Friday, December 1, 2023

Time to breathe life into our constitution

Human right lawyer, Yandeni Boko has called for a review of the Botswana Constitution. Speaking at the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) one day conference on democracy and constitutional reforms in Gaborone last week, Boko said it was time to reflect on the country’s constitution and come to terms with the fact that it is detached from the aspirations of the people of Botswana. He says it has become a useless instrument which is alienated from the practical life of the ordinary Motswana. “When the constitution was adopted 51 years ago, very few Batswana participated in the exercise because only a few of them were educated. Now circumstances have changed. Society needs to now sit as a collective and amend this very crucial national manual,” he insisted.

Boko said when most African countries matured and became more enlightened they wrote their own constitutions with no input from the western world, especially their former colonisers. “Botswana’s constitutional talks however were held in 1963 between its colonial masters, chiefs and representatives of the few political parties that existed at the time. My big concern is that at the time most Batswana were not literate let alone politically developed and had to be spoken for,” said Boko. He says fast forward to 2017, majority of Batswana are educated and the country also has a rich mix of intellectuals who sit in parliament and vibrant native professors in the universities with abundant insight on any given subject to inform the much desired constitutional reform, “Even the chiefs are now mostly very educated,” he continued. 

He said very few Batswana in the 60s could even begin to understand what was required of them towards the development of their constitution. “We now understand what it means to amend and reform a constitution such that it enhances our lives on the ground. There is need to mobilise resources for a comprehensive review of the constitution and it is essential to urgently appoint a constitutional review commission and have consultations with the nation where the joint knowledge of Batswana could be sort to achieve the reform,” he said.

He said as it stands Botswana is a supposed democracy although it is widely worshiped for its democracy. “But this is mainly based on how smoothly our elections are conducted, that is what we are worshiped for in Africa. On the flip side of the coin there are debates about the extent to which our constitution enshrines the country’s democratic principles and the manner in which the government conducts its affairs. Furthermore that our judges by extension make laws even though it is not their duty, theirs is to adjudicate on disputes,” he pointed out. “We can therefore not rely on judges to breathe life into our constitution,” Boko continued.

He says the constitution of Botswana entrenches only civil and political rights. This is despite the fact that currently international law recognises that human rights are indivisible and interdependent and that socio economic rights must accrue to all people. But there are those who have argued that socio economic rights are not justifiable because they depend on the availability of resources. However neighbouring South Africa, Namibia and Malawi have included dignity as a right in their constitutions. Botswana’s constitution fails to express dignity as a core right although it does have a place. Boko says it is time for Batswana to start discussing whether housing, social security, food, water, health care and so on should not find a place in the constitution of Botswana. Every person should have the right to adequate housing, food, water, healthcare, social security and a safe environment and it should be clearly pronounced in the constitution.


Read this week's paper