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Dispatch

AD230: Citizen engagement in Botswana: Beyond voting, how much interest in participation?

Batlang Seabo and Thomas Isbell 24 Aug 2018 Botswana
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Key findings
  • Two-thirds (67%) of Batswana say they voted in the most recent national election, 7 percentage points more than in 2014 and 13 points more than in 1999. Four in 10 (40%) say they attended a campaign rally, and 22% say they worked for a candidate or party.
  • But citizens’ interest in public affairs has been on a decline, dropping from 85% in 2003 to 67% in 2014.
  • And fewer Batswana are discussing politics with family and friends. The share who say they do so “occasionally” or “frequently” declined by 9 percentage points between 2014 and 2017, from 69% to 60%.
  • Seven in 10 Batswana (71%) say they attended at least one community meeting during the previous year, an increase of 7 percentage points from 2014.
  • But only one in three (33%) say they joined others to raise an issue, and even fewer say they contacted public officials or participated in a demonstration.

While Botswana is widely recognized for its unbroken series of successful elections stretching back to independence in 1966, analysts have long pointed to low levels of political participation and a weak civil society as barriers on its path toward a strong democracy (Democracy Research Project, 2002; Mpabanga, 2000; Holm, Molutsi, & Somolekae, 1996; Mfundisi, 2005).

More recent analysis has shown that while most Batswana see their country as a democracy, satisfaction with the way their democracy is working and perceived freedom of speech have declined steeply over the past decade (Isbell & Seabo, 2018).

If citizen engagement is one of the pillars of a strong democracy (Almond & Verba, 1963; Norris, 1999; Putnam, 2000; Dalton, 2013), findings of the latest Afrobarometer survey are a mixed bag for Botswana’s democratic prospects. While most Batswana say they vote in elections and attend community meetings, the proportion of citizens who express interest in public affairs and discuss politics are in decline, and only a minority contact public officials or get together with other citizens to raise an issue.

Batlang Seabo

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

Thomas Isbell

Post-doctoral research fellow and research assistant at Afrobarometer