By Wandipa Chabe, Bakang Ndaba and Dumiso Gatsha
2019 is election year for Botswana and several other African countries. As public discourse is dominated by civilian unrest situations such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, common narratives attribute unrest to crippled economies and a lack of sound governance. The region is marred with a history of colonialism and in turn, tyrants who have refused to leave office. The economy clearly plays a huge role and many narratives attribute its health to improving the lives of a nation. This might be true from a broad perspective, however it does not mean other groups’ standards of living are improved. For instance, indigenous peoples are subject to injustice in lieu of a nation’s economic growth. Regardless of economic standing of a country, these groups are persistently subject to violations to socioeconomic rights. Thus, in moments of civil unrest or forced leadership transition – the will of the people often does not include those most marginalized given that the latter are perpetually excluded.
With elections slated for October 2019 in Botswana. Members of a similarly excluded group have began asking themselves questions on what voting means to them. Under an SDG related project, lived experiences share their views on daily phenomena and civic participation. Observations on the level of engagement on many openly non-conforming youths of sexual and gender diversity reflect voter apathy. This is not unique to a specific group but is reflective of the population as Botswana has not met its voter registration targets (under 70%). Many youth feel invisible given the myriad of challenges they face; high unemployment, underemployment, stigma, discrimination, inadequate service delivery and dropping out of school among many others. Some political leaders’ homophobic remarks have excluded others from any interest in politics. Community change agents continue to engage political leaders but a void remains in political manifestos, if any are actually availed.
The current president has publicly recognized that there are sexual minorities who are discriminated against. Ideally, this would have encouraged dialogue and possible support from others but that did not happen. There is a clear fear of uncovering and discussing issues considered taboo in society. This makes many youth people question what kind of leaders prefer to be progressive behind closed doors and passive in public. Botswana’s courts have affirmed the rights of select sexual and gender minorities however laws remain intolerant. Similarly, the economy been perceived to grow without meaningfully impacting the lives of all people. However, because the economy affects the majority – it remains the main focus in issues of governance. History shows how corruption, civil war and crippled democratic institutions are driven by economic interests. When will we reshape the narrative within our development aspirations? Tourism, Mining, Oil and Financial Services are often the biggest contributors to country economies; sectors that have structural barriers for meaningful youth participation and inclusion. The majority will not see the systemic exclusions without recognizing that there are minorities that are inherently subject to them. It is through this realization that we can truly unpack what civic participation in leadership transitions and in societal conflict looks like.
The sharing of our stories allows for reflections and empathy. In commemoration of 17 May, International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, we recommend a few considerations you should discuss within your areas of influence:
- Political literacy is one of the key tenants of ensuring that diversity and inclusion can be central to politics. Creating a culture of curiosity and debate should not just be on election year.
- Young people should be empowered to keep their leaders accountable outside tokenism, in person spaces and geographic residence to ensure accessibility.
- Sexual and gender minorities are not a proven minority. The only reason visibility and voice is an issue is the intolerant laws, society and spaces of engagement.
- Diversity in multilateralism, workplace environments, public health and elections should not be exhaustive or prescriptive of marginalized groups. This will ensure that no one is left behind.
- Everyone has a right to vote; so do they have a right to equality, equity, justice and protection.
Wandipa Chabe is a human rights defender and feminist based in Francistown. She engages religious, political and traditional leaders in advocacy work for LGBTIQ+ interests. The holds a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism Management. IG: wandyoh
Bakang Ndaba is a volunteer, ICT student and human rights defender. He has contributed to areas of HIV Prevention, Community Building, Mobile App Development and Reproductive Rights. IG: bakang_ivan_matthys
Dumiso Gatsha is a human rights defender, PhD (Law) candidate and Leadership Board Member of the World Youth Forum for Democracy. An independent consultant for state shadow reports, participatory human rights research and grassroots civic action. IG: dumi.activist