No Good Governance in Southern Africa?

October 28, 2009

Even though The Mo Ibrahim Foundation decided no former African leader merited its $5 million prize this year; when it ranked African nations on good governance, five of the top 10 were countries monitored by Amnesty International USA’s Southern Africa Co-group: Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Sao Tome y Principe and Lesotho. Zimbabwe was in the bottom five. (I know: shocking.)

Botswana, which you might only be familiar with through The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, is often hailed as a shining light of democracy in Africa. Last week, Batswanans went to the polls and elected Ian Khama to a new 5 year term as president. Khama assumed the presidency last year when then President Festus Mogae  stepped aside for his then-Vice President in order to allow him to run as an incumbent this year. Talk about your smooth transitions of power, right? Except this is the second time this has happened and also ensures that the same ruling party remain in power for the past 43 years.

So is Botswana a shining light of democracy? Well, the elections last week were deemed free and fair, the press is considered free even though its dominated by state run media, political parties are allowed to operate without intimidation but have difficulties campaigning on a level playing field because of the media control, human rights are generally recognized even though a recent report accuses the government of dispossessing the few remaining San still living in the Kalahari of their land so the government can access diamonds, the AIDS rate is the 2nd highest in the world so the government clearly isn’t doing all that hot of a job on education or other methods to reduce transmissions, and marginalized groups (women, LGBT, disabled) struggle for recognition of their rights.

Where Botswana excels, however, is its voice in the region. Former President Mogae and now Khama have not flinched from calling out Mugabe’s behavior in Zimbabwe or supporting the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudan’s Bashir. Neither of these are popular views in the Southern Africa Development Community and the African Union. Clearly Botswana has areas in need of improvement, but then so does every other nation. (Can we say Gitmo?) But all in all, I would say Botswana is a flickering light of democracy that gets it mostly right within its own borders and isn’t afraid to demand that its neighbor’s work harder on getting it right as well. I also have to give a shout out that their Parliament just elected its first female speaker. Watch out Pelosi-someone else is ready to rock that red power suit!