Monday, January 17, 2022

Botswana is a beacon of democracy, but …

According to this year’s Legatum Prosperity Index, Botswana ranks top of 142 African countries. Further, recently the African Leadership Index ranked Khama the best leader in Africa, getting an “A” grade. Botswana was placed 1st in Africa and 41st in the world in good governance while emerging 32nd out of 162 countries in the most peaceful index.

However, critics label this internationally renowned success as a case of ‘a one-eyed man among blind men’. This suggests that if Botswana and Khama’s performance were criteria, and not norm, referenced, it would not be outstanding. This view is fallacious. Despite several imperfections, Botswana, and Khama himself, have attributes worthy of praise.

Khama’s predecessors also deserve praise since they laid a strong foundation for our democracy.

That under personal wellbeing, which encompasses freedom of speech, and religion, national tolerance for immigrants and ethnic and racial minorities, Botswana has fared well is irrefutable. Despite the infamous Mass Media Act, which if fully implemented would curtail both freedom of press and speech, Batswana generally enjoy these freedoms. People are rarely persecuted for criticizing government. There are, however, instances where some government media talk shows have been censored because the hosts or guests propagated anti-government views. Some journalists, e.g. Sakaeo Jannie of Botswana Television, have been victimized, maliciously transferred, and suspended. Also, in the past, private media regarded as sympathetic to the opposition were denied government advertising and interviews with the President and cabinet ministers.

Not even the most fervent of government and Khama’s critics can claim there is no freedom of religion in Botswana. All religions practice their faiths without censor. Almost all the world’s religions are taught from primary level though this is contradicted by the fact that school events, e.g. assemblies, are conducted in terms of the Christian faith. There is, therefore, room for improvement since this suggests Christianity is the state religion. For instance, while in courts Christians make an oath in terms of the Holy Bible, non-Christians, including adherents of other religions, make a non-religious affirmation. Further, only Christian festivals, e.g. Christmas are recognized as holidays.

Though some immigrants, e.g. Professor Kenneth Good have been declared Prohibited Immigrants for being critical of government, there is national tolerance for immigrants. Even illegal immigrants, once arrested, are put under secure custody, and are provided with basic needs until repatriation. There have been no cases of xenophobia. However, government needs to improve in terms of allowing immigrants access to health, including AIDS treatment.

Botswana has fared badly regarding respect for ethnic minority rights, especially Basarwa. Government has trampled on the rights of Basarwa by, among other things, attempting to forcibly relocate them from their ancestral land. Even after the courts ruled that as unlawful government attempted to force Basarwa out of their land by ceasing the provision of such basic services as water. Mother tongue education and recognition of cultural diversity can go a long way in improving respect for ethnic minority rights. However, government needs to be commended for amending the constitution to entrench ethnic parity though tribal discrimination still subtly exists at a practical level.

That under the Social Capital sub index, which includes the percentage of citizens who volunteer, give to charity, help strangers and feel they can rely on family and friends, Botswana has fared well cannot be disputed. This is in fact the hallmark of our being as Batswana. It is these attributes that form the basis of such institutions as Home Based Care, Village Development Committees, Parents Teachers Associations, Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations. In fact, it can be argued that were it not for such attributes our economic prosperity and peace and stability would have been diminished.

That under the Economy sub index, which measures performance in the areas of macro-economic policies, economic satisfaction and expectations, foundation for growth and financial sector efficiency, Botswana has fared well is true. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and such rating agencies as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have repeatedly rated Botswana as one of the most stable economies. That notwithstanding, Botswana needs to do better in such areas as economic diversification, poverty reduction, employment creation, rural development, etc. While government hand-outs and relief programmes are of assistance to the poor, emphasis on them at the expense of real economic development cannot grow the economy.

That under the Entrepreneurship & Opportunity sub index, which measures entrepreneurial environment, innovative activity and access to opportunity, Botswana has fared well is true. Though corruption hampers delivery, such agencies as Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency, Local Enterprise Authority, Youth Development Fund and Young Farmers Fund, avail entrepreneurial opportunities for Batswana. The easing of the company registration process; tax regime liberalization and establishment of such regulatory entities as the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority and the Competition Authority have also gone a long way in entrepreneurship development. There is, however, need to improve access to entrepreneurial opportunities for the youth, women, people with disabilities, and those in remote and rural areas.

That under the Governance sub index, which measures effective and accountable government, fair elections, political participation and the rule of law Botswana has fared well is true. We have regular elections; there is multi-party democracy; no political party has ever been banned and we do not have political prisoners. However, Botswana needs to deepen its democracy through political party funding; direct presidential elections; abolition of specially elected Parliamentarians and Councilors; fair delimitation of constituencies, respect for trade unions, increased representation in governance for women, the youth and other marginalized groups etc. That there is access to justice and judicial independence means there is respect for the rule of law. However, the rule of law is threatened by politically motivated presidential pardons, and the occasional disregard for procedural propriety by the Directorate on Public Service Management, especially in relation to trade unions.

That under the Health sub index, which measures performance in basic health outcomes, health infrastructure, preventative care, physical and mental health satisfaction Botswana has fared well is inarguable. There are health posts and clinics in almost all villages and settlements; hospitals which include 16 primary, 7 district, 3 referral, 2 mission and 2 private hospitals; there is free preventative vaccination; there is free treatment for such diseases as AIDS, etc. We also have world class mental and/or psychiatric health care facilities in Jubilee and S’brana hospitals in Francis town and Lobatse respectively.

That under the Safety & Security sub index, which measures performance in national security and personal safety Botswana has fared well is true. There is no civil strife; no civil wars; no curfews; no terrorist attacks, etc. Though Batswana are generally safe and secure, there has been troubling incidents of torture and extra judicial killings, notably the cold blooded murder of John Kalafatis by security agents. That when the Directorate of Public Prosecutions prosecuted the case the Botswana Defence Force paid for the accused’s legal fees, and following conviction, the President granted arbitrary pardons, diminished some Batswana’s sense of security and safety. In fact, this brought into question the President’s respect for judicial independence.

Therefore, despite its short comings, compared to countries led by military juntas; without regular elections; were elections, if any, are rigged; where there are endless civil wars and civil strife; and where the economy has collapsed, Botswana is indeed a beacon of democracy. It is not a case of ‘a one-eyed man among blind men’. Even if it were, ‘the one eye’ is certainly helpful to ‘the blind’. Though Khama’s military back ground has made him command driven, comparing him to such despots as Robert Mugabe is preposterous. Inarguably, Khama desires to develop Batswana. His good intentions are, however, negated by his advisors who often mislead him for personal and political expediency.

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