The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network Statement on Botswana Elections

25 October 2019: Gaborone and Johannesburg

Botswana Elections Peaceful but Reforms Needed to Prevent Tension on Civic Space

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (the SAHRDN or the Network) observed the 23 October 2019 General Elections in Botswana. In addition to general observations around the integrity of Botswana’s electoral process, the SAHRDN also sought to assess the impact of increased electoral competition in Botswana on civic space and human rights defenders (HRDs). While elections in most African settings usually trigger pressure on civic space and attacks on HRDs and perceived opponents, Botswana has so far been adjudged by many as a beacon of just conduct and respect for human rights. However, this good record has also in part been a result of limited electoral competition with the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) having no serious electoral challengers since 1966, something which changed given the challenge forwarded by the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in 2019. With a mandate to focus more on the situation of HRDs and civic space for independent civil society organizations, the SAHRDN observed the following:

  1. No serious human rights violations taking place in the current electoral cycle.
  2. The election was conducted in peace with political competition being democratic and collegial.

Despite the above positive observations, it is the opinion of the SAHRDN that Botswana’s electoral architecture needs to be aligned with international good practices and regional principles and guidelines governing conduct of democratic elections. Botswana is yet to sign the African Union Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, and signing onto to this Charter and abiding by its dictates would be a good start at alignment. The Network noted several gaps that have the potential of creating tension and shrinking democratic and civic space in Botswana. These include:

  1. The absence of robust dispute resolution mechanisms: The electoral architecture in Botswana lacks a comprehensive dispute resolution mechanism geared to swiftly respond to a disputed election.
  2. The absence of translucent ballot boxes: Botswana still uses opaque ballot boxes to carry and contain votes which practice has been discarded in many places on account of allegations of ballot box stuffing.
  3. Moving ballot papers from polling stations to counting centres create risk of ballot stuffing: Ballots are not counted at the polling stations and this exposes the process to the vulnerability of ballot stuffing, and the movement of ballot papers makes the process cumbersome, and delays announcement of results.
  4. Missing names and duplicates in the Voter Registry: The voters roll needs constant updating and cleaning as some voters couldn’t find their names and some names were duplicated.
  5. Lack of robust citizen and civil society election observation groups: Botswana lacks strong and organized domestic election monitoring and/or observation groups.
  6. The absence of indelible ink as part of voter verification process. In addition to that mechanisms or tools aimed at avoiding double voting, indelible ink is usually a key enabler in eliminating multiple voting especially if the levels of silver nitrate are correct.
  7. The Independent Electoral Commission of Botswana is not empowered at law to conduct voter education.

The SAHRDN believes that all these issues are early warning signs that Botswana needs to adapt and reform its electoral processes in order to anticipate and eliminate problem areas as Botswana’s multi-party democracy entrenches itself with the challenges associated with highly contested elections.

For more information please contact Washington Katema wkatema or Thulani Maseko

[email protected] or Arnold Tsunga on arnold.tsunga(ö or