Veteran politician Michael Dingake has rapped Botswana government for failing dismally at upholding human rights and squandering its good start at human relations. “Botswana should be in the forefront of the campaign and implementation of human rights. We were among the first three African countries to adopt multiparty democracy, the fountain head of human rights,” Dingake said. Dingake was making a presentation on - upholding a culture of human rights, peace, diversity and inclusivity in Botswana - during the third BOT50 lecture series organised by the University of Botswana (UB) in Gaborone on Thursday. According to Dingake, judging by her eagerness to be part of international bodies which advocate for human rights and her history of peaceful co-existence with others even before attaining independence, Botswana should by now be the leader of the pack.
“Botswana became independent on the 30 of September 1966, seventeen days later on the 17th of October 1966; she was a member of the UN! Her participation in the war, experience of its brutality, her own peaceful co-existence background probably made her join with alacrity,” Dingake said. By becoming a UN member, Dingake said Botswana committed herself to the objectives of the UN, in particular to the upholding of the culture of Human Rights conceived to maintain peace among a diversity of nations, races, ethnic groups, religious groups and individuals. This, he said, is further buttressed by the Botswana Constitution Chapter II clause 3-19 which recognises fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, subject only to the limitations that such rights and freedoms do not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others.
According to Dingake, though Botswana took off with a bang at independence, adopting multiparty democracy as a vehicle to reach destination Human rights, she has almost stalled at regular five-yearly general elections peg. A vexing question that he asks is that - Is Botswana or any other country in step with these rights when she discriminates, for instance against foreign immigrants, including those who enjoy permanent residence? Dingake highlighted that members of the UN, AU, SADC including Botswana, deny immigrants the franchise, the right to health, education or any other social facilities enjoyed by citizens. Immigrant workers, according to Dingake, are often discriminated against at work; underpaid and denied benefits Batswana workers are entitled to. The same immigrant workers, he said, are often victims of xenophobia.
He also observed that though Botswana is a member of international conventions, commissions, protocols and resolutions which prescribe and advocate for gender equality, she continues to evade the obligation to empower Batswana women as prescribed by the resolutions. This, he said, is better captured by the country’s failure to sign the SADC protocol on Gender and Development which most of her peers in the block have signed. “This is the same Botswana that has been called endearing names; Shining example of democracy, an African miracle. Be that as it may, Botswana won’t be drawn anywhere near that protocol. In the meantime other SADC members though still to hit the target are moving closer. AU member Rwanda, a survivor of the 1994 genocide has 64 percent women MPs. Why doesn’t Botswana use other SADC members if not Rwanda to bench mark,” he remarked. Failure by the country to abolish capital punishment despite calls from international human rights institutions such as Amnesty International to do so is, according to Dingake, enough evidence that Botswana is failing to uphold basic human rights including the right to life.
“Amnesty International may be succeeding slowly elsewhere, not in Botswana. Instead of softening her stance, she has adopted a callous attitude to the extent of denying families of the condemned prisoners to perform traditional funeral rites at burial and/or execution sites; even courtesy to inform relatives of the time of execution is unavailable,” he said. Dingake is of the view that the retention of capital punishment is a scandalous admission by governments that they have failed to protect human rights in terms of the UN declaration. According to Dingake, the human rights concept though unwritten in the formerly colonial dependencies was not new in their culture. To live in peace with others and to do unto them what you wished them unto you, Dingake said, is intrinsic in humankind.
He said although the Human Rights notion came into prominence in the written form, it doesn’t imply Batswana and other nations didn’t have a culture of adherence to Human Rights values.
“Setswana expression Motho, ke motho ka batho ba bangwe (A human being is a human due to other human beings) is a recognition of human rights values that has governed the human species from antiquity, since the genesis of mankind. Among Batswana the expression is like a seed sown to germinate on fertile ground,” he said.