AD230: Citizen engagement in Botswana: Beyond voting, how much interest in participation?

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Batlang Seabo and Thomas Isbell

While Botswana is widely recognized for its unbroken series of successful elections stretching back to independence in 1966, analysts have long pointed to low levels of political participation and a weak civil society as barriers on its path toward a strong democracy (Democracy Research Project, 2002; Mpabanga, 2000; Holm, Molutsi, & Somolekae, 1996; Mfundisi, 2005). 

More recent analysis has shown that while most Batswana see their country as a democracy, satisfaction with the way their democracy is working and perceived freedom of speech have declined steeply over the past decade (Isbell & Seabo, 2018).

If citizen engagement is one of the pillars of a strong democracy (Almond & Verba, 1963; Norris, 1999; Putnam, 2000; Dalton, 2013), findings of the latest Afrobarometer survey are a mixed bag for Botswana’s democratic prospects. While most Batswana say they vote in elections and attend community meetings, the proportion of citizens who express interest in public affairs and discuss politics are in decline, and only a minority contact public officials or get together with other citizens to raise an issue.