The Botswana Democratic Party was returned to power in this weekend’s elections. The BDP has ruled the country uninterrupted since independence in 1966 through an electoral system–first past the post–that favors them just fine. The incumbent president, General Seretse Ian Khama, his family and supporters treat the Presidency like some hereditary office. There’s also widespread poverty, professionals leave and it has the highest infection rates of AIDS per capita. Of course there’s no crisis here and none of the “democracy activists” in West makes a stink. Botswana, according to them, is a “success story.”

As for Khama’s election campaign, he promised “… a campaign to discourage heavy drinking with a tax on alcohol a highlight of his tenure.”



Sean Jacobs

Also goes by Hasan Wazan. Life President.

  1. Sean, I'm lost on this one. Help me understand your take on Botswana. Here are a couple of questions:

    So Masire and Mogae were merely seat warmers while waiting for Khama to get to the ripe old age of 56?

    Is Khama's outspokenness on Mugabe simply a cover for the lack of democracy in his own country?

    Is Botswana's decade long program of providing free retroviral drugs and condoms to the entire population a poor response to the aids crisis?

    Is the significant investment of revenues from diamonds in the infrastructure, education, health system and food security simply a cover for the system's excesses and failures?

    Are at least three recent elections which were certified as free and fair not only by the usual suspects, but by independent bodies such as IDASA and the Helen Suzman Foundation nothing but symptoms of Botswana's lack of democracy?

    1. Hi Ekapa,

      I have become the proud father of a new son (born 2 weeks ago), so I haven't had much time to post in the last few weeks.

      Thanks for your points.

      If I had time, I'd write a lengthy and (hopefully) nuanced response, but a quick response would have to suffice.

      I am not sure you've seen the most recent issue of The Economist. It contains an editorial as well as a news piece on the Botswana elections. Not surprising the editors of The Economist like Khama and praise his victory as a clear mandate, buried in both pieces are evidence of what I am talking about.

      Th editorial refer to the government's "troubles"; i.e. the high incidents of people living with AIDS and noting that the Botswana government (and the country's elite) have "… lacked sympathy for its anti-modern Bushman minority." That sentence misrepresents the San's intentions, but the point is that the Botswana government (in collusion with De Beers) have tried to strip the San from their land to mine it for minerals. (BTW, the San are referred to by the more uncomplimentary Tswana term Basarwa which emphasizes their outsider status from the Batswana)

      Then in the news piece, The Economist reporter mentions, among other things that "… In the run-up to the parliamentary election on October 16th, parts of Botswana’s outspokenly free press relentlessly criticised [Ian Khama], accusing him of riding roughshod over some of the state’s democratic institutions and of seeking to become a quasi-military dictator. They also cast aspersions on a powerful new intelligence agency and queried a dozen unexplained extra-judicial killings by security forces in the past year." []. The government also compels all journalists to register, etc.

      Basically the Botswana press are filled with stories bolstering my argument above.

      I also don't have to repeat here the case of Dr Kenneth Good, who you might know about, and who was thrown out of Botswana for criticizing the workings of its democratic system (specifically the system of presidential succession): Here's some links on that:

      Now to some of your points:
      1. I don't have the time and energy now, but initial Khama's "succession" as President (taking over from Mogae) after he was appointed as vice president (without winning a parliamentary seat, if I remember) was the subject of much debate within Botswana: both as a legal/constitutional issue and as politically (he was head of the armed forces at the time). There was a lot of unhappiness with it.

      As for his criticism of Mugabe, that is well and good, but at the the same as his government attacks Mugabe, Botswana has deported Zimbabweans; btw, the Kalanga in the north are often referred to as Zimbabweans. This is a way to delegitimize them ( see the work of Francis Nyamnjoh or Richard Werbner, for example, which also deals with the myth of ethnic piece and the so-called ethnic homogeneity of Botswana).

      As for the economic growth in Botswana it is uneven and there are already signs that overall growth which is largely depended on diamonds, will dip (see The Economist piece).

      This UNCHR brief is also useful background:,,,,BWA,456d…



      1. Sean,

        Congratulations on the birth of your son. Ho wonderful!
        Thank you for taking the time to provide avery detailed response. I will be following up on the links and references that you provided. I confess to having lazily given Botswana a pass and relied heavily on surface impressions over the last 3 years.

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