two specially elected members entered the parliament in October.
While Botswana has a robust media sector, authorities in 2016 sought to suppress reporting on the opposition and on issues related to corruption. In February, the government confirmed that state media outlets had been ordered not to report on some opposition activities, which officials described as failing to meet editorial policies; in one instance, reporters had covered an opposition rally but did not broadcast it after being told by superiors that it was not newsworthy. Separately, in March, freelance journalist Sonny Serite was arrested and held overnight at a police station in Gaborone, where he was denied access to a lawyer; Serite had recently published a series of stories about corrupt contracts involving the national railway. His detention was one of a number of cases during the year in which investigative journalists were detained briefly before being released without charge.
The rights of the indigenous San people have eroded in recent years. In 2014, the San lost rights to hunt in Botswana, effectively denying them a way of life. In August 2016, nine San were shot at by an aerial antipoaching unit as they were hunting antelope. Soon after they were arrested on charges of poaching, stripped naked, beaten and detained for several days.
LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people face discrimination in Botswana. However, in September, Khama ordered the arrest and deportation of U.S. pastor Steven Anderson, characterizing Anderson’s virulent antigay views as hate speech.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Botswana, see Freedom in the World 2016.