Accountability in Botswana: What Does It Look Like?

More than any other crisis we have undergone, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of irregularities within our systems and institutions to the surface. This makes it an ideal opportunity to build transparent governance, writes THATOCHUMA

Known for its diplomatic stature and rare diamonds, Botswana is certainly more than just a country. It is also its people. But this largely conservative population finds itself at a crossroads due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is hurting the country’s economy and the pockets of the average Motswana. The peaceful stance has been disturbed by a turbulent state of affairs and many do not know where to begin in their pursuit of accountability in their governing and institutional structures. This makes one wonder, what does accountability in Botswana look like?

In the last two decades, a lack of political will to accommodate voices and structures that call for accountability has been evident. From the renowned Professor Kenneth Good’s deportation in 2005, which was rooted in his scrutiny of the inequality that plagued the country, condemnation of excessive concentration of power in the President, numerous
accounts of media arrests over the years and ill treatment of BaSarwa which was linked to
the discovery of diamonds, Botswana’s pragmatic democracy has been overshadowed by these and a deafening silence regarding accountability for them.

“How well any government functions hinges on how good citizens are at making their politicians accountable for their actions. Political control of public officials depends on two factors. First, free and regular elections allow citizens to discipline politicians – the credible threat of losing office in the next period compels policy makers to respond to
the voters’ interests. Second, and equally important, the degree of citizen information curbs the opportunities politicians may have to engage in political corruption and management,” highlights Adsera and Payne in “Are You Being Served.”

In Botswana, however, the threat of losing office has not compelled leadership to prioritise the needs of the public, particularly considering our reactive opposition parties and the absence of policies that enforce consequences in the absence of transparent
leadership. Botswana now finds itself entangled in a web of corruption scandals and missing monies that are not accounted for. According to the founder of the Botswana Centre for Public Integrity, Pusetso Morapedi, says accountability needs to start in
small structures of society, mainly the family. “The simplest definition of accountability is the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions,” she asserts. “In Botswana, it would be families continuously introspecting the foundation of their structures
and responsibilities, whether it is nuclear, blended or extended.

“This is how shared ethical norms come about and are formed. They would also need ways of ensuring those ethical values are implemented and we would need to rebuild the society from that perspective, such as asking if our values reflect the society we
want. When people are responsible, they contribute positively to their communities.

When you are answerable at that level, then practicing accountability at a national level becomes easier. Accountability in Botswana needs a multi-level approach. Institutions
must be allowed and enabled to do their job so that they can make people account. People no longer account because they are always hiding behind a CEO, or a minister and other people in power or influential positions. We must create the systems and institutions that can cultivate a culture of competency where those selected are qualified to ensure that
when problems arise, those liable can look at accountability as a responsibility, not
punishment. It boils down to how we use our systems and how we teach accountability
through them.”

In a society where issues such as rape are concealed in families and service delivery is a daily struggle, it is evident that we are indeed in a crisis that needs urgent action at both the family and the national levels.

The current outcry should be channeled at establishing ways through which the public can have ethical representation and accountability. As it stands, accountability is but a myth in Botswana and the state of affairs echoes this.

In his paper, “Rethinking Non-Accountability and Corruption in Botswana,” Professor Good states: “The root of the problem lies in the system preceding democracy through which a small number of chiefs accumulated wealth and power. Its autocratic and hierarchical characteristics were perpetuated by the leaders of Botswana’s modern democracy. The result was a weak civil society and an ineffective political opposition that has crumbled further over the years. Corruption has thrived in an environment with few checks on power.

However, the government’s impunity is finally being questioned by the media and the people.” More than any other crisis we have undergone, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of irregularities within our systems and institutions to the surface.

This makes it an ideal time to reflect and build a better Botswana that considers accountability as a principle that must be upheld at all levels of our interactions. It is time to build transparent governance.