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Accountability and Transparency: Country Studies - Botswana

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2010: 3 Political Rights, 2 Civil Liberties (Free)


Botswana, located directly north of South Africa, is a small landlocked country (the 45th largest in the world at 600,370 square kilometers) with a population in 2006 of 1.8 million. It is also Africa's longest continuous multiparty democracy. When Botswana gained independence from Britain in 1966, it was poor and had a largely uneducated population. Today, fueled primarily by diamond production, Botswana has achieved one of the highest per capita income rates in Africa.

In 2006, Botswana ranked 78th in the world ($5,900) for gross national income (GNI) per capita, and 75th ($12,240) for GNI per capita measured by purchasing power parity (PPP), which takes into account relative prices and inflation. However, Botswana's unemployment rate has been persistently high (as of 2007, the official estimate was 21 percent, but the unofficial estimate was as high as 41 percent), and the adult HIV prevalence rate is one of the highest in the world (24 percent in 2005). Botswana's political system has been dominated by one party since independence, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which represents the main ethnic group (the Tswana). However, the country's political, legal, and economic institutions and policies are seen as models for the continent, including its aggressive response to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Botswana has a generally well-regarded record in terms of respect for human rights, the rule of law, and government fairness and honesty. As outlined by the constitution, citizens have an equal opportunity to petition the courts and the government for redress of wrongs. Trade union rights are generally respected, although with some restrictions on the right to strike and bargain collectively. The government is committed to fostering an educated citizenry, and its efforts have produced a marked increase in literacy to 81 percent in 2004 for the population over the age of 15. However, the recent expulsions of two foreign journalists and a British academic who had been teaching in Botswana, as well as the government's treatment of the San ethnic group, whom the government evicted from their lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, have put into question President Festus Mogae's commitment to freedom of expression and respect for minorities. Recent developments with respect to the San, however, have been favorable to the minority group. The Botswana High Court ruled that the government's eviction of the San was illegal, and that the group should have the right to live in the reserve.

Transparency International (TI) has ranked Botswana the highest among African countries for the last several years, and ranked Botswana 38th out of 180 countries in its 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index (falling mainly behind the most established democracies in Europe and North America).


Botswana's original inhabitants, groups speaking Khoisan languages (the Khoe and San), lived in the territory that is now Botswana from approximately 17,000 BC to 1650 AD. During the earliest period, Khoisan groups subsisted through hunting and gathering, and turned toward animal herding only during the last few centuries BC, during which time Bantu-speaking groups also migrated southward, bringing with them the farming of grain crops and the Bantu language. During the 13th and 14th centuries, Tswana dynasties (Tswana are Bantu speakers who live in Botswana and South Africa) became increasingly powerful. Over time, the Tswana divided, with those living in South Africa known as Tswana, and those in Botswana known as Batswana (although the groups' common language is Setswana, and the term "Batswana" can also refer to all citizens of Botswana). The famous British explorers and missionaries Robert Moffat and David Livingstone established religious settlements in the 1820s among the Batswana to convert the local communities to Christianity. As a result, in 2007, approximately 70 percent of Botswana's citizens were Christian. Also beginning in the 1820s, the Batswana and other ethnic groups came into conflict with the Boer, the white Dutch settlers escaping the British administration of the Cape Colony (see Country Study of South Africa), as well as the expanding Zulu and Ndebele nations.

The Evolution to Independence

In 1876, under threat of hostilities with the Boer, Chief Khama III, the leader of the dominant group within the Batswan nation (part of the larger Tswana group), appealed to the British government to take their lands under British protection. With the agreement of other chiefs, the northern territory was proclaimed a British protectorate in 1885 under the name Bechuanaland, and the southern territory was absorbed into the Cape Colony. Bechuanaland remained under indirect administration, which meant that local law and customs were generally applied.

The local demand for services in the territory led to the creation in 1920 of two advisory councils, one for Africans and one for Europeans, giving Bechuanaland's chiefs more direct access to the British administration. Through proclamations in 1934, the British regularized tribal powers and rule. In 1951, a joint African-European advisory council was established, beginning a steady evolution toward self-determination. In 1959, a constitutional committee was established, followed by an elected legislative council in 1961 and a constitution in 1965. Independence was declared on September 30, 1966, following the move of the capital to Gaborone.

The Longest Period of Uninterrupted Free Elections in Africa

The main political force since independence has been the Botswana Democratic Party, a coalition representing the eight Setswana-speaking tribes that make up nearly 80 percent of the population. The party has won a dominant position in Botswana's National Assembly in all post-independence elections. Independence leader and BDP leader Seretse Khama was elected president by the National Assembly in 1966 and then reelected for two additional terms, serving until his death in 1980. As vice president, Quett Ketumile Masire succeeded Khama and was then reelected three times until resigning in 1998. Festus Mogae, who served as vice president from 1992 to 1998, was elected president in 1998 and won reelection in 1998 and 2004. In the most recent election held in October 2004, the BDP won 44 of the 57 contested seats. The Botswana National Front (BNF), which was established in 1965 and supports a social democratic platform, won 12 seats. The Congress Party, which was established in 1998 when it split from the BNF, won one seat.

Accountability and Transparency

Botswana's reputation for accountability and transparency has been formalized through mechanisms such as the constitution and legislation requiring open government, accountability, and transparency.
Elections and Accountability

Botswana's National Assembly has 61 members, of whom 57 are elected and 4 are appointed by the president. Although the BDP has won elections since independence, the main opposition party, the more radical BNF, as well as other parties representing small European and African ethnic minorities, compete freely for seats and are able to influence public debate. The BDP's support is based on consensual agreement among the eight major Setswana-speaking groups, whose traditions include limiting the power of traditional leaders and holding local consultative assemblies, thus offering a basis for consensus and accountability within the party. Botswana's presidents have incorporated this tradition into their style of leadership, insisting on government accountability mechanisms (see below) and limiting corruption, despite the potential for corruption posed by Botswana's strong diamond mining industry (as of 2007, the mining of diamonds, copper, nickel, and coal accounted for 38 percent of its gross domestic product [GDP]).

Still, the absence of alternations in power since independence reflects the more limited opportunities available to smaller parties. The dominant government-run television and radio stations run stories on the government throughout the election. Smaller parties have free and equal access only on smaller media outlets that broadcast and are distributed in urban areas. Most of the population, however, remains rural.

Minority Rights

In addition to the National Assembly, Botswana's second chamber of parliament is an advisory body called the House of Chiefs. All legislation must go to the House of Chiefs for comment. This body represents the country's eight major Setswana-speaking groups and also includes three or four representatives of smaller ethnic groups. The House generally favors the majority Setswana-speaking groups, and overall the political process tends to marginalize the country's smaller ethnic groups, especially the indigenous San (also known as the Basarwa), who make up 3 percent of the population. In 2002, several thousand San were removed from their homes on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to other settlements with few services; the government claimed it was too expensive to maintain the San's hunter-gatherer subsistence culture on this territory. Over 200 San petitioned the courts, which are generally considered to be independent, to return to their homes. In 2006, after a three-year-long court battle, the High Court ruled in favor of the San, ordering the government to allow those evicted to return to their ancestral lands.

Fiscal Responsibility

Botswana's reputation for accountability and transparency has been formalized through mechanisms such as the constitution and legislation requiring open government, accountability, and transparency. The constitution outlines the responsibilities of the Office of the Auditor General, and Section 124 requires an annual audit of all public accounts, including the expenditures of those in office, the courts, and parastatals. The auditor general must submit reports to the minister of finance, who presents them to the National Assembly (if the minister fails in this responsibility, the auditor general must present the report to the Speaker of the Assembly). The auditor general is appointed by the president but cannot be removed by him.

Botswana's laws also establish civilian supervision over the police and a process, through an ombudsman...

Botswana's Finance and Audit Act specifies that the auditor general must ensure that the collection and custody of public funds is safeguarded, and that funds are disbursed with proper authorization and according to their intent. In addition, the law requires that fiscal officers remain effective and responsive to the public.

Anticorruption Powers

In addition to extensive public accounting and transparency, the government passed a bill in 1994 that set up an anticorruption body with the powers to conduct investigations and make arrests. Botswana's laws also establish civilian supervision over the police and a process, through an ombudsman, for civilians to lodge complaints regarding police abuse and other human rights violations.

The constitution guarantees the freedoms of speech and the press, and while the government generally respects these rights, there are important limitations, including the government's expulsion of foreign reporters and scholars. Although critiques of the government appear on government-owned broadcast outlets, the government has censored coverage it deems inappropriate, and self-censorship among journalists is common. Furthermore, despite the presence of an active independent press, the government has imposed limitations on access to information.

However, Botswana's transparency has facilitated economic growth and improved its ratings with international lending institutions. Since 2000, real GDP growth has ranged from approximately 8 percent to 2 percent, and was just under 4 percent in 2007.