Botswana: Civil society actors

Extracted from: Victor Shale 2009 "Chapter 3: Botswana" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 71-72.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) grew in size and activity in the 1990s. For instance, there were about 150 NGOs, around 50 community-based organisations, some 23 trade unions and a handful of business associations. However, the CSOs in Botswana have remained generally weak since independence. This partly owes to the political and social stability the country has enjoyed over four decades and a culture of non-questioning, which is characteristic of many ordinary citizens in Botswana (Mogalakwe & Sebudubudi 2006). Although having some limitations in performing their functions, civil society organisations have challenged the government of Botswana, particularly for its handling of minority groups' issues. Prior to the 2004 elections, issues of social, minority and ethnic identity, gained momentum. The rights of the Basarwa ethnic group pertaining to life, security and protection and, particularly to protection for the privacy of people's homes and other property as contained in Chapter 2 of the constitution of Botswana (Government of Botswana 2007), dominated both the domestic and international arenas.

Ditshwanelo (Botswana Centre for Human Rights) has been in the forefront against human rights abuse. It has spearheaded the fight against the death penalty, HIV/Aids issues, gender, good governance and the strengthening of civil society. Ditshwanelo and Survival International have, for instance, campaigned vigorously against the violation of the rights of the Basarwa people - to the point of threatening the country's diamond industry. This followed the 1997 relocation of the Basarwa from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) by the government of Botswana. The government, in turn, countered the campaign by Survival International through international lobbying. This occurred when the leaders of Basarwa were touring the United States of America (USA) where they congregated and networked with other associations for indigenous and minority groups' rights (Lekorwe 2006; Sebudubudu & Osei-Hwedie 2005).

Ethnic divisions also gained prominence more than ever before when minority, non-Tswana tribes (primarily the Kalangas) became vocal about being recognised as entities not subject to the chiefs of the eight tribes identified in the constitution, and to the use of their languages in schools. The Kamanakao association even took Botswana to the United Nations over violations of their ethnic rights. In response to claims of recognition and language rights by the Society for the Promotion of Ikalanga Language, Pitso ya Botswana tried to safeguard the predominance of the Tswana culture. The Balopi Commission, set up by the government, tried to instil a sense of homogeneity in Botswana by recommending amendment of the section in the constitution that identifies only eight tribes of Botswana, for the improved recognition and inclusion of minorities.

Civil society in Botswana has also contributed to the electoral process through collaboration with the IEC on civic and voter education. Voter education pertains to the election-related information that is available to voters ahead of an election. It serves to motivate and encourage voters to participate in the election. Also critical is the information about the electoral process in terms of the regulations and voting procedures. Civic education, on the other hand, focuses on providing knowledge on the structures and functions of government, democratic values and human rights, the electoral system, as well as citizen empowerment to participate in democratic processes. For instance, the problem of under-representation of women in Botswana's electoral contests. This, despite the fact that they constitute the majority of voters, supporters and attendees at political rallies across all political parties. The 2004 statistics show 311 265 registered female voters, compared to 239 148 registered male voters (IEC 2004, 8).

Aware of this worrying trend, Emang Basadi, a women's association, which to date has been the most active in politics and has benefited considerably from its lobbying and pressure group efforts, encouraged women to register and vote in the 2004 elections. It also urged them to contest for political office. Emang Basadi produced two manifestos in the 1994 and 1999 elections respectively, prior to the release of manifestos by political parties. In this way, it hoped to influence political parties to champion women's issues and concerns. In 2003 and ahead of the 2004 elections, it organised empowerment workshops for aspiring women candidates from all political parties contesting primary elections (Sebudubudu &38; Osei-Hwedie 2005, 12).

Emang Basadi has also sought to apply pressure on the Botswana government to amend all laws that have discriminated against women. As a result of this pressure from Emang Basadi and other women's groups, more women have been appointed to decision-making positions, including the judiciary. Furthermore, Basadi's efforts have also contributed to the enactment of tougher laws against rape, and to greater gender parity within marriages (Mogalakwe & Sebudubudu, 2006).

A 2018 Afrobarometer survey of 1200 adults found that a weak civil society is a barrier on Botswana's path towards a strong democracy. The survey also found that, while majorities of Batswana say they turn out to vote in elections, their interest in public affairs and political discussions is on the decline. The survey ends by stating that "public education may be needed to inculcate a sense of citizens' rights and duties beyond the casting of a vote", however, unlike its neighbours South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia the IEC of Botswana is not mandated by law to provide civic and voter education (Seabo & Isbell, 2018).


GOVERNMENT OF BOTSWANA 2007 Constitution of Botswana, Gaborone, Government Printer.

INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION (IEC) 2004 Report to the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration on the 2004 General Elections, [www] [opens new window] (offline 14 Oct 2019).

LEKORWE, M 2006 "The Role and Status of the Independent Electoral Commission". Journal of African Elections, 5(2).

MOGALAKWE, M & SEBUDUBUDI, D 2006 "Trends in State-Civil Society Relations in Botswana", Journal of African Elections 5(2).

SEBUDUBUDU, D & OSEI-HWEDIE, BZ 2005 Democratic Consolidation in SADC: Botswana's 2004 Elections [PDF document], EISA Research Report No 11.

SEABO, B & ISBELL, T 2018 "Citizen engagement in Botswana: Beyond voting, how much interest in participation?", Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 230, [www] (accessed 14 Oct 2019)