On 2 and 3 September 2019, the Democracy, Transparency and Digital Rights (DTDR) Unit at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, held a workshop on access to information and election preparedness in Botswana. The workshop was held ahead of the Botswana general elections scheduled for 23 October 2019. The workshop was organised in collaboration with the Electoral Commissions Forum of Southern African Development Community (ECF-SADC) and the Law Department of the University of Botswana. In attendance were a diverse group of stakeholders including representatives from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the Attorney General Chambers, the Botswana Communications Authority (BOCRA), members of the media, representatives of political parties and civil society organisations (CSOs).
The central objective of the workshop was to raise awareness on access to information in Botswana using the article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), the Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa (the Guidelines) and the African Union’s Model Law on Access to Information for Africa (Model Law) as the guiding normative framework. It was envisaged that this would promote access to information as encapsulated in the Guidelines ahead of the 2019 general elections, and throughout the electoral cycle. The Guidelines were developed under the auspices of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights with the support of the Centre and other stakeholders.
Hlengiwe Dube, the programme coordinator for the DTDR Unit discussed the normative framework under article 9 of the African Charter and focused on the spirit and provisions of the Model Law and Guidelines, which fleshed out the implementation measures for the right of access to information in Africa. She emphasised the responsibilities of the state and relevant stakeholders in promoting the realisation of access to information, particularly in the context of elections.
Marystella Simiyu, a PhD candidate and researcher for the Unit, discussed the legislative milestones on the implementation of the right of access to information in Africa. She reviewed the freedom of access to information laws adopted in four countries in Africa (Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Uganda) and analysed the quality of these laws against the Model Law, and evaluated their implementation. She concluded that while laws were essential as guides for the realisation of the right of access to information, political will and adequate resource allocation for implementation strategies are essential. There is also a need to increase awareness and advocacy among stakeholders and the public on access to information.
The meeting also benefited from presentations from representatives from the IEC, BOCRA, political parties and CSOs from Botswana that provided a picture of the state of access to information in Botswana. It emerged that while there was a Freedom of Information Bill that was presented to the Botswana parliament in 2010, the Bill never gained traction. Lack of political will, absence of participation of relevant stakeholders, as well as general lack of awareness about the existence of the Bill were some of the inhabiting factors to its passage. While there was an acknowledgement that some of the provisions of the Bill were in line with standards envisaged in the Model Law, it was agreed that there was need to further align the Bill with the Model Law and other available regional and international standards.
Input from the participants revealed the need for stakeholders to reinvigorate the discussion and advocacy on access to information in Botswana. The discussions also included the need for stakeholders to incorporate the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to better facilitate the realisation and enjoyment of the right of access to information, particularly, proactive disclosure of information. It was of concern that the IEC did not have a functioning website to disseminate information relating to its mandate and the election process.
On the way forward, the workshop came up with the following recommendations:
- To encourage a multi-stakeholder and honest engagement on the state of access to information in Botswana that emphasises Botswana’s obligations under the African Charter in relation to article 9 and the right of access to information;
- To resuscitate the Freedom of Information Bill and repackage it to adopt a more human rights approach in line with regional and international human rights standards;
- To improve civil society engagement in Botswana to allow for better collaboration not only on advocacy around access to information but the whole spectrum of human rights;
- To encourage citizen activism through human rights education so as to build a citizenry that is conscious of, and actively participates in democratic development.
The Centre was encouraged to organise another workshop on access to information broadly and to continue the partnership with the University of Botswana on this thematic area. The Centre was also urged to replicate the training workshop on access to information not only in the post-election phase in Botswana but also in other African countries. This was seen as a laudable initiative towards advocacy for the right of access to information in Africa.
For more information, please contact:
Expression, Information and Digital Rights Unit
Tel: +27 (0) 12 420 4199
Fax: +27 (0) 86 580 5743
Project Officer: Expression, Information and Digital Rights Unit
Tel: +27 (0) 12 420 3810
Fax: +27 (0) 86 580 5743