October 21, 2010 § Leave a comment
Who lives there?: Close to two million people. Around 80% are Tswana, a Bantu tribe with its own language. The rest are a mixture of various different groups, including a substantial bushman population.
How does the system work? (the theory): Botswana has an executive President elected indirectly by the lower house by a first past the post election. Terms are for five years.
The lower house, the National Assembly, elects the President and heads up the legislative. However, despite being elected by the Assembly it is the President that has most power in all spheres. The President can dismiss the Assembly and the Assembly cannot impeach the President. The National Assembly has 57 members elected by first past the post and 4 appointed by the President.
There is also an advisory upper house, known as the House of Chiefs, it has 35 members. 8 are the hereditary chiefs of Botswana’s eight major tribes. 4 are elected by, and from amongst, the sub-chiefs of these tribes. 5 are appointed by the president. Finally 18 other members are elected by the sub-chiefs. All members must not belong to any party, and must not have been actively involved in politics for the last five years.
At the local level there are ten district councils and four town councils. They are run by a district commissioner who is appointed centrally, and is assisted by a district council which is half elected and half centrally appointed.
There are also informal village councils at the lowest level which the state allows to make local laws and pass legal judgements. However if any party is unhappy with any decision made at this level then it can be referred up to the federal level.
How does the system work? (the practice): Botswana has a reputation for free and fair elections and no serious questions have ever been raised about the conduct of any election. However, there are increasing concerns about the centralising tendencies of the current government – and the way all power is being concentrated into the Presidency. Transparency also seems to be decreasing. In addition only one party has ever won elections and there is a fear that its rule has become entirely institutionalised.
There are also concerns that the special status given to the eight largest tribes unfairly excludes members of smaller tribes. There is also an ongoing jurisdictional dispute with the nomadic Bushmen, who refuse to accept Botswanan authority and object to what they see as forced relocation outside of game reserves. In 2006 the bushmen won the right to settle in the Kalahari National Park – which they see as their ancestral home.
There is also a problem with extrajudicial killings – some allegedly ordered by the President.
How did we get here?: Botswana became a British colony in 1885, when it intervened in a tribal dispute, moved one of the protagonists wholesale into South Africa, and took over the area for protection. There was some intention to incorporate the area into South Africa but this was delayed on numerous occasions and, in 1964, the British decided that Botswanans would probably prefer self-government to Apartheid rule. In 1966 Botswana became fully independent.
Sir Seretse Khama, a tribal chief, and leader of the independence movement became the first president, and his Botswana Democratic Party has won every election since. They are not really an ideological party – and many views are contained within their ranks. He caused controversy by marrying a white English woman, and their son Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama (known either as Ian Kharma or Ian a Sêrêtsê) is the current president.
Who’s in charge?: The BDP are firmly in charge but there is a feeling that the party is creaking at the seams and may split. Khama leads a group of centralisers, with slightly authoritarian tendencies, called “the A team”. The rival faction, who oppose these developments, are called Barata-Phathi.
The BDP get about 55% of the vote and, because of first past the post, have 45 of the 57 elected seats – and the 4 appointed ones. The left wing Botswana National Front are the largest opposition party. They did used to get 35 odd percent of the vote (as recently as 2002), but these days manage about half of that and only have 6 seats. A rapidly rising party is the centre left Botswana Congress, which came from virtually nowhere at the last election to get 20% of the vote and 4 seats.
Finally there are two independents – one of whom is a former Botswana Congress member who formed a progressive party known as the Botswana Alliance Movement.
What does it look like?: 70% of the country is covered by the Kalahari desert – the rest is covered by the Okavango, Zambezi and Limpopo river basins. 95% of the country live off cattle.
What are the issues?: Botswana is one of the great success stories for development – going from one of the poorest countries in sub Saharan Africa to one of the richest – and providing universal education, health and improved living standards. This has come in part from the government’s concentration on areas of importance (10% of GDP is spent on education, one of the highest figures for any nation, and Botswana had no army at all until 1977) and its model governance and transparency arrangements.
The main issue now is that this work appears to be starting to come undone. The problems come in two forms. There are natural issues that the government is struggling to cope with: AIDS infection is up to 17% and there is an increasing problem with desertification. There are also man made problems: Botswana’s lauded reputation for good governance, and, in particular, transparency have taken a knock of late, and there was never any serious attempt to tackle unemployment – which is now at nearly 20%.
All these factors, but particularly AIDS, mean that Botswana went from having one of the lowest life expectancies in Africa to one of the highest, and is now back to among the lowest again:
A good source of impartial information is: Botswana had a fiercely independent free press, and largely still has. However there is a bit of a feeling that, so used are journalists to having the BDP in power, they are starting to turn off their critical faculties. Mmegi is thought to be fairly independent minded.
A good book is: The story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Turner’s marriage, and the politics that surrounded it are documented in A Marriage of Inconvenience: the Persecution of Ruth and Seretse Khama, the story is also supposed to have inspired the film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.
Botswana: Politics and Society has recived good reviews, as has The Politics of Development in Botswana: a Model for Success? which concentrates more on the fascinating development story.
A good book on the biggest issue in Botswana is The Political Economy of AIDS in Africa.
When are the next elections?: Elections for the legislative will be in 2014.