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Botswana's civil society unpacks the country's big governance issues

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Botswana's civil society unpacks the country's big governance issues

Botswana Civil Society

22 Apr 2021

5min min read
  • Governance and civil society

In February 2019, Botswana acceded to the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), thereby committing to uphold the shared values of democracy, rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights. President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the APRM, was quoted as saying that Botswana has always believed in good practices when it came to good governance and stood to gain a lot from countries that are members of the APRM.

The Botswana Council for Non-Governmental Organisations (BOCONGO) in partnership with the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) has implemented the Botswana APRM Popular Sensitisation (BAPS) project, which aims to enhance meaningful participation of civil society in the country’s African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) process, through capacity-building, fostering better knowledge of process, and developing a written submission on the key governance issues in Botswana.

Launched on Tuesday, 20 May, the report was assembled from the submissions made by different NGOs with input from civil society institutions across the country.

Below are the 12 key governance issues it unpacks:

1) Human Rights

The implementation of domestic and international legislation has meant that basic human rights are well protected in Botswana. However, these rights are not enjoyed equally by all. Areas of concern include violence against women and children; discrimination against indigenous peoples; child labour; over reliance on and abuses by the mining sector; respect for diversity and culture; effectiveness of social protection programmes; and access to quality healthcare services. It is recommended that government develop a comprehensive national action plan on human rights that applies to both state and business.

2) Separation of Powers

Separation of Powers Political and personal interests have made separation between Botswana’s three arms of government difficult. Although the Judiciary boasts a high level of independence, Botswana’s Parliament is limited in what it can achieve without the Executive. It is also weakened by the First Past the Post electoral system, which marginalises smaller political parties and has led to the underrepresentation of women and youth in Parliament. Civil society believes that a Mixed Member Proportional Representation electoral system would strike a balance between a Parliament that is both representative and accountable. It is also recommended that Parliament be removed from its position under the Office of the President.

3) Public Service and Decentralisation

Civil society believes that the poor performance of Botswana’s public service could be solved through decentralisation – the transfer of authority from central to local government. Although not a new concept in Botswana, decentralisation has not been guided by a comprehensive policy, with the result that major responsibilities and powers remain within the central government. Local councils and civil society therefore lack autonomy and have not been given the space to deliver on their mandates. For this to be remedied, government should consider capacitating local government and adopting an inclusive decision-making process that involves all stakeholders.

4) Citizen Participation and Economic Inclusion

Although considered a full democracy, Botswana needs to address the lack of citizen participation in both its political and economic spheres. Barriers to political participation include the First Past the Post electoral system, political party funding structures, and a fragmented opposition, all of which have helped to entrench the ruling party’s hegemony. Batswana also suffer exclusion from the country’s economy, despite its significant growth over the years. Many citizens still live below the poverty line, with little prospect for accumulating wealth. It is recommended that government introduce legislation that can empower citizens politically and economically.

5) Transparency and Accountability

Historically, Botswana has demonstrated high levels of transparency and accountability. Its declining performance according to several governance indicators over the last few years, however, warrants concern. Issues include corruption; the independence of oversight bodies; access to information and media; and conflicts of interest. It is recommended that oversight bodies, such as the Independent Electoral Commission, be afforded more autonomy and that government actions be carried out with greater transparency

6) Vulnerable Groups

Women and children; youth; people living with disabilities; and LGBTQI+ are considered vulnerable groups in Botswana, each facing their own significant challenges. While existing policies and programmes provide these groups with an opportunity to earn an income, they lack coordination and assistance does not always reach those who need it most. Programmes have also failed to address underlying issues of violence, gender inequality and respect for human rights. Government must do more to improve the quality of life for society’s most vulnerable.

7) Education

Botswana’s government has successfully improved access to education through progressive policy and significant budget allocations. However, quality of education, the relevance of the curriculum, and the uptake of science and technology in teaching and learning are some issues requiring attention. These challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted teaching and may affect funding. Government should consider addressing the gaps across pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary education. This should include the introduction of ageappropriate comprehensive sexuality education.

8) Sustainable Development and Natural Resource Management, Access to Land and Infrastructure

While Botswana’s natural resources are well-managed, there is room for improvement in terms of sustainability. Challenges include poor policy coherence and weak implementing authorities. Botswana also has a shortage of serviced land – with women being the most affected demographic – and poor infrastructure has meant that government struggles to deliver basic services. A comprehensive, national monitoring and evaluation framework could help government in its efforts to develop the country more sustainably. The framework should promote project management and evidence-based decisions.

9) Food Security

Harsh weather conditions continue to affect food security in Botswana. Produce is increasingly imported at high cost, with consequences for consumers, many of whom already live below the poverty line. Efforts to improve levels of food security should therefore focus on productivity in the agricultural sector, for example, subsistence farming. Social protection programmes should also be reviewed to ensure that benefits reach those who need it most.

10) Crime and Security

Although Botswana is considered a peaceful country, issues such as poverty, inequality, HIV/AIDS, and high youth unemployment have the potential to become sources of conflict. Government needs to address the root causes of crime in the country in order to build a more secure society. Government also needs to address gender-based violence; the lack of cyber security in the country; poor natural disaster preparedness; and the uptake in economic crimes such as money laundering and illicit financial flows. Although the legislative machinery to address these challenges may exist, implementation needs to improve.

11) Foreign Policy

Botswana’s foreign policy has remained constant for over 50 years. Although a respected member of the international community, there is a need for government to bring its foreign policy in line with the national development agenda. One major challenge in achieving this has been the lack of a written, overarching policy framework. Given that Botswana is a landlocked country, relying heavily on exports and vulnerable to geopolitics, any national framework must have the economy at its centre. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is encouraged to revive foreign policy consultations and involve all actors in the process.

12) Research and Development

A country’s policies must respond directly to the needs of its citizens. Research and development can assist government to make informed decisions and ensure that policies are evidence-based. However, in Botswana, research is too infrequent to allow for timely analysis and policy corrections. A lack of funding has also made it difficult for organisations to produce research on important topics such as corruption and sustainability. Botswana’s indigenous knowledge is another untapped resource. Government is encouraged to place greater emphasis on research and development, including by non-state entities such as community-based and non-governmental organisations.