- Large majorities of Batswana say they feel “completely free” to say what they think (60%), join political organizations of their choice (81%), and cast their votes without pressure (89%). But perceptions of free expression and assembly have weakened over the past decade.
- A majority of citizens say that even if faced with threats to public security, people should be free to move about the country at will (52%) and to keep their personal communications private (64%). But substantial proportions of the population would give the government the right to restrict movement (46%) and monitor personal communication (33%) to protect public safety.
- A majority of Batswana say the news media should serve as a watchdog on government (72%) and should be free to operate without government interference (63%).
As Davis and Silver (2004) pointed out in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States, civil liberties ordinarily taken for granted in a democracy may be called into question when extraordinary events place them in conflict with other important values, such as security (see also Sniderman, Fletcher, Russell, & Tetlock, 1996). In a more recent example, citizens in several democracies have been contending with government restrictions on free movement and assembly prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Botswana, sub-Saharan Africa’s longest-running multiparty democracy, has so far been spared such stress tests of its commitment to democratic ideals. But popular satisfaction with the way democracy is working has been declining steadily over the past decade, from 83% in 2008 to 57% in 2019. And media freedom was widely considered under attack during the Ian Khama presidency (2008-2018). Citing arrests of investigative journalists and a large-scale cyber-attack on a news website, the World Press Freedom Index demoted Botswana by eight places between 2013 and 2018 before moving it back up four spots to No. 44 in 2019, third in Africa after Ghana and South Africa (Reporters Without Borders, 2019).
How do Batswana see their civil liberties? And how willing would they be to relinquish certain freedoms if their security were under threat?
According to the latest Afrobarometer survey, most Batswana feel free to speak, act, and vote, even though the proportions who say they are free to say what they think and join any political organization of their choice have declined over the past decade.
Most also see their news media as at least “somewhat” free, and support the media’s role as a watchdog on government.
Batswana are more divided when it comes to possible trade-offs between civil liberties and security, with substantial proportions endorsing restrictions on free movement and religious speech to protect public safety.