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Country analysis > Botswana Last update: 2020-11-27  

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Consolidating Democratic Governance in Southern Africa: Botswana

Zibani Maundeni, Dorothy Mpabanga, Adam Mfundisi, David Sebudubudu



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Executive summary

The literature review for this research report showed that Botswana has been analysed from many angles and that contradictory conclusions have been drawn about its democratic credentials. For example, the deportation of University of Botswana political scientist Prof. Kenneth Good in 2005 has been singled out as an indicator of authoritarianism in Botswana, while other observers have noted a weak parliamentary system, a weak party system and a weak civil society. This report offers a re-examination of these positions and argues that Botswana’s democracy is fairly well institutionalised.

Chapter 4 on representation and accountability by Zibani Maundeni argues that Botswana’s democratic culture has matured and has become entrenched in the society. Observable injustices in the constitution with regard to cultural rights are being debated in the midst of serious opposition from dominant sections of the society. The minority groups have submitted reports to international organisations such as the United Nations, alleging cultural discrimination in the constitution. The fact is that there is debate and that government has initiated moves to amend the constitution. This could be argued to be an illustration of the operation of a mature democracy.

Botswana has developed a national vision, as encapsulated in the Vision 2016 document in which various stakeholders were invited to make inputs, and whose implementation is through stakeholder committees focusing on different aspects of the national vision. The diversity of the groups which participated in drawing up the vision and in its implementation indicates inclusivity of the political system.

Botswana runs a governmental system in which the executive is embedded in parliament and in which the notion of ‘separation of power’ is expressly not stated. On the one hand, executive power is concentrated in the hands of the president whose cabinet is drawn from parliament, and legislation is primarily initiated by the executive. On the other hand, the executive is accountable to parliament through a presidential state of the nation address that is widely debated in parliament and by the media, a budget speech (the presentation of which is attended by the leaders of the business community and is also subject to parliamentary debate and media coverage), questions and motion time by members of parliament (MPs) directed at particular government policies, and a latent vote of no confidence which parliament can use to depose the government. Such accountability places parliament in a position to be the final legislative authority over the government system. However, the predominance of one party and the existence of a weak opposition, combine to weaken the capacity of parliament. In contrast, factional rivalries within the ruling party contain the potential of a parliamentary revolt against the executive. Amid all this, the citizens are not satisfied with the performance of either the executive or parliament.

The judiciary in Botswana is autonomous and holds the executive and the legislature accountable. The laws defining the powers of the judiciary and its practice give the positive impression of a competently independent institution which holds the executive, parliament, the bureaucracy and local government accountable. The constitution provides for fundamental human rights, but excludes economic, cultural and social rights. The incidence of judiciary activism and the notion of legal precedence have ensured that the courts have initiated the introduction of legal practices in situations where parliament and the executive were reluctant to do so.

Political parties have engineered democratic consolidation in Botswana. Formed in the 1960s, some parties such as the Botswana People’s Party (BPP) called for the speedy hand over of power to the local people, the abolition of chieftainship, and the setting up of a republic. Others, such as the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), called for soft republicanism in which chieftainship and colonial civil servants would have a role. In contrast, others such the Botswana National Front (BNF) called for the overthrow of the BDP as neo-colonial government. The BDP has retained state power since independence, with the first-past-the-post electoral system working to its advantage. There are, however, growing calls for electoral reforms to incorporate some elements of proportional representation.

Chapter 5 on citizen participation by David Sebudubudu argues that trade unions, women and youth organisations, human rights organisations, and the print and electronic media have played a leading role in enhancing democratic governance. These organisations have created space to allow citizens to express themselves on a number of issues, and they have helped to ensure transparency and accountability of the government system by publishing different opinions on national issues, protesting and holding demonstrations against certain government policies and activities, sponsoring court cases against the government, and observing elections. In turn, government has sought to solicit the views and approval of citizens on a number of issues through kgotla meetings, workshops, referendums and elections.

Chapter 6 on local governance by Adam Mfundisi argues that local governance is a strong pillar in Botswana’s democracy. The establishment of district and town councils, and the continued existence of chieftaincies and district commissioners have added to the variety of local institutions pursuing local democracy and development. However, the unbalanced relationship between central and local government is still a worrying factor – central government has powers to approve or reject decisions by local institutions, control and approve their budgets, and control their administrative personnel. In addition, local representation is male dominated.

Chapter 7 on the economy and corporate governance by Dorothy Mpabanga argues that economic growth rates have been consistently high and that the government has actively intervened in the economy to open up space for the private sector. It has also diversified the economy and enhanced citizen participation in economic development. The government enjoys surplus revenue from diamonds and ploughs this back into the economy and society. Numerous citizen empowerment schemes have been launched to encourage more participation in the economy; however, diversification of the economy has not sufficiently materialised, poverty is reducing at a slow pace and unemployment and HIV/Aids are adding to human suffering. The government has responded with providing antiretroviral therapy and is competently countering the effects of Aids.

Numerous devaluations and the introduction of value added tax have worsened the condition of ordinary people, compelling parliament to reign in the executive and to review taxes on some consumer goods. Agriculture has slumped and the fast-growing tourism industry is dominated by foreign investors.

It may be argued that, on the whole, a substantial degree of democratic consolidation has occurred in Botswana: high economic growth rates have been sustained over an extended period of time; a common vision has been drawn up by a diversity of stakeholders; the executive actively accounts to parliament; the judiciary holds all other institutions accountable; local government is long established and is seeking more powers; and civil society actively holds state institutions accountable. To balance this view, however, it must be pointed out that many Batswana remain poor and in need of the benefits of substantive economic change.

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