At a roundtable discussion in Gaberone about democracy in Botswana, LGBTI activists questioned Botswana’s democratic credentials after the state’s refusal to register gay rights groups.
Uyapo Ndadi director of the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/Aids, BONELA said, “I’m not convinced by the presentations that this country is a democratic state.”
He added that his doubts about democracy in Botswana were fuelled by the fact that, “We have seen decisions made without consultation of the society or constituencies. We have seen groups such as LeGaBiBo being denied registration. Should we now say this is democracy?”
About 50 activists including members of the Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organisations, Bocongo, attended the dinner hosted by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, OSISA, at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC).
The dinner ran from 6pm to 9pm and included round-table discussions which were used as a platform for engaging with civil society, state officials and academics on a range of issues affecting Botswana in the run up to the nations 45th independence anniversary.
OSISA is a leading regional non-profit human rights advocacy foundation committed to deepening democracy and enhancing good governance in the region.
It is part of a global network of foundations that share a common mission of supporting the development of more open societies through a range of programmes in various areas including education, gender and women’s rights, economic justice, media, human rights, democracy building, language rights, information and communication technology, HIV and Aids, as well as social, legal and economic reform.
Bocongo is the national umbrella body for NGOs in Botswana and made a presentation on behalf of the civil society. Differing with the LBGTI activists to some extent, Bocongo’s executive secretary Mrs Bagaisi Mbilo said in her presentation, “Yes Botswana is a democratic state, historically but now we can only say once upon a time. Botswana in the late 1990s was seen as fast developing country due to the high sales of diamonds.”
However she added, “Bocongo acknowledges that there are gaps. Early this year the civil servants had a strike and they were exercising their rights but the government took that right away as some employees were fired.”
She then said, “Even though NGOs have been advocating for barrier methods for the gays and lesbians and the distribution of condoms in prisons, the state has turned a blind eye instead donating blankets to the poor.”
Mr Gape Kaboyakgosi a Research Fellow at Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis, BIDPA questioned whether pressure on the government was the right way to go. He asked, “Is this pressure or proper? Is this what Botswana needs? Yes, we tick all boxes to show that we are democratic state but are we?”
Kaboyakgosi added, “We have seen the same party ruling the country for 45years and looking back from the first president to the current president it’s like they are dancing a traditional song because they are passing the ball to each other.”
He added that “Civil society should not sit back and leave these issues to the opposition parties alone. When the civil servants were on strike we did not hear any voice of the NGOs.”
The round table discussion continues on September 22 and will the cover topics such as Botswana at 45years of independence: Challenges and prospects for democratic consolidation within this roundtable. Speakers will critically analyse Botswana`s success story and the emerging democratic challenges using country constitutional dispensation as its lens.
They will also examine socio-economic rights and economic governance focusing on the rich country with poor people the dichotomy and highlighting questions of equitable access to development and socio economic rights.
The final discussion will focus on inequalities and marginalization in Botswana today and will explore issues related to marginalization, inequalities and social exclusion in Botswana.