Freedom Rating: 2.0
Civil Liberties: 2
Political Rights: 2
The biggest challenge facing Botswana in 2000 was AIDS, and the disease threatens to roll back outstanding progress the country has made in the areas of economic and social development. The economy has been growing at an average rate of 8.5 percent since the late 1960s, but growth this year is expected to drop drastically for the first time, largely due to the AIDS epidemic.
Botswana has an outstanding record in Africa for human rights, although there are occasional reports of police misconduct and poor treatment of indigenous Basarwa. Botswana is Africa's longest continuous multiparty democracy; elected governments have ruled the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1966. In October 1999 Botswana held its seventh general elections since independence. President Mogae, a former central bank chief, succeeded Ketumile Masire as president in April 1998. Mogae was confirmed as the country's leader in October 1999. A referendum on whether the president should be directly elected was withdrawn shortly before a scheduled vote in late 1997.
Botswana has one of the highest AIDS prevalence rates in the world. The HIV infection rate rose from 4.4 percent in 1992 to 17 percent in 1998. The government of President Festus Mogae announced in August 2000 that an HIV-disclosure law would be introduced, which would compel HIV-positive people to disclose their status to sexual partners. Not doing so would be considered a criminal offense.
On the political front, the Balopi Commission, which includes former parliamentarians, continued to hold meetings around the country to examine the efficacy of three articles in the constitution that created a "house of chiefs," or consultative body to parliament, in 1966. The commission seeks to determine whether the house of chiefs still serves the body politic, needs to be changed, should be abolished, or should be left as is. The commission includes representatives of eight tribes and four ad hoc positions.
Hundreds of Namibians early in the year sought refuge in Botswana after fleeing insecurity in Namibia, where the government has been struggling against Caprivi secessionists. Extradition warrants for 14 Caprivi secessionists who fled to Botswana in 1998 were nullified on technical grounds in September, and a new hearing was scheduled for November. They are wanted in Namibia on charges of treason, murder, and illegal possession of arms and ammunition.
Economic progress has been built on sound fiscal management and low rates of corruption. Unemployment and crime are rising problems. The government is making efforts to diversify its economy from overreliance on the beef and diamond sectors.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Citizens of Botswana can change their government democratically. The Independent Election Commission created in 1996 has helped consolidate Botswana's reputation for fairness in voting. Botswana uses a constituency system in which the candidate who polls the highest number of votes in a constituency becomes the member of parliament.
The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which has held power since independence, won by a wide majority in legislative and local elections in October 1999, soundly defeating a fractured opposition. The BDP scored a significant breakthrough by winning the Gaborone Central constituency. It is the first time the BDP has held a seat in Gaborone in 15 years. A major change in voting patterns was the election of six women, all from the ruling BDP, to parliament. There were only two women in the previous parliament. Voter apathy was high. Only 57 percent of 800,000 eligible voters registered, despite the passing of a new law that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
In the October 1999 election the BDP swept 33 of 40 national assembly seats. The opposition had gone into the election holding 13 seats. The historical opposition party, the Botswana National Front (BNF), won 6 seats, while the breakaway Botswana Congress Party (BCP) was reduced to a single seat, a reflection of voter dissatisfaction with the split in 1998. Despite its poor showing, the BCP said it would regroup and stand behind its leader, Michael Dingake, and would never rejoin the BNF.
Botswana's national assembly, elected for five years, chooses the president to serve a concurrent five-year term. The assembly's choice is confirmed by the courts when the winning party receives more than half the seats in the parliament.
There is a free and vigorous press in cities and towns, and political debate is open and lively. The opposition and government critics, however, receive little access to the government-controlled broadcast media. Botswana's first state-owned television went on the air in August 2000. The country had been depending on the South African Broadcasting Corporation and a satellite television channel. The only other station is the private Gaborone Broadcasting Corporation Television, which has a limited reach. There are a number of private radio stations in Gaborone.
Botswana's courts are generally considered to be fair and free of direct political interference. Trials are usually public, and those accused of the most serious violent crimes are provided public defenders. The University of Botswana Legal Assistance Center and the Botswana Center for Human Rights offer free legal services, but are limited by a lack of resources. Treatment of the indigenous Basarwa (Bushmen, or "red people") has drawn local and international concern because of government relocation schemes, including forcible evictions from traditional lands to make way for game parks and cattle ranching. Only a few thousand Basarwa are permitted to practice traditional nomadic lifestyles in the central Kalahari Desert. Almost 50,000 others have been resettled in villages or as laborers on farms. Some Basarwa, however, returned to their traditional areas in 1999 after the government acquiesced to demands.
Concentration of economic power has hindered labor organization. While independent unions are permitted, workers' rights to strike and to bargain for wages are restricted.
Progress in improving the rights of women has been slow, although analysts say this could begin to change with the election of more women to parliament. Three women serve in the cabinet. Domestic violence is reportedly rampant, and there is little movement to stem it through police action or education, especially in rural areas. The government has delayed admitting women into the military.
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