PP68: Corruption crossroads? Rising perceptions of graft weaken citizen trust, threaten Botswana’s democratic standing

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Policy papers
2020
68
Thomas Isbell and Batlang Seabo

Corruption is widely considered one of the greatest impediments to sustainable development in African countries (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 2016; Bratton & Gyimah-Boadi, 2016). Corruption hinders macro-economic growth by weakening governance structures and diluting the positive effects of investments. At the micro level, corruption can trap the poorest, who are least likely to have alternatives to state provision of services, in a downward spiral (Peiffer & Rose, 2014).

Botswana has long been considered one of Africa’s least corrupt countries and top performers in democratic practice and good governance. But while Transparency International’s (2019) Corruption Perceptions Index continues to rank Botswana as best on the continent, other observers have questioned this reputation (Mogalakwe & Nyamnjoh, 2017; Good, 2017). Allegations have focused on, among other things, high-level corruption in military procurement contracts under former President Ian Khama, close ties between members of the ruling party and the agricultural sector, and charges that well-connected suspects are often cleared by the courts (Motlogelwa & Civillini, 2016; Konopo, 2017; Good, 2017; Norad, 2011; Sebudubudu 2014; Gasennelwe, 2018).

Recent corruption scandals have reached the highest levels of government, including the alleged looting of the National Petroleum Fund (Kgalemang, 2019; Motshegwa, Mutonono, & Mikazhu, 2019), and are still before courts of law (Shuma, 2020).

In this paper we use Afrobarometer survey data to explore citizens’ perceptions of corruption in Botswana. We find that far more people see corruption increasing than decreasing and that perceptions of corruption in the Presidency and Parliament have risen sharply over the past decade. Fewer Batswana approve of how the government is handling the anti-corruption fight, and while many believe ordinary people can help fight corruption, a majority say that people risk retaliation if they report corruption to the authorities.

A correlation analysis suggests that perceptions of corruption, especially in the Presidency, are strongly associated with less popular trust in public institutions and less satisfaction with democracy.