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Key findings
  • Most Batswana (78%) see their country as a democracy, but satisfaction with the way their democracy is working has declined by 24 percentage points over the past decade, from 83% in 2008 to 59%.
  • Even so, popular support for democracy and rejection of non-democratic alternatives remain high, at eight in 10 (80%) or more.
  • But perceptions of freedom of speech are declining: Over the past decade, the share of Batswana who feel “somewhat free” or “completely free” to say what they think has dropped by 20 percentage points, to 73%. And the proportion of Batswana who say that people “often” or “always” have to be careful about what they say about politics has grown to 49%.
  • Still, majorities say that compared to “a few years ago,” Batswana now enjoy more freedom to join political organizations (70%) and to speak out as part of the political opposition (61%).
  • Popular support for multiparty competition has increased, from 62% in 2012 to 75%, and more than eight in 10 Batswana (84%) say such competition “rarely” or “never” leads to violent conflict.

Botswana has long been considered a leader in democratic practice, ranking among Africa’s best performers with regard to good governance, the rule of law, and respect for civil liberties. But in recent years, the same experts who have given the country high marks have also downgraded Botswana’s freedom status in response to a series of attacks on media and arrests of journalists (Freedom House, 2016), placed it among high-scoring but “deteriorating” countries in terms of good governance (Mo Ibrahim, 2016), and criticized former President Ian Khama’s “reliance on edicts and decision by caprice” (Good, 2009, p. 320).

While scholars credit the country with conducting regular and free elections within a multiparty system, they also note that a single party has dominated electoral competition since independence (Kebonang & Kaboyakgosi, 2017; Taylor, 2003; Good & Taylor, 2007).

Findings from the most recent Afrobarometer survey in Botswana suggest that some citizens, too, are troubled by developments in their democracy over the past decade. While Batswana still strongly endorse democracy and multiparty competition, they are significantly less likely to express satisfaction with the way their democracy is working and feel less free to say what they think.

Thomas Isbell

Post-doctoral research fellow and research assistant at Afrobarometer

Batlang Seabo

Batlang is a research associate of the Btoswana national partner, Star Awards