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Botswana is landlocked in southern Africa and its terrain is dominated by the Kalahari desert. Africa’s longest continuous multi-party democracy, the State is among the continent’s most politically stable. Botswana has been widely criticised for its retention of the death penalty for adults and the legality of life imprisonment and flogging as criminal sentences for children.


Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. Bordered by South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and, over a span of only a few hundred meters, Zambia, about 70% of Botswana is covered by the Kalahari desert. The capital and largest city of Botswana is Gaborone.

Population and Language

Home to just over two million people with a total area of more than 500,000 square kilometers, Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated countries on Earth.[1] The largest ethnic group is the Tswana, from whom the countries name is derived and who make up about 79% of the population. Other major groups include the Bakalanga and the Basarwa (sometimes known as Bushmen). The latter, while only making up about 10,000 of Botswana’s population have been of significant international interest, both for their hunter gatherer lifestyle and for the tensions with the central government over their traditional lands.

Though the official language is English, Setswana - literally, the language of the Tswana - is also widely spoken across the country, in addition to other ethnic or local languages such as Sekalanga and Sesarwa.

History and politics

Settled by the numerous groups, including the Tswana people as part of the Bantu expansion, Botswana came under British control in 1885 after local leaders appealed to the British government for assistance in resolving inter-tribal tensions. Administered directly as a British Protectorate, Botswana managed to avoid integration into the Union of South Africa in 1910. While still maintaining control, the British administration developed local consultative and advisory bodies over the next few decades and eventually accepted proposals for full independence in 1964.

The first president of independent Botswana was Seretse Khama, a member of the Bamangwato people’s royal family. His marriage in 1948 to an English woman, Ruth Williams, had sparked a minor international crisis as the apartheid government in South Africa worked through the British authorities and conservative elements in Botswana to bar him from his hereditary titles and keep him in exile in the UK for several years. On being allowed to return to Botswana, after renouncing his claim to leadership, he eventually came to the fore as a member of the independence movement and head of the nationalist BDP party. After independence was achieved, he was elected president and oversaw Botswana’s remarkable economic growth until his death in office in 1980.

Botswana operates as a parliamentary representative democracy and a republic with the president as both head of government and head of state. The National Assembly is elected every five years and in turn elects the president. In addition to the National Assembly, Botswana also has an advisory council of traditional community leader in the House of Chiefs, who offer opinions on any bill going through the National Assembly.

Though a multi party democracy, in practice national politics have been dominated by the BDP since independence, winning every election. Elections themselves have been free and fair since independence.

While appointed by the presidency, the judiciary is generally considered to be strongly independent, ranking 25 out of 142 in Global Rankings.[2] While the the legal system is largely based on the British system, it also incorporates elements of traditional systems, including the right to appeal to chiefs under certain circumstances.


Since independence, Botswana’s economic growth has been very rapid indeed - one of the great success stories of the African continent. A significant part of this can be traced to the significant diamond, copper and nickel mining and export operations in activity. The economy is primarily weighted towards industry and services rather than agriculture and the indicators of economic freedom, such as low corruption and strong property rights, are generally considered to be good. Botswana’s GDP per capita in 2007 was estimated to be around $14,300 - a massive increase on the $70 per capita four decades earlier at independence. Part of this is due to Botswana’s mineral wealth, but it is also often seen as a result of the exceptionally low levels of corruption - widely perceived, in fact, to be the lowest on the African continent.[3] Despite this, though, poverty does persist and there are concerns about rising unemployment.[4]

Media and Civil Society

Botswana has a relatively free society, with less of the authoritarian elements found in some of its neighbouring countries. In terms of press freedom, Botswana is ranked (as of 2012) 42nd worldwide by reporters without borders - higher than most other sub-Saharan African countries, including neighbouring South Africa.[5] While there are a number of NGOs working in the country, many of them are primarily working on development, health or education rather than rights related issues.

Child Rights and Human Rights

Botswana has a generally good human rights record, but concerns do persist on certain issues. Infamously, Botswana persists issuing sentences of death and in carrying out execution moving against both the global and continental trends towards abolition of the practice. In 2012, Botswana executed two people and issued five more death sentences.[6] Corporal punishment also persists - both as a sentence for all offences and as a non-proscribed practice in schools, care institutions and the home, despite constitutional guarantees of protection from torture and inhuman treatment. Up to six strokes of the cane can be issued as a sentence for boys below the age of 18.[7]

Botswana has the second highest rate of HIV prevalence for 15-49 year olds in the world - 24.8% as of 2009. There are estimated to be about 300,000 people living with HIV in the country - a huge proportion given its low population. While Botswana has made great progress in providing access to treatment for those affected, it has struggled to control transmission. As a result, Botswana is encountering numerous issues around supporting children who have lost family members to AIDS and maintaining the provision of key services. National life expectancy was massively suppressed during the period between 2000 and 2005 by the impact of the epidemic - though it is now recovering, it is still more than ten years below its high point of 65 in 1990-1995.[8]

In terms of education, the government has been accused of favouring Tswana history, language and culture, to the exclusion of other groups. [9]



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