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Citizen Perceptions of Local Government Performance in Botswana

When many people in the West hear the word, "Africa," they think of the kind of impoverishment and corruption that has kept much of the continent from joining the international community in meaningful ways in recent years. Indeed, for the majority of countries in Africa, this dismal perception holds true. One shining example that has managed to overcome the constraints and obstacles to development following its independence is Botswana. In fact, Botswana has combined its natural resources with an informed and enlightened approach to government that has facilitated the developmental process. Although major progress has been achieved in recent years in improving the quality of living for the people of Botswana, some observers, including Botswanian expatriates, are cautioning that the government is becoming too large and will inevitably suffer the same outcomes as its less fortunate neighbors. To determine the truth, this paper provides a review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning citizen perceptions of the performance of local governments in Botswana, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Background and Overview

Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana assumed its current name upon its independence in 1966 (Botswana, 2012). Following its independence, Botswana adopted its constitution on September 30, 1967 (Washington & Hacker, 2009). About the size of Texas or France, this sub-Saharan country has a population of approximately ten million people (Botswana, 2010). The country is landlocked, being bordered to the south by South Africa, to the west by Namibia, to the east by Zimbabwe and to the north by Zambia (Washington & Hacker, 2009). According to Washington and Hacker, "Botswana is one of the few success stories in Africa" (2009, p. 166). Indeed, since its independence, Botswana has managed to sustain Africa's highest economic growth rate, a rate that is also among the highest in the world (Washington & Hacker, 2009). Fueling this sustained economic growth has been the country's diamonds, representing almost a third of Botswana's gross domestic product; however, other important sectors in the Botswanian economy include beef, tourism, and agriculture (Washington & Hacker, 2009). According to U.S. intelligence analysts, "Four decades of uninterrupted civilian leadership, progressive social policies, and significant capital investment have created one of the most dynamic economies in Africa" (Botswana, 2012, para. 3). Although Botswana has a significant HIV / AIDS infection rate, it has responded by applying modern and comprehensive medical interventions (Botswama, 2012). In addition, U.S. government analysts credit the government of Botswana with this remarkable performance. According to the CIA, "Through fiscal discipline and sound management, Botswana transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country with a per capita GDP of $16,300 in 2011" (Botswana, 2012, para. 3). Moreover, Botswana has also managed to avoid much of the violence that characterized newly independent nations in Africa in the past. In this regard, Solway emphasizes that, "Botswana is no Utopia but it is a country noted for its singular lack of violence in a region (Southern Africa) in which virtually every other country has witnessed severe instances of acute violence in the post-colonial era and on a continent scarred by some of the most intractable and horrific violent episodes" (2003, p. 485).

Role of Local Government in Delivering Services in a Democracy

In the past, the role of local governments in delivering services in Botswana was limited but effective (Beaulier & Subrick, 2007). The limited government approach served the nation well during its post-independence years and helped the country achieve major gains in economic growth, education and healthcare (Beaulier & Subrick, 2007). According to Beaulier and Subrick, "Unlike most other African countries, Botswana managed to escape its low level of development and prosper since independence. Botswana went from being the third poorest nation in the world in 1965 to an upper-middle income nation today" (p. 53). During the 30-year period from 1966 to 1996, Botswana was actually the most rapidly growing country in the world with an average 7.7% annual growth rate (Beaulier & Subrick, 2007). Botswana stands in sharp contrast to other sub-Saharan nations following their independence that elected to apply "anti-capitalist, statist policy development" (Beaulier & Subrick, 2007, p. 53). By contrast, the government in Botswana elected to pursue "an economic and political system built around the rule of law and voluntary exchange. Botswana's political leaders pursued policies that secured property rights and limited the government's role in the economy. As a result, the citizens prospered" (Beaulier & Subrick, 2007, p. 53).

As a result, the many Botswanian citizens believed that their local governments should play an even larger part in the nation's economic development in the future (Buealier & Subrick, 2007). In this regard, Beaulier & Subrick (2007) report that, "Voters thought that the government needed to play a larger role in the economy, and they went about establishing a national defense (something that was nonexistent in the early years), expanding government aid for education, providing health care coverage for most citizens, and building more roads" (2007, p. 54). In fact, the Botswanan government has even expanded the government's commitment for inclusive education to provide children with disabilities and special learning needs access the local schools in order to receive their education alongside their peers in the local community (Bawa & Mangope, 2011).

This rapid growth in government services, though, has not gone unnoticed or been without its detractors. In this regard, Beaulier and Subrick emphasize that, "Even though many expatriates and former government officials have warned policymakers in Botswana about the dangers of big government, the government has continued to grow rapidly" (p. 54). Indeed, even with one of the world's fastest-growing economies, the rate of growth of the Botswanian government has still outpaced it. As Beaulier and Subrick point out, "In fact, government growth has been so rapid that it has outpaced the rate of growth in gross domestic product in Botswana for the past 10 years" (2007, p. 53). Other critics also argue that the national and local governments have failed to achieve transparent governance at the expense of the people by allowing an elite group to control the strings. According to Gaotseneloe (2009), "Botswana has failed to invest in and develop democracy. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) refuses to allow the state to fund political parties to help nurture democracy" (p. 40). Notwithstanding the progress made to the contrary, the BDP is so firmly entrenched in the government of Botswana that little real progress can be made at the local level (Gaotseneloe, 2009). In this regard, Gaotseneloe (2009) reports that, "The BDP, because it controls the government, has never struggled to secure sponsors to run its election campaigns. Rich business people and corporate bodies have always sponsored the BDP. They are in turn rewarded with multimillion pula tenders by the BDP government" (p. 40). The BDP enjoys a strategic advantage over opponents as well based on its incumbency which allows the group to use government resources for electioneering purposes as well as providing candidates for all 57 of the nation's voting regions while the opposition has lacked the resources to do so (Gaotseneloe, 2009). According to Gaotseneloe (2009), "The BDP monopolises the government media, whose coverage is skewed in its favour and that of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP). The BDP is still rooted in the old winner-takes-all system of elections which has been found wanting in many aspects of governance" (p. 40).

Nevertheless, over the past several decades, Botswana has achieved a track record of economic success as well as a reputation for informed developmental management and sound governance (Hope, 2002). According to Hope, "That reputation has been derived primarily from the behavior and performance of the country's public servants" (p. 531). Irrespective of…[continue]

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