Mmegi Blogs :: Is Botswana a Democracy?
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Last Updated
Wednesday 18 October 2017, 06:00 am.
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Is Botswana a Democracy?

When Botswana attained Independence in 1966, she broke ranks with the majority African countries that had gained Independence before her, by opting for multiparty democracy instead of single-party democracy then in vogue.
By Michael Dingake Tue 21 Mar 2017, 15:34 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Is Botswana a Democracy?








Four parties contested the first general elections in 1965. That hadn’t happened with the trailblazers, Ghana and the rest of them.  In the second general elections in 1969, four parties again contested, one had dropped out and a new one had been born. Multiparty democracy,  it was.

Botswana from the onset scorned the single party system/no-party system, which western countries coincidentally disapproved. Since 1969 Botswana has held general elections every five years. This record is impressive and probably led political observers to label Botswana, not only as a democracy, but a ‘shining example.’ Regular, multiparty general elections earned Botswana the endearing epithet!’

 The Journal of Democracy published by The Jon Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute annually, ranks the countries either FREE, PARTLY FREE and NOT FREE. Only four African countries, Botswana, Mauritius, Cape Verde and South Africa qualify as FREE. The rest of the African countries are rated as PARTLY FREE or NOT FREE, though they have without exception, moved Swaziland out of the single-party bracket. According to the journal, freedom equates with democracy.

Democracies or FREE countries are judged by their political rights and civil liberties: “A country upholds citizens' political rights when it permits them to form political parties…whose leaders can openly compete for and be elected to positions of power. …country upholds civil liberties when it respects and protects their religious, ethnic, economic, linguistic  …gender, family rights…freedoms of the press, religion and association.”

Political rights subsume free and fair elections of course, the  principle of the independence of the three arms of Government, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary; independent oversight  institutions,  for instance the Auditor General, the Ombudsman variously called the Public Protector, Human Rights Commission that ensures democracy is dynamic, develops and it’s never  stunted or smothered.

Countries in respective brackets are never on the same peg, as some will be going up and others going down within the same bracket. Leading the pack of the FREE is the Scandanavian countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland and the rest of the Western countries. The NOT-FREE are to be found in the Arab world, parts of Africa and Latin America and communist countries, Cuba, North Korea  and Peoples Republic of China, according to the journal.

Countries in various categories are not static; they have potential to rise and fall within the bracket or move out of the bracket as Government changes hands through parties or leaders.

RSA jumped from NOT FREE to FREE when Nelson Mandela took the reins of power and Willem de Klerk was ousted in 1994; The Gambia, last year may have enacted a similar act , from NOT FREE to FREE; the US experience of a Donald Trump

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succeeding a Barak Obama may be a regression; we’ll wait and see!

Botswana’s classification in the FREE bracket must be analysed from that perspective. When the founding fathers of independent Botswana opted for multiparty democracy in 1966, when single-party democracy was the pattern in Africa, the step was bold, audacious and farsighted.

None can deny it. Encircled by racist regimes in an ocean of single-party and/or non-party ‘democracies,’ Botswana democracy shone brightly.  A keen observer would have noticed the country’s shine dimming later as more African countries joined the multiparty democracy bandwagon, in particular Namibia and South Africa.

Botswana was left standing, maybe backpedalling, particularly with the advent of the current regime of HE Dr Ian Khama. On the eve of his regime, Botswana had enhanced her democratic credentials by enfranchising  18-year olds and absentee Batswana at elections, progressing from election system supervised by the ruling party to one supervised by the IEC (albeit semi-independent), Office of Ombudsman (public protector ) was new and fighting for undiluted powers; a few gender equality gestures through legislation had been made.

The new regime started on a wrong footing by inserting an ‘Automatic Succession Clause’ in the Constitution. The principle of the previous election process (albeit indirect) was undermined.

Since 1998 Botswana has stagnated, even taking backward steps. The headhunting of the Vice President who foreshadowing, Donald Trump felt the private media carried fake news, and proudly announced he didn’t read newspapers!

Nineteen years on, while Vice President and President, he has never held one press conference; his next logical step was to harass journalists working for the private media; his expressed ambition is for the BDP, his party to rule forever. Opening the BDP Women’s Congress last week, he exhorted women to work hard so that the BDP, stays in power for another 50 years!

While he urges women to support one another at elections, he refuses to sign the SADC Gender Protocol, which the member countries have adopted to empower women in the region; he has running battles with the trade Union movement, who have to look to the law Courts for recourse; before his advent, leaders of the opposition enjoyed regular interaction with the Executive through formal All-Party Conferences and informal ruling party functions; all that is in the past!

The BDP has arrogantly captured the public media – Btv, Radio Batswana and the Daily News to serve its propaganda objectives, while it denies opposition parties public funding for electioneering, as it waxes ecstatically under the incumbency factor that allows it unlimited resources to win general elections. Above all, Khama regime doesn’t recognise the independence of Parliament and the Judiciary! Where is democracy in the goings-on?

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