Last Updated 24 October 2020

With an estimated population of 2.3 million, the Republic of Botswana is a landlocked country in southern Africa.1 Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, the country became the Republic of Botswana after independence in 1966 and remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It has a reputation as a stable representative democracy, following consecutive uninterrupted democratic elections.

As of 2011, an estimated 79% of the population are Christian, with the non-religious representing the second largest belief group (15%). An estimated 4% practise Badimo2 – a spiritual tradition. Small communities of Baha’i, Hindus, Muslims, Rastafarians account for approximately 1.4% of the population.3

Systemic Discrimination
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Constitution and government

The freedom of religion and belief is enshrined under Article 11 of the Constitution,4 entitled “protection of freedom of conscience”. It permits citizens the “freedom to change his or her religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his or her religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” However, there are widespread state privileges for Christianity and routine bias against the non-religious. Government meetings often begin with a Christian prayer, although members of parliament from non-Christian groups are reported to have led prayers also.5

The Christian holy days are the only recognised holidays in the nation, particularly Easter and Christmas Day. However, other communities are able to celebrate their respective religious holidays without state interruption.

By law, all organizations, including religious groups, must register with the government. Registration through the Registrar of Societies section of the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration, and Gender Affairs allows groups to to conduct business, sign contracts, or open an account at a local bank. In order to register, new religious groups must have a minimum of 150 members. The government has expressed concerns about unregulated churches coming into the country in what it sees as taking advantage of local citizens.6

Education and children’s rights

Article 10(3) states that:

“Except with his or her own consent (or, if he or she is a minor, the consent of his or her guardian) no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive  religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion other than his or her own.”

Optional religious education is part of the curriculum in public schools. This public education emphasizes Christianity but also addresses other religious groups in the country, while excluding humanists and other non-theists. Additionally, the Constitution provides that every religious community may establish places for religious instruction at the community’s expense.7

Family, Community, Society

Atheists may still face significant social pressure to profess a religion and as such, their precise number may be

LGBTQ+ rights

On 11 June 2019, the High Court9,arbiter%20of%20all%20legal%20matters. ruled that colonial-era laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relations were unconstitutional.10 The ruling is currently the subject of an appeal to the Court of Appeal – the nation’s highest court.11

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The Constitution protects freedom of expression and freedom of association. However, freedom of expression is said to be restricted in practice, prompting self-censorship among members of the public. Insulting the president, a lawmaker, or public official is punishable by a fine.12

According to Freedom House, “[a]lthough academic freedom is generally respected, professors often practice self-censorship when addressing sensitive topics. In the past, foreign academics have been deported for publishing work that was critical of the government, contributing to cautiousness among many scholars.”13

Media freedom

Press freedom is reported to have improved following the election of President Mokgweetsi Masisi, however, some journalists have continued to report harassment. Further, the absence of an access to information law hampers journalists’ ability to report.14

Under the 2008 Media Practitioners Act (MPA)15 all media workers and outlets – including websites and blogs – are required to register. Failure to do so can result in a fine or prison term.

State-owned media outlets, which dominate the broadcasting sector, are directly supervised by the president’s office, and typically exhibit pro-government bias. Privately-owned media outlets rely on advertising revenue, for which there is a government ban in place.16

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, several media outlets have ceased the physical production and distribution of their newspapers, instead turning to online editions.17


“My family didn’t approve of my atheism, but they still loved me and never treated me any different from before I came out. My friends reacted in different ways. I lost two of my childhood friends; some of them stopped communicating with me. But with the rest, we still keep in touch; we still remain friends. I have never been ill-treated because of my atheism. Well maybe I don’t know… A while ago, people weren’t open about their atheism, but nowadays people are coming out. Others are still not sure of how they would be viewed by their parents and maybe they don’t want things to change. People don’t want to lose their friends, or to lose their jobs or be sabotaged because of their atheism, and since there is this narrative in christianity known as Satanism. Atheists fear they might be associated with being evil or bad and not having morals etc…”
– Jerry, interviewed by Leo Igwe

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