The country’s constitution, contrary to the assertions made by the Office of the President- was indeed amended to allow a person to hold office as President or Vice of the Republic based on descent in 1987, as this was a seen as a matter of national interest and pride. When the constitution was promulgated in 1966, a person had to have been a citizen by birth to assume the position of President and Vice President.
The Botswana Gazette understands that the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu will in the near future table a bill in parliament which seeks to allow Batswana dual citizenship. Contrary to international trends to combat dual citizenship due to its abuse by terror organizations, this bill has in Botswana, been hailed as a “good bill”. Information reaching this publication is that there are plans to fast track the bill by some “political elites” within Government Enclave to ensure that “their descendants benefit from the urgent motion”.
The proposed urgent motion is scheduled to be heard notwithstanding the fact that the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) legislator for Francistown South Wynter Molotsi was expected to table a similar motion before parliament which requests government to allow dual citizenship. The UDC motion which was number 101on the Friday 22 July 2016 Order Paper is carried over from the last parliamentary session. Botswana Congress Party (BCP) Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keorapetse has also in the same order paper notified of his motion requesting government to permit multiple citizenship.
Currently, Botswana does not allow dual citizenship. The Citizenship Act provides that a person may hold dual citizenship until immediately prior to attaining 21 years of age. According to the Act, any person who is a citizen of Botswana and also a citizen of another country will, when they attain the age of 21 years, cease to be a citizen of Botswana unless such person has, immediately before the reaching 21 years- renounced the citizenship of that other country and taken the oath of allegiance.
The failure to comply with these requirements automatically means forfeiting Botswana citizenship.
The subject of Citizenship has caused considerable public debate over the last 22 years commencing with the Unity Dow Citizenship case. Government was compelled, as a result of the Court of Appeal judgment to promulgate the Citizenship Act. The Act, which has seen the steady rise in criticism, left many Batswana stranded and effectively “without citizenship” in 2011 when Batswana needed to change their Botswana passports into the e-passport.
The Immigration Department advised Batswana who despite being adults and having lived in Botswana all their lives, that they were citizens of other countries since one of their parents was a foreigner, and that they had to renounce the other country’s citizenship.
The current ministerial bill comes hardly five months after a debate in February on whether the constitution was amended specifically for President Ian Khama to qualify for the presidency after former National Speaker Dr Margaret Nasha said at a political rally that he was not qualified to be president as he is a motswana by descent. She said the constitution was amended for Seretse Khama’s children so they could also be presidents. Nasha said the previous constitution stated that only citizens who were born in Botswana should be president, but descent was included to cover Seretse Khama’s children who were born outside the country.
“That is why today Ian Khama is the president- had it not been for the amendment, someone (President Khama) would not have been a president- he is president by descent,” said Nasha who argued that she was more qualified than Khama as she is a Motswana both by birth and descent.
In a bid to rebut Nasha’s attack, the Office of the President issued a statement saying, “We find it particularly disturbing that a person of Margaret Nasha’s experience and past position should stoop so low as to attempt to mislead the presumably less informed with the false suggestion that this country’s Constitution was amended to allow the President to qualify for office,” read the statement in part, further saying, “ From the time of his birth the son of Sir Seretse Khama was known not only to his own morafe but, thanks to widespread international media coverage at the time, much of the world knew that he was a Motswana by descent. Mma Nasha should also be old enough to remember that on the 30th of September 1966 His Excellency, like the vast majority of others then in the country, became a citizen of the newly born Republic.
The Botswana Gazette however can reveal that the country’s constitution, contrary to the assertions made by the Office of the President- was indeed amended to allow a person to hold office as President or Vice of the Republic based on descent in 1987, as this was a seen as a matter of national interest and pride. When the constitution was promulgated in 1966, a person had to have been a citizen by birth to assume the position of President and Vice President. It is to this end that Subsection (1) of Section 33, which outlines the qualification for election as President reads thus, “A person shall be qualified for election as President if, and shall not be qualified unless, he (a) is a citizen of Botswana by birth or descent;” while section 38 (1) states, “There shall be a Vice-President who shall be appointed by the President from among the Elected Members of the National Assembly who are citizens of Botswana by birth or descent…”
The Citizenship Act says that “A person born outside Botswana shall be a citizen of Botswana by descent if, at the time of his birth , (a) his father was a citizen of Botswana.”
According to the Parliament Hasard of June 1987, presenting the Constitution (Amendment ) Bill in for the second reading to parliament at the time, then Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Ponatshego Kedikilwe said the decision to make a provision for the President and the Vice President to be citizens by birth or descent was insisted on by a multi-party seminar that was held in Francistown sometime in 1985. “ It has been considered that these positions are rather critical and should therefore not be held by person whose allegiance might be prejudiced by considerations of one’s origin,” Kedikilwe said at the time.
The minister, pointed that contrary to some belief’s, the provisions existed in other countries, which, like Botswana had a Bill of Rights provision enshrined in their Constitutions; “There is therefore nothing contradictory or unconditional about the proposed amendments,” he said, further explaining that those who wished to interpret the provisions as classifying citizens into first class or second class or any other descriptions, “are doing so for their own pleasure and political self aggrandizement.”
The records do not reveal for whose benefit the Botswana Democratic Party Members of Parliament had in mind when they voted in favour of the amendment. The benefit of hindsight makes it apparent that it was for the Khama family. The Hasard reflects Kedikilwe’s justification for the Constitutional amendment as being necessitated by matter of national interest and national pride in that Botswana needed such an amendment as a precaution to save the nation possible embarrassment of the President or Vice President migrating to their country of origin, “ The headlines in newspapers would read, Botswana has no President , he has returned to his country of origin.”
Concurring with Kedikilwe, then Chairperson of the Law Reform Committee David Magang said the amendment was welcomed by majority of the people during the consultative fora , “ In fact, they (public) said all the important political offices and certain high ranking positions in the country should be held by Batswana (birth).”
According to Magang, the reasons for amendment of the Constitution were necessitated by past experience, where some people who were granted Botswana citizenship later returned to their countries and would return their passports to the Ministry of Home Affairs saying, “Thank you for keeping me during the bad times.” He pointed out that schools and the university had lost teachers who were given positions based on the fact that they were granted citizenship but later returned to their native countries: “There is therefore, that possibility as the Minister has indicated that if we are not careful and if we are not serious about the protection of our own nation, we can find ourselves in that embarrassing position.”
From the parliamentary records, a confusion emanated as to what really qualified a person to be a Motswana by descent and what it meant for the individual, especially whether such a person could assume the presidency or vice presidency. In clarifying the issue, then Attorney General Moleleki Mokama explained that in the 1966 constitution, Section 21 provided that “Every person born in Botswana on or after the 30th September 1966 shall become a citizen of Botswana at the date of his birth…” unless under exceptions that the father possessed immunity from suit or legal process. “In 1982 we amended the Constitution. We took all the Chapter in the Constitution…I am talking from 1966 Stat Book, and in other words the original Constitution of Botswana… was amended to say the citizenship should not be a constitutional issue, we are going to pass the Citizenship Act, 1982, and that one simply took a straightforward view. It merely said, if one was born in Botswana, or is one born outside Botswana, it was irrelevant. The first question we ask is, who is your father? If your father is a citizen of Botswana, you become a citizen of Botswana by descent….” he maintained.
A division of the house was later called for in an emergency parliament seating that ran from the 14-18 September 1987 , as the Speaker had explained that the bill amends an entrenched provision of the constitution, which required two-thirds of the majority of the members of parliament. All the 29 Botswana Democratic Party Members of Parliament voted for the amendments, while 4 Botswana National Front Members of Parliament abstained from voting.
The current proposed amendment of the Citizenship Bill will appear to undermine the basis of Kedikilwe’s argument. History will however reveal who will benefit from this amendment.