Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Botswana: Put House in Order First

Botswana: Put house in order first

By Himuvi Mbingeneeko

BOTSWANA a progressive nation? Think again. The 2008 World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators report places Botswana among the few countries that show significant progress in governance issues. Botswana is regarded as an example to its fellow African countries when it comes to fighting corruption and maintaining political and economic stability.

Of late Botswana has become a vocal critic of the conflict in Zimbabwe.

It went as far as suggesting the removal of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Botswana’s Foreign Affairs Minister recently said his country is prepared to host a democratic resistance movement led by the opposition to topple President Mugabe from power. Such utterances have been condemned by Zimbabwean authorities labelling them as provocative and absurd. But while Botswana is trying to display its moral credentials to the region and the world at large, its own record at home is not that pleasant. This article raises the issues that taint Botswana’s good standing as a progressive nation and thus making its criticism of Zimbabwe pure nuisance.

Rich but poor

Since independence, Botswana has experienced one of the fastest growth rates in per capita income in the world. Transforming itself, in the process, from a poor country with a per capita of US$80 to a per capita of US$6 000. This makes Botswana one of the African countries with the highest average personal incomes on the continent.

Moreover, Botswana’s economic growth averaged 9 percent per year from 1967 to 2006 and towards the end of last year its foreign exchange reserves stood at US$10,2 billion.

However, despite these impressive achievements Botswana’s population is generally poor. Unemployment is close to 40 percent.

There is one doctor for each 5 150 people. Botswana’s life expectancy at birth was 64 years in 1990 and in 2005 it fell to 39 years and is estimated to fall further to 31 years in the year 2015. Ironically, during the same period and for the same indicator Zimbabwe’s statistics are 59 years (1990), 33 years (2005) and 31 years in the year 2015.

The Plight of Indigenous People

In 2006, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights together with the leading human rights group in Botswana, DITSHWANELO supported the view of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that the Botswana government is not doing enough to contain discrimination directed towards indigenous people, certain ethnic groups, non-citizens, asylum seekers and refugees in Botswana.

The UN Committee recommended then that the authorities should "review the constitutional definition of discrimination as it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on descent, national or ethnic origin and indirect discrimination. Furthermore, it asks for a review of the exceptions to the prohibition of discrimination in relation to non-citizens and on the basis of ethnic origin or tribe."

In September this year, the National broadcaster Btv, which is heavily controlled by the government, was criticised by a multicultural advocacy group called RETENG for introducing only a Setswana language news bulletin and leaving out other local indigenous languages during a programming shake-up at the broadcaster. The advocacy group expressed grief over government’s reluctance to listen to those who promote indigenous languages.

The country’s Chieftainship Act and the Tribal Territories Act are said to have recognised only the Tswana-speaking tribes. The non-recognition of some tribes, leads to non-representation in the House of Chiefs, resulting in such tribes being disadvantaged when it comes to land allocation.

In 2005, professor Kenneth Good who is Australian by birth but lived in Botswana for about 20 years, was declared a persona non grata by the then President Festus Mogae after the professor criticised the manner in which the presidential transitions in that country are handled. The professor’s criticism was contained in an academic paper entitled "Presidential Succession in Botswana: No Model for Africa". He referred to Botswana’s democracy as "unhealthy" and with "severe restrictions and limitations upon it".

In that paper, Professor Good argued that Botswana’s presidential succession is dominated by a handful privileged clique and that presidential decisions are unquestionable.

The deportation of Professor Good attracted the attention of the International Press Institute, which condemned the deportation in a letter to the government.

In that letter the IPI reasoned that the court insistence that the president has the prerogative to give or not give reason why he declared professor Good an undesired immigrant could only be interpreted as the application of Section 93 of the Penal Code which regards the insulting of a president or a member of the National Assembly as an offence.

In the same letter, the IPI reiterated its call for the worldwide repeal of Section 93 of the Penal Code as it in their views gives room to governments to crack down on their critics.

In August this year, a deputy minister in President Khama’s cabinet was reported to having called for the amendment of the Constitution to allow a presidential third term for the incumbent. Despite being regarded as one of the wealthiest nations on the African continent, the deputy minister argued that Botswana is a poor country that could not be able to maintain three former presidents, thus the need to prolong President Khama’s term of office from 2018 to 2023.

In jest, now that former president Festus Mogae is the recipient of the Mo Ibrahim Prize which consists of US$5 million over 10 years and US$200 000 annually for life afterwards and also a possible additional US$200 000 per year for 10 years towards charity work. The deputy minister should perhaps ask ex-president Mogae to consider declining the government allowance. However, seriously talking, the deputy minister’s undesirable wish has the potential to ruin Botswana’s revered political stability and respect for the rule of law and thus should be avoided in the future.

Evicting the San People

The United Nations human rights agency UNHCHR has in the past criticised Botswana’s treatment of its minority citizens, especially the indigenous San people. The UNHCHR were not happy with the removal of the San people from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve by the Government.

In 2002, the San people took the Botswana government to court to oppose the forceful removal from the CKGR. However, the San people’s quest for justice has been marred by bad tactics employed by government in order to frustrate them.

First, the authorities in Botswana barred the San people from stating their case before the UNHCHR’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination during that committee's session in Geneva in 2006.

The passports of the representatives of the San people from their organisation called First People of the Kalahari were confiscated, making it impossible for them to travel to Geneva.

Secondly, a few months before the court ruling on the issue of the relocation of the San people from the CKGR, a senior official from the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology, instructed the state media to refrain from covering news items that were seen as criticising the government position regarding the San eviction from the CKGR.

The same official reminded the state media practitioners to carry the interests of the state above anything else in their reporting. He accused the private media of being unpatriotic in their reporting.

Thirdly, in 2006, the Court ruled that the eviction order was illegal and ordered government to permit the San people return to their land. But the government has blatantly refused to uphold that court ruling and instead decided to apply it selectively.

For instance, the San people could only return to the CKGR on condition that they acquire special hunting licenses and that they should not expect government to provide them with water for human consumption.

According to the HRC and the US State Department, such conditions were viewed as deliberate attempts by the Botswana government to discourage the evicted San communities from returning to the CKGR.

While government is said to be claiming that the Kalahari reserve could not maintain the San livelihoods, others are arguing that the government’s main motive is to displace the San people so that they make way for companies that wants to exploit the diamond-rich CKGR.

Mistreating of Zimbabweans

Botswana foreign minister Phandu Skelemani was recently quoted in the media as saying, "Anybody who comes to Botswana saying that they fear for their life, from their own country, we will not chase them away".

But this goodwill by the minister does not reflect the situation on the ground considering that in 2004 about 72 112 Zimbabweans were deported from Botswana and 38 000 in 2006. While Botswana is happily benefiting from Zimbabwe’s demise by employing qualified Zimbabweans in its public and private sector, it is on the other hand chasing back those who are regarded as illegal immigrants. In most cases illegal immigrants are those who are uneducated and thus regarded as a burden.

The treatment of Zimbabweans immigrants in Botswana has at times raised tensions between the two neighbouring countries. With

Botswana arguing that flogging is the method of punishment preferred by Zimbabweans found guilty of committing a crime. But

Zimbabwean authorities have condemned such antique form of retribution. They claim that Zimbabweans are coerced into accepting corporal punishment over being arrested since once arrested they are beaten and their money and belongings are impounded before being deported to Zimbabwe.

In conclusion, Botswana seems to lack any commitment to address all these concerns as raised by various stakeholders. And it is only proper that if it wants its opposition to the Mugabe regime to be taken seriously, that it handles its own domestic mess with the same vigour and arrogance.

-This article was first published on the website of Namibia’s New Era newspaper.

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