Coat of Arms
Government & Politics
The House of Chiefs
Economy & Trade
Towards the turn of the 19th century, the people who resided in the area known as Botswana, made up at least eight ethnic Chiefdoms whose peoples shared a common language and history, and co-existed in relative peace. Traditional boundaries of the southern chiefdoms extended deep into South Africa, where there are over three million South Africans of Tswana descent.
During this period, Britain was consolidating its military and economic strength as a major colonial power in Southern Africa. At the same time, Dutch settlers calling themselves Afrikaners (Boers) and German settlers in Namibia (then South West Africa) were pushing northwards and westwards, respectively, annexing more and more Batswana lands.
Britain did not take kindly to such developments because she wanted the rich lands of the Shona and Ndebele in present-day Zimbabwe, and her ambitions for an African empire extending from Cape to Cairo were being seriously threatened by any continued Afrikaner-German expansion. This development was a blessing in disguise for Botswana as Britain finally agreed to declare Botswana a protected territory, Bechaunaland Protectorate, safeguarding the latter from total annexation by the Germans and Boers, and securing her own strategic interests.
Initially, most Batswana chiefs, except the three who had asked for British protection in 1870 (Khama III of Bangwato, Bathoen I of Bangwaketse and Sechele I of Bakwena), were suspicious of and resisted British protection. The chiefs eventually agreed but cautioned that protection should not entail British rule, but protection against external threat. The area was declared a British Protectorate by Royal Decree in March of 1885.
Britain set up a structure of advisory councils, Native Advisory Council, European Advisory Council, Joint Advisory Council, and ultimately a Representative Legislative Council to administer the territory between the years 1922 and 1961, overseen by a Resident Commissioner who was responsible to a High Commissioner. Various attempts were made to incorporate Botswana into Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the Union of South Africa (now South Africa) but due to vehement opposition from Botswana chiefs, some British missionaries, and later, the nationalist leaders, such attempts were defeated. In addition, the provisions of the 1910 Act of Union, which created the Union of South Africa, stated that incorporation could only be done with the consent of the peoples of the then High Commission Territories of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Beginning of Partisan Politics
Botswana chiefs had always sought to protect their own power from the colonial government, and they increasingly became more outspoken in asserting their birthright to govern their own affairs, eventually advocating for self-government. The first political party in Botswana, short-lived and limited in scope, was the Federal Party founded by one of Botswana's truly outstanding literacy figure, poet-cum-playwright, Leetile Disang Raditladi. However, the first modern nationalist parties emerged in the early 1960's as a result of the disappointment with the Legislative Council.
The Bechuanaland People's Party (BPP) under the leadership of Prof. Kgalemang Motsete, an accomplished music composer and educationist, was the first mass party to agitate for full independence. Prof. Motsete's manifesto was considered not radical enough by his militant Vice President, Phillip Matante, who changed it to include, among others, full independence under an African government, freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion and a review of the boundaries created by European powers in Africa. Internal dissension on the eve of the first national elections in 1965 resulted in a split and the birth of the Botswana Independence Party (BIP) under the leadership of Mr Motsamai Mpho.
The Bechuanaland Democratic Party was next to be formed in 1962 under the leadership of Mr Seretse Khama who later became the first President of the Republic of Botswana. The party's Vice President was an eloquent master farmer and former journalist, Mr Quett Ketumile Joni Masire, later to become President upon the death of Seretse Khama. During 1963 and 1964, a series of constitutional discussions took place to prepare the way for self-government. At this stage, Britain again debated the advisability of granting independence to a country which, she felt, would not be able to raise the finances necessary to support itself, making incorporation into South Africa an available option. As expected, the proposal was forcefully rejected by Botswana.
The first general elections were held in March 1965, and the BDP won in an overwhelming victory, taking 28 of the 31 contested seats, the BPP securing the remaining 3 seats, whilst the BIP got no seats. On the 30th of September 1966, the country became the independent Republic of Botswana with Sir Seretse Khama as the first President.
At present, Botswana has thirteen registered political parties, namely: Botswana Democratic Party (BDP); Botswana People's Party (BPP); Botswana National Front (BNF); Botswana Progressive Union (BPU); Botswana Labour Party (BLP); Social Democratic Party (SDP); Botswana Workers Front (BWF); United Socialist Party (USP); Botswana Congress Party (BCP); MELS Movement of Botswana (Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin); Botswana Alliance Movement ( BAM); National Democratic Front( NDF) and Botswana Tlhoko Tiro Organization ( BTTO) .
The Constitution of Botswana, adopted on 30th September 1966, provides for a republican form of government headed by the President with three main organs of government: the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary. The Executive branch consists of the Cabinet headed by the President and is responsible for directing national policy and for the control of government ministries and parastatal organisations which provide certain national services. The Judiciary interprets and administers the laws of the land and is independent of both the Executive and Legislature.
The President is the personification of the State. He/She is the Head of the Executive, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic, and also an integral part of the Legislature. He/She has the power to dissolve Parliament, select or dismiss the Vice President and Ministers, and has the prerogative of mercy. In international affairs, the President, as Head of State, has the power to declare war and sign treaties and to recognise foreign states and governments.
The executive arm of government, headed by the President, comprises the body of ministers or Cabinet responsible for the administration of national affairs. The President acts on the advice of the Cabinet of Ministers selected by him from Members of Parliament. Therefore, all members of Cabinet are also members of the National Assembly. There are currently sixteen (16) Ministers and eight (8) Assistant Ministers who run Ministries, and they share in parliamentary debates and the answering of parliamentary questions, and are responsible for other various duties of their given ministries. Cabinet Ministers, as Members of Parliament, are normally bound by the ethic of collective responsibility. Although Ministers are responsible to the National Assembly, the President may appoint or dismiss Ministers without consulting the National Assembly or Cabinet. The Cabinet also includes the President, the Vice President, the Attorney General (ex officio member) and the Permanent Secretary to the President (ex officio member).
The supreme legislative authority in Botswana is the Parliament, consisting of the President and the National Assembly, and where tribal and customary matters are involved, Parliament is obliged to act in consultation with the House of Chiefs. The President is a member of the National Assembly and has the power to address, summon or dissolve it at any time. The main functions of Parliament are to: pass laws regulating the life of the nation; scrutinise government policy and administration; and monitor government activities.
In the exercise of the foregoing functions, Parliament becomes the watchdog and brings relevant issues to the attention of both government and the electorate. The National Assembly is consulted before the President can sanction international treaties and agreements.
The National Assembly
The National Assembly is a representative body elected by universal adult suffrage and currently has 61 seats (57 of them contested; four for specially elected members; and three for the President, Attorney General and Speaker). The Speaker presides over all the proceedings of the House, and is elected by the members. The Attorney General is the principal legal advisor to the House.
The House of Chiefs
The House of Chiefs is an assembly of traditional leaders, ex-officio and elected members, who give advice to Parliament on matters of a customary nature. In particular, Parliament is constitutionally obliged to consult the House of Chiefs beforehand if it is considering the powers of chiefs, customary courts, customary law, tribal property, and constitutional amendments. On the other hand, the House of Chiefs is constitutionally obliged to consider and submit to the National Assembly its resolution on any Bill referred to it by the latter.
Parliamentary elections are held every five years for every constituency after Parliament has been dissolved. So far, the country has conducted eight free and fair elections since 1965. One Member of Parliament is elected from each constituency. Anyone, man or woman, who is entitled to vote and has reached the age of 18 years, can stand for election, provided the person is not disqualified by reason of insanity or unsound mind; has not been sentenced to death; has not been declared insolvent; or is not under a sentence of imprisonment exceeding six months.
The party that wins the majority of seats in the National Assembly forms the government, headed by an Executive President. The latter appoints Ministers from among the members of the National Assembly. The largest opposition becomes the Official Opposition. The elections (Presidential and National Assembly, and local authorities) are run by the Independent Electoral Commission, an autonomous, non-partisan body, whose primary purpose is to conduct free, fair and correct elections, efficiently and effectively, in accordance with the best electoral principles and practices. Botswana uses First Past The Post (FPTP) system. This system is also known as the winner takes all. In this system, the political party that wins the elections is the one with the majority of seats in Parliament. Moreover, the party that has the most seats in Parliament forms the government.
Administration of Justice
Justice in Botswana is primarily administered by the Administration of Justice, comprising the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and the Magistrates' Courts. There are also Customary Courts (dikgotla) which deal with matters of indigenous nature and criminal and civil cases of limited extent. Appeals against the decisions of the Customary Courts are, however, taken to the Customary Court of Appeal, and if need be, from there to the High Court. The High Court is the pivot on which the administration of justice turns, and has unlimited jurisdiction to try all cases, civil and criminal, and to exercise review powers over the administration of justice in all subordinate courts, while itself being subject to appeals against its decisions to the Court of Appeal for the country.
The Common Law of Botswana is the Roman-Dutch Law which was inherited from the former Cape Colony. This has been developed over the years by Statutes passed by Parliament and by judicial decisions which make up the body of Botswana's case law. The Criminal Law is English in origin for the most part, there being a codified Penal Code. The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act is based on the South African law. Thus, the substantive criminal law is English Law-based while the adjective law is Roman-Dutch Law. Capital punishment still exists, but the High Court has the discretion to pass, or not to pass, the death sentence depending on the circumstances of the case. The President has the prerogative of mercy.
In the application of the law, the Constitution, which enshrines all the protection of life, liberty and property, is strictly followed. The courts, whose independence is guaranteed by the Constitution, are guided by the principle found in the Setswana phrase, "ga re lebe motho, re leba molato" which means that “the law is applied without taking into account the status of the person being tried”.
The government has established the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, an operationally independent Department, to prevent and investigate suspected cases of corruption and economic crime, to educate the public against the evils of corruption, and also to seek their support in the fight against corrupt practices. As a further measure to prevent mal-administration in the affairs of Government, the Office of the Ombudsman has been established to investigate any improper conduct by persons performing a public function and, where necessary, recommend remedial action.
In terms of the world corruption rankings, done by the Berlin-based Transparency International, in 2009, Botswana was ranked the least corrupt country in Sub-Saharan Africa.