Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Government and Press Relations in Botswana: Down the Beaten African Track

Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Government and Press Relations in Botswana: Down the Beaten African Track

Article excerpt


This paper analyses the manner in which the government treats and regulates the print media in Botswana, especially the public media and argues that this fits within the African context of authoritarian control. It argues that Botswana is not a shining example of democracy in Africa, contrary to popular belief. This is demonstrated through comparative case studies with other African countries. The paper will also address the manner in which the government has treated some of the private publications, notably, Botswana Guardian.

Key words: Botswana; Colonial; Authoritarian; African


To understand Botswana's present media policy, it is best that one approaches it historically. There is abundant evidence that shows that the modem day government of the country shares an umbilical cord with its colonial mother, Britain. It is impossible to have a comprehensive overview of the current policy without delving back into the colonial experience. This scenario fits into the colonial picture of Africa, broadly speaking (Bourgault, 1995; Eribo & Jong-Ebot, 1997; Zaffiro, 1989; Mytton, 1983; Tamado, 2005; Obonyo, 2011).

The themes of colonialism and post-colonialism thus feature prominently in the literature on media policy in Africa and indeed a lot of the developing countries elsewhere. Emphasis is on how colonialism has had a lasting impact on post-independence media regulation in Africa. As Shome and Hegde (2002, p.258) point out, "postcolonial scholarship is concerned with phenomena, and effects and affects, of colonialism that accompanied, or formed the underside of, the logic of the modem, and its varied manifestations in historical and contemporary times".

For McMillin (2007), there is cultural continuity in structures of control between colonial and post-colonial governments. "Specifically, colonialism and postcolonialism cannot be regarded as dichotomous phases where post-colonialism marks a rupture from colonialism or marks the point at which national consciousness emerged..." (McMillin, 2007, p.71).

Even colonial rulers worked on the basis of preexisting colonial structures, McMillin (2007) argues, in order to create and maintain the basic conditions necessary for their rule. That is why, in Botswana the British used a policy of Indirect Rule, relying on the goodwill of the local chiefs to run the tribal administration.

In a systematic order, the colonialists suppressed the indigenous media and encoded a positive colonial image into early media law and policies in the colonies, according to McMillin (2007). This ensured that the media systems were limited in their development and created a specific ordering regime, a symbolic structure where the coloniser was supreme and the colonised was "a menial slave" (McMillin, 2007, p.76).

The French case is a good example: For North Africa, in 1881, the French (in places like Egypt, Morocco, Benin, and Algeria) passed a law that declared Arabic as a foreign language in North African colonies, with the result that it was a crime to print in or import publications in Arabic (Zaghlami, 2007; Barratt & Berger, 2007, p.64; Napoli, 1997, Eribo & Jong-Ebot, 1997, p.189).

In the case of the British Colonial government, which is more relevant here, it too had a few strategies it was using to manage the media in the 19,h century Africa. One strategy that the British used was giving patronage such as subsidies to friendly publications such and creating their own state owned publications.


In the 1890s, the British in Bechuanaland (as Botswana was known then) set up a paper called Bechuanaland News, printed in English as an official publication of the colonial government (Parsons, 1968). The paper was used to communicate official notices by the government and the tribal authorities, the local chiefs, who were used by the Colonial government to run the Protectorate1 cheaply, through a system of Indirect Rule. …

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