Our Democracy

In March 1885. Botswana was declared a British Protectorate by Royal Decree. Extensive territories belonging to Botswana's southern chiefdoms were incorporated into the then British colony of South Africa under the name of British Bechuanaland. At first most Batswana chiefs except Khama III of the Ngwato who had asked for British protection in 1870, resisted and were suspicious of British protection.

During the colonial period various attempts were made to incorporate Botswana into Rhode's colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1895. and later into the Union of South Africa. The attempt by the Union of South Africa to annex Botswana was a more serious threat to the protectorate until self-government in 1965.

The 1908 Act of Union which created the Union of South Africa had a provision that the Union should grow by incorporating other territories like Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. The British were willing to hand over these territories now that the situation had changed from what it was in 1885.

However, the provision for incorporation stated that this could only be done with the consent of the peoples of the then High Commission Territories i.e. Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. Many South African Prime Ministers, from Hertzog to Verwoerd agitated for incorporation. Even on the eve of independence European settler communities in Tati, Tuli Block and Ghanzi asked to be ceded to South Africa. Botswana chiefs and later the nationalist leaders vehemently opposed the idea of incorporation.

There is enough historical evidence dating back to the introduction of the Bechuanaland Border Police between 1890 and 1891 that Batswana were dissatisfied with British protection.

Batswana Chiefs had always wanted to protect their power from the colonial government even though the logic of colonial rule dictated that they should rule according to the whims and wishes of the British government. This conflict was in many respects the root of the struggle for independence. As more and more proclamations were made curtailing the powers of chiefs, they in turn became very outspoken in asserting their birthright to rule their tribes and manage their affairs. In 1930, chiefs began demands for not only national symbols like flags but also self-government. The matter became a subject of hot debates in the chambers of the African Advisory Council. The British government rejected demands for self-government claiming that the Protectorate was not yet ready for independence. In a heated debate on the issue Kgosi Bathoen II asked the Resident Commissioner, "who will say the time is now ripe and who is it that will determine that we are now capable of ruling this country?"

Signs of contemporary nationalism in Botswana go beyond politics. The formation of independent churches and schools in the 1940s was an articulate demand for a new political and social system tailored according to the needs of Batswana.

Fortunately by 1955 the "winds of change" were blowing at gale proportions in Africa and it became apparent that Britain would concede to demands for national independence. In 1961 a new constitution provided for an advisory executive Council, a representative Legislative Council and an Advisory African Council. A judiciary with a High Court comprising of Chief Justice and Puisne Judge was established.

The High Commissioner and Resident Commissioner were required to consult the Executive Council although they were not bound by the Council's decisions. Laws were made by the High Commissioner acting on the advice and consent of the Legislative Council. The Resident Commissioner however reserved the right to enact or enforce any Bill or motion not passed by the Legislative Council if he considered it necessary in the interests of public order, public faith or good government. The African Council was to act as an electoral college, electing local candidates to the Legislative Council and advising the Resident Commissioner on matters affecting the tribes of Botswana.

There was however considerable disappointment about the 1961 constitution. Of the 34 members of the Legislative Council only 10 were Batswana and another 10 elected members of the European community. It was surprising that Europeans, comprising less than 1 per cent of the population should be represented on an equal basis with the 99 per cent African majority.

Political Parties
The first political party in Botswana was short-lived and limited in scope as it was - the Federal Party founded by one of Botswana's truly outstanding literary figures - poet cum playwright Leetile Disang Raditladi. But the first modern nationalist parties emerged in the early 1960's. As a result of the disappointment with the Legislative Council, the Bechuanaland Peoples Party (BPP) under the leadership of Dr Kgalemang Motsete - an accomplished music composer and educationist - was the first mass party to agitate for full independence not later than 1964.

Former treason trialist (under the Union of South Africa Terrorism Act) Mr. Motsamai Mpho was the secretary general. Internal dissention on the eve of the first national elections in 1965 resulted in a split and the birth of a new party - the Bechuanaland Independence Party under the leadership of Mr. Motsamai Mpho. Dr Motsete attempted to retain a small group of the BPP's old guard but lost power to Mr. Matante.

The Bechuanaland Democratic Party was next to be formed under the leadership of Mr Seretse Khama (later Sir Seretse) who 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 Masire (Botswana's second President) The party enjoyed widespread support and was popular with Batswana and also enjoyed the support of the chiefs, the moderate, the wealthy and the educated. The Botswana National Front was formed in 1967, led by Dr Kenneth Koma - a widely read socialist intellectual. The BNF wasthe official opposition party.

As of July 1998, 13 political parties have been registered:

  • Botswana Congress Party
  • Botswana Democratic Party
  • Botswana Labour Party
  • Botswana National Front
  • Botswana Peoples Party
  • Botswana Progressive Union
  • Botswana Workers Front
  • Independence Freedom Party
  • Mels Movement of Botswana
  • Social Democratic Party
  • United Action Party
  • United Democratic Front
  • United Socialist Party

Self government
During l963, and 1964, a series of constitutional discussions took place to determine proposals for internal self government based on universal adult suffrage and a ministerial form of government. Early in 1964 the first census was conducted as a basis for delimitation of constituencies. By the end of the year voters had been registered in all the 31 constituencies the country had been divided into. In February 1965, the transfer of the country's capital from Mafeking, South Africa to Gaborone in Botswana commenced.

The first general elections were held in March 1965 and the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (now Botswana Democratic Party) won in a landslide victory, taking 28 of the 31 contested seats. The BPP (then Bechuanaland Peoples Party) won three seats. Neither Dr. Motsete's BPP (which has since become defunct) nor Mr Mpho's BIP secured a single seat. The BIP however won a single seat in 1966 and lost it in the 1979 General elections.

On September 30, 1966 the country became the independent Republic of Botswana with Sir Seretse Khama its first President.

The constitution Botswana adopted on September 30, 1966, provides for a republican form of government headed by the President, with three main organs of government, namely; the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The legislature, which comprises the National Assembly and the President, acting in consultation on tribal matters, with the House of Chiefs, is the supreme authority in the Republic.

The executive branch consists of the cabinet headed by the President, which is responsible for initiating and directing national policy; the control of government ministries and departments, which are under ministers and are staffed by civil servants who implement government policy, and parastatal corporations which provide certain national services. The judiciary administers and interprets the law of the land and is independent of both the executive and legislative.

State president
The President is the personification of the State. In law, the President is head of the executive, commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the Republic, and the President is also an integral part of the legislature. The President has the power to dissolve Parliament, select or dismiss the Vice President, ministers and assistant ministers, and has the prerogative of mercy. In international affairs, the President as the Head of State has the power to declare war and sign peace treaties and to recognise foreign states and governments.

The President normally acts on the advice of the Cabinet of Ministers, which is selected by him from Members of Parliament. There are 10 ministers and three assistant Ministers who run ministries and departments of government. Cabinet Ministers, as Members of Parliament, participate in Parliamentary debates but are normally bound by the ethic of collective responsibility. Ministers are also responsible to the National Assembly but the President may appoint or dismiss ministers without consulting the National Assembly or Cabinet.

Cabinet Office
The Cabinet Office, headed by the Secretary to the Cabinet, under the direction of the President, comprises the Cabinet Secretariat the Cabinet Business Committee and the Cabinet Economic Committee. The Cabinet Secretariat serves Ministers collectively in the conduct of Cabinet business. It operates as an instrument in the coordination of policy at the highest level of Government. Its functions include circulating memoranda and other documents required by Cabinet, preparing agenda for Cabinet meetings, recording discussions taken and safeguarding the security of Cabinet documents.

The supreme legislative authority in Botswana is 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 anytime. Normally the President addresses the National Assembly at the opening of a new Parliament every five years, or whenever there is an important national issue, and at the end of the life of Parliament when he dissolves it to call a General Election which leads to a new Parliament.

The main functions of Parliament are (a) to pass laws regulating the life of the nation and (b) to scrutinise government policy and administration and to monitor government expenditure.

The National Assembly
The National Assembly is a representative body elected by universal adult suffrage and consists of men and women from all sections of society. There are 40 seats in the National Assembly (32 of them contested, four for specially elected members, two for the Attorney-General and the Speaker, and the other two recently created.)

General Elections are held after a Parliament has been dissolved and a new one summoned by the President. If a vacancy occurs in the Assembly by reason of death or disqualification of a member, or a result of such other circumstances as may be prescribed by the Constitution or any Law or the Standing Orders of the Assembly, a by-election takes place.

Electoral System
For electoral purposes, Botswana is divided into constituencies, each of which returns one member to the National Assembly. To ensure suitable representation, the Judicial Service Commission is required at intervals of not less than five years and not more than ten years to appoint a Delimitation Commission to determine whether any alteration to existing constituency boundaries is necessary.

Anyone, man or woman, who is entitled to vote and has reached the age of 18 can stand for election - provided the individual is not disqualified by reason of having been certified insane or unsound mind, does not have a death sentence imposed on him, or has not been declared insolvent in any part of the Commonwealth, or being under a sentence of imprisonment exceeding six months.

The House of Chiefs
The House of Chiefs consists of eight ex-officio members, four elected and three specially elected members. The ex-officio members are the substantive holders of the office of Chief of the Barolong, Bangwato, Balete, Batlokwa, Bakwena, Bakgatla, Bangwaketse and Batawana.

The elected members are persons elected from among their own number by persons holding office of Sub-Chief in the Chobe, Francistown, Ghanzi and Kgalagadi districts. Specially elected members are elected by the ex-officio and elected members of the House among people who have not been actively engaged in politics in the preceding five years.

The ex-officio members remain members of the House of Chiefs for as long as they continue to perform their chiefly functions. Membership of elected and specially elected members is renewed every five years following the dissolution of Parliament, which comes after every five years, while that of ex-officio members is more or less permanent in the House.

There is no definite schedule of the meetings of the House of Chiefs, the time and place of convening being determined by the Chairman of the House. The House of Chiefs, however sits whenever the Government or the National Assembly has referred a bill to it or whenever it has important business to transact, or at least once a year.