The Need To Encourage, Uphold And Protect Cultural Rights – Reclaiming Culture?

“The importance of Africans’ cultural heritage to their sense of who they are still isn’t recognized sufficiently by them, or others. Culture is the means by which a people express itself, through language, traditional wisdom, politics, religion, architecture, music, tools, greetings, symbols, festivals, ethics, values, and collective identity.” Wangari Maathai, The Challenge for Africa

Generally, when we consider human rights, we are often referring to civil and political rights, or social and economic rights. We hardly speak of cultural rights. This is of course not to say they don’t exist, but rather to acknowledge that in many instances, they remain largely undeveloped, in the sense that they are hardly catered for, in budgeting, and prioritizing. Tis general neglect largely leads to a lack of active cognizance of the impact of one’s society’s intellects, or the determination of the different identifying characteristics and other identifiers of groups of people from whence we come.

Botswana, having been decultured in a similar manner to other regional states, during the protectorate period, has had to rediscover her cultural heritages. This will not only help us in reconnecting with the past, but also in guiding our spiritual, political, economic and social developments. This need arises from the dilution of our cultures with those of others.

Botswana cannot be said to have just one culture. It is trite that even within the Protectorate as in colonisation, the principle that reigned was that of conquering through the use of division. The most effective way of doing this was by giving authority to one tribe over all the others. This way, the tribe that views itself as dominant over the other, wields more power in various respects. This was the premises of enacting laws that stated that some tries are “major tribes” as juxtaposed to others.

There is need to therefore actively acknowledge that we are one, but we are also more than one. Similar to the ways in which we acknowledge that decisions about women cannot be made when only men sit at the table where decisions are made. Representation needs to go beyond just the presence. It needs to be effective, and intended to negate the existing systematic annihilation.

There are many things that need to be done for this to happen. I propose 2, which in my view, could have an effect of revolutionizing the equal, equitable co-existence of the diverse tribes in Botswana. Here, I offer only introductions which will be expounded on in other pieces to follow.


We know that the Ntlo Ya Dikgosi plays an advisory role to Parliament on issues of tradition and culture. The Ntlo is constituted in terms of the Constitution, to include certain seats as of right, meaning these seats are not subject to elections as are all the others. This gives set up gives an advantage to those who occupy seats on a permanent basis, in the ways that it doesn’t to those who rotate. There is need for revision of this in it’s entirety, because effectively, those in permanent occupancy of the seats hold more power to make decisions. The reform should be to the effect that, if voting is necessary for some to ascend to sitting in the Ntlo, then it should apply to all. This will ensure that those who’s cultures are diminished and who’s cultural rights are being violated, have the opportunity to advocate for change to Parliament, in a way that may influence change in the nation’s recognition of rights.


The “mother tongue debate” is one who’s positive development we have seen even from observing our neighbours. Currently the languages used to communicate in schools are English and Setswana. This places children born of Tswana/English speaking families at a far greater advantage than all others, presenting an injustice for those who do not come from families where Setswana and English are spoken. Of course this will mean that government will have to invest in many resources that are currently not invested in. these include, but are not limited to human resources, facilities to teach teachers the various other languages that learners know and understand. There is need to move beyond a narrow understanding of culture as embracing only the artistic and creative exploration of culture. An adoption of cultural rights as encompassing the right to education and information, is critical.

In conclusion, of course various states fear and sometimes even suspect that embracing cultural diversity of the different existing tribes, and particularly embracing indigenous tribes and tribal minorities could lead to secession and disruption of national unity. It has been said however, that cultural rights are in fact empowering rights. Without their recognition, human dignity cannot be guaranteed, and neither can other human rights be fully implemented.

We are, all of us, from somewhere. We are communal societies. Our identities are just as important. So are our rights. We cannot be expected to give up parts of ourselves to fit in, when our nation could instead, invest in encouraging us to not compromise ourselves or our heritage, and the legacies left to us.

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