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Securing recognition of minorities and marginalised people and their rights in Botswana

Duration: October 2015 – October 2018

Country: Botswana

Communities: Babirwa, Bakgalahari, Basubiya, Batswapong, Wayeyi

What was this programme about?

This programme focused on strengthening the capacity of members of five non-Tswana tribes, their representatives and civil society partners with them to understand, protect and advocate effectively for the full recognition of their rights. This programme had the overall objective of reducing discrimination against and lack of recognition of members of minority tribes in Botswana.

Why did we deliver this programme?

Botswana is home to eight Tswana tribes and around 37 non-Tswana tribes. Since independence in 1966, the government of Botswana has sought to emphasise the homogeneity of Botswana and pursued what it calls a policy of racial neutrality, downplaying the importance of ethnicity as reflected, for example, in the fact that information on ethnicity is not collected in the national census.

Unfortunately, such racial neutrality, viewed by successive governments as a necessary means to ensuring Botswana’s peaceful development, has not been rooted in fundamental principles of non-discrimination and equality. Instead it has largely favoured the status quo that existed prior to independence and, as such, continued the dominance of the eight Tswana tribes.

A 2001 decision of the High Court of Botswana recognised that certain provisions of the Constitution were discriminatory towards non-Tswana tribes, as was legislation which only recognised the chiefs and the tribal lands of the eight Tswana tribes. Nevertheless, despite amendments to the Constitution and the adoption of legislation which allows in theory for the recognition of any tribal group and its chief, the Constitutional provisions remain discriminatory on the basis of tribe and no non-Tswana tribe or its chief has to date been officially recognised.

Minorities and indigenous peoples in Botswana face multiple challenges at the heart of which lies the issue of their identity and their visibility. For example:

  • Lack of legal recognition of minority tribes and indigenous peoples and their chiefs;
  • Discrimination against minority and indigenous peoples both as enshrined in the Constitution and as experienced in practice, particularly in relation to land allocation;
  • Many minorities and indigenous peoples are threatened with cultural and linguistic loss with English being the official language and only Setswana, the language of the Tswana tribes, being formally recognised.

What did we do?

  • Train members of the Babirwa, Bakgalahari, Basubiya, Batswapong and Wayeyi in human rights, with a particular focus on minority rights, and train and assist them to go on and provide such human rights training to other members of their communities.
  • Provide paralegal training to members of the Babirwa, Bakgalahari, Basubiya, Batswapong and Wayeyi and assist those trained in providing paralegal services within their communities.
  • Improve advocacy and dialogue at local, national and regional level between minorities and authorities, particularly in respect of securing recognition of non-Tswana tribes under the Bogosi Act 2008.
  • Provide collaboration and networking opportunities between different non-Tswana tribes.
  • Develop a wider public awareness and understanding of issues facing non-Tswana tribes.

Who were our partners?

Our partners were:

  • RETENG: The Multicultural Coalition of Botswana is an umbrella organisation of seven civil society organisations working on behalf of different non-Tswana tribes across five areas: language and literacy development; cultural development; human rights and advocacy; research; and networking with other NGOs.
  • DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights is the only Botswana NGO dealing with varied aspects of human rights. It works, often in partnership with other rights-focussed organisations in Botswana, to advocate for changes in laws, policies and practices, and to raise public awareness of rights and responsibilities. It also provides paralegal services.

Who funded this programme?

This programme was funded by the European Union.

What did we achieve?

This evaluation found that the project had been largely successful although advocacy objectives had been hampered by numerous changes of personnel in key policy positions during the project. The evaluation team concluded that:

‘The project has been successfully implemented to achieve long term goals past project funding. It is expected that trained beneficiaries continue to use their acquired skills and knowledge to advocate for the rights of their community members and train other members to distribute knowledge on human rights, wider advocacy and paralegal training.’


‘RETENG and DITSHWANELO’s local networks and knowledge of Botswana tribes extend to isolated rural settlements, and through their role they were able to ensure identification of beneficiaries not only catered for large village members but for small and isolated village members.’

Recommendations included looking carefully at the sequencing of training to ensure that there were not long gaps between events and measures to address factors that were outside of the project’s control including floods and failure of communication infrastructure in some project locations during the project period as well as the repeated changes in duty bearer personnel mentioned above.

Download the executive summary here.

Download the full report here.


This content is the sole responsibility of Minority Rights Group International and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.