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September 30, 2016

#PartyPolitics: Botswana

It is 50 years since Botswana attained independence from British rule. Over the decades, the landlocked country has been regarded as a role model for success in Africa. It has achieved political stability, democratic governance and remarkable economic growth. Elected governments – all led by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) – have ruled Botswana since it gained independence from Britain in 1966.[1]

Vice President Festus Mogae rose to the presidency when long-time President, Ketumile Masire retired in 1998. Mogae was confirmed as the country’s leader after the BDP easily won legislative elections in 1999. The BDP took 44 of the 57 contested seats in the 2004 elections, securing a second presidential term for Mogae.[2] In 2008 Mogae stepped down allowing Vice President Ian Khama who became president. The country’s economy is heavily reliant on diamond mining; calls have been mounting over the years for government to diversify the economy due to the impact of reduced diamond revenues; projected to decline starting in 2017.[3]

Party politics in Botswana is characterised by a dominant one party system.[4] The ‘first-past the post’ electoral system has in a way contributed to this scenario as it favours widespread electoral support; often more accessible for larger more established parties. The 2009 General Elections in Botswana produced unprecedented results as it was the first time an independent candidate won a parliamentary seat, as well as numerous opposition council candidates were successful. [5]

There are no legal political hindrances to party activities in Botswana. The main challenges to opposition party activity and participation is poor organisation and limited resources.[6] On the contrary the ruling party has enjoyed unmatched support from the private sector. Most private sector companies in Botswana have been sustained through government investments and support which has led them to support the BDP. The ruling party refuses to listen to calls for public funding of political parties.

In the 2009 general elections, opposition parties won a record number of seats in the Botswana parliament – the first since the 1966 elections.[7] This resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). The opposition coalition comprised the Botswana National Front (BNF), the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and the Botswana People’s Party (BPP).

With this development came the prospect of the decline of the BDP electoral dominance as evidenced by the past electoral results trend. Ian Khama has been accused of being an authoritarian figure with a particular antipathy towards journalists.[8] Currently the country is experiencing slow economic growth due to its heavy reliance on diamond. Recently the global demand for minerals and metals has fallen which has had detrimental effects on the economy. [9]

Critics of the government have accused the BDP of being authoritarian due to its centralization of policy making to its leadership which excludes participation of opposition parties. Hence calls by the opposition for transformation, greater governance accountability and inclusivity is increasing.

Political Parties in Botswana:

Table 1[10]:

Political Party Political leader
  • Botswana Democratic Party.


Ian Khama
  • Umbrella for Democratic Change (BMD.BNF.BPP)
Duma Boko
  • Botswana Congress Party.


Dumelang Saleshando


[1] Freedom House. 2012. Freedom in the World: Botswana. Available at: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2012/botswana. [Accessed: 28 September 2016].

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hanson, S. 2008. Botswana: An African Success Story Shows Strains. Council on Foreign Relations. Available at:

http://www.cfr.org/botswana/botswana-african-success-story-shows-strains/p15108. [Accessed: 28 September 2016].

[4] Motswaledi, G. 2014. Democracy and Opposition Party Politics in Botswana, Sunday Standard. Available at: http://www.sundaystandard.info/democracy-and-opposition-party-politics-botswana. [Accessed: 28 September 2016].

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lotshwao, K. 2011. The weakness of opposition parties in Botswana: A justification for more internal-party democracy in the dominant Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). African Journal of Political Science and International Relations, 5(2): 103-111. Available at: http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/AJPSIR/article-full-text-pdf/5FDD08440524. [Accessed: 28 September 2016].

[7] n.6

[8] Smith, D. 2014. Ian Khama: An officer, a gentleman, a dictator? Available at:

http://mg.co.za/article/2014-10-23-ian-khama-an-officer-a-gentleman-a-dictator. [Accessed: 28 September].

[9] The World Bank. 2014. Overview: Botswana. Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/botswana/overview. [Accessed: 28 September 2016].

[10] n.6