Can Botswana’s democracy carry spirit of the Kalahari?

Botswana has long been hailed as a ‘miracle’ of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. In the last ten years however, this gilded reputation earned during 1970’s and 1980’s which reflected high economic growth levels and political stability, has lost much of its lustre. This apparent shift and recent developments seem to support claims of increasing centralisation of authority of the President, corruption, cronyism, misuse of state funds during elections in favour of the ruling party, and crackdowns on dissenting opposition politicians and journalists.

Delme Cupido's picture

Author

Senior Programme Officer: Indigenous Peoples Rights

November 9th, 2015

Botswana has long been hailed as a ‘miracle’ of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. In the last ten years however, this gilded reputation earned during 1970’s and 1980’s which reflected high economic growth levels and political stability, has lost much of its lustre. This apparent shift and recent developments seem to support claims of increasing centralisation of authority of the President, corruption, cronyism, misuse of state funds during elections in favour of the ruling party, and crackdowns on dissenting opposition politicians and journalists.

One of the key shifts in the way in which Botswana is viewed by outsiders and human rights groups and many within the country, can be seen in the overwhelmingly negative publicity generated by the government’s eviction of the San from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), and its subsequent legal battles with the San, Southern Africa’s oldest and most iconic indigenous peoples.

Recent developments have served to raise further questions about the relationship between the San and the government of Botswana. Reports by The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have raised important questions about the quality of Botswana’s democracy in relation to issues of human dignity, socio-economic rights, participation and accountability vis-à-vis the plight of the San. Botswana’s chosen developmental path - particularly its mining and conservation strategies - have impacted heavily on this vulnerable and marginalised community. They raise questions about how majoritarian democratic states deal with challenges emanating from minority rights and what impact these challenges have on their development.

It was with this in mind that the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Programme at OSISA provided funding to the (Democracy Works Foundation) to undertake a mission to Botswana to attempt to explore some of these emerging questions, and to work with regional and international media outlets to highlight and amplify the plight of the San in Botswana.

The Mail and Guardian article (Mining Tests the Spirit of the Kalahari) (2015-10-19), is the first in a series which provides a snapshot of the many challenges faced by the San in Botswana. The series seeks to stimulate debate about ways in which San communities can be assisted to represent better their interests or participate more effectively in the national political framework that is Botswana’s democracy. It will also highlight ways in which long-term development interests of the Botswana nation can be merged with those of the San minority.

About the author(s)

Delme is the Indigenous Peoples Rights Senior Programme Officer. Delme was the APM in OSISA’s HIV programme from 2006-2010. Prior to joining OSISA, he was the Coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre, a public interest law centre based in Namibia. Delme was active in the international HIV Treatment Access movement, was a founding trustee of the AIDS Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, a founding member of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, the Pan African Treatment Access Movement and the Collaborative Fund for HIV. Delme holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Cape Town, and obtained a bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of the Western Cape.

Contacts

  • 1 Hood Avenue/148 Jan Smuts; Rosebank, GP 2196; South Africa
  • T. +27 (0)11 587 5000
  • F. +27 (0)11 587 5099