With COVID-19 Taking Hold In Botswana,The Government Has No One To Blame But Itself

The other day, I wrote this thread on Twitter chronicling my experiences with Botswana's travel permit system which has been imposed as part of the country's lockdown regulations to curb the spread of the novel Coronavirus.

After Botswana recorded its first cases of the virus end of March, the government declared a state of public emergency. The state of emergency was followed by sweeping regulations —including the aforementioned lockdown and travel permit system — and the country's security forces were called in to enforce these regulations.

Most of the set regulations seemed to make logical sense in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic. For example, the lockdown or "extreme social distancing" as the government decided to call it, had long been heralded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the best way to ensure that social distancing takes place in order to reduce the number of person-to-person transmissions of the virus.

Despite appearing to be efficient in theory, the regulations proved and are still proving to be downright useless in practice and might even serve to increase the spread of the virus instead of curbing it. Although the government is trying to paint the picture of non-cooperation by citizens as the cause of the impotence of some of the regulations, the fact is that the government has no one to blame for this failure but itself.

To start with, like a typical African government, the Botswana government copied and pasted the regulations with no regard for tweaking them into a Botswana context. The lockdown itself, for example, is simply impractical for reasons which are mostly the doing of the government's incompetence over the years.

Most of the country's populace especially in rural areas live in extreme poverty and their only source of sustenance is daily auxiliary work colloquially referred to as "piece jobs" farming, informal trading, etc. With them on a 28-day lockdown and the government having made no provisions whatsoever for their welfare for the duration of the lockdown, they have the difficult option of either watching their families succumb to malnutrition and hunger or defying lockdown regulations and risking contracting and spreading the virus— a catch-22 situation for them.

The other issue making the lockdown airy for rural populations is lack of water. For years, rural Botswana has faced grave water issues that the government has time and again failed to address. The only source of water available to most of them is borehole water which they have to travel tens of kilometers to access. For an urban citizen who has running water in the house, washing hands frequently which is one of the preventative measures being trumpeted by the government is easy but for a rural citizen , it is hard especially when they have been ordered to stay at home and go nowhere including to get water.

As part of the lockdown, the government also introduced the permit system whose mandate was to limit movement in the country to only the populace providing essential services. Again, this move seemed ingenious on paper but when implemented, it proved to be a disaster. With the permit system, the government failed to take into account the endless number of permutations that may require other citizens except those providing essential services to travel. Just as one example in an ocean of many circumstances which might require people who not providing essential services to move from their homes, because of a defunct public health system, most people in the country get specialized medical treatment in the capital city Gaborone. For people with chronic conditions, this means constant trips to the capital city, a situation that the permit system failed to make room for.

Instead of allowing for medical and essential services to have their own respective provisions for permits, the government instead aggregated them into one system, a situation which meant long queues at government offices which defeats the whole purpose of the lockdown which is to enforce social distancing. It also means that people who have preexisting chronic conditions and are most susceptible to the virus spent and continue to spend their days in crowds waiting to apply for the permit, a situation that puts them at risk of contracting the virus.

To further show the government's appalling decision making during this crisis, in the middle of a global pandemic caused by a highly contagious virus and with multitudes of video conferencing facilities available, the head of state decided to convene parliament in order to present a motion to extend the state of emergency by a further 6 months to enable him to make better decisions on how to better handle the virus—the irony.

A day after this convening took place, it was reported that one of the nurses who was screening the members of parliament had tested positive for the virus meaning all who were present in parliament— the country's entire legislative body, their families and a large number of the population—were now at risk as a result of that decision by the head of state.

The COVID-19 virus is a global pandemic that is crippling the health systems of even the richest nations in the world. To curb it needs decision making which will support the efforts of health care professionals who are in the frontlines of this fight. As seen with these highly developed economies, failure to make these decisions can have devastating effects which will be tenfold in Botswana considering the state of the country's healthcare systems.

To fight this scourge is going to need more than just solutions that seemingly work on paper without any consideration for a Botswana context. This fight will also require well-thought-out decisions that will be taken in the sole interest of protecting the lives of the people both from the Coronavirus itself and other social welfare issues like the aforementioned lack of means of sustenance which are arising as a result of the virus.

Citizens can and will be willing to support and rally behind the government's efforts if it takes into consideration their well being during the time that those efforts like the lockdown and permit system will be in place. They will also be willing to follow the government's lead as long as it shows that it is taking this virus seriously.

Hitherto, the government has failed in both those respects. It has failed to offer provisions for its sick and poor citizens and also showed a lack of seriousness in tackling the virus by way of physically convening parliament in the middle of the spread of a contagious virus.  Until both those lapses in governance are completely resolved, this virus will completely ravage the country, not because of failure to cooperate with the government by citizens as the government wants to put it but because of the government making it impossible for citizens to cooperate.


  1. 6 months is a long time. I have
    a family in rural areas..what are we going to do to survive this. I totally disagree with this Motion.


  2. In a nutshell, I think we've been very slow in making decisions to deal with this virus. I understand we must allow a room for our government to make mistakes, because that is always the case when implementing new laws especially the practicality part, but in our case we are on a snail pace and its going to negatively affect us.


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