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Constitution must recognise all tribes equal

Publishing Date : 05 March, 2019

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The anticipated constitutional review should be an opportunity to address the tribal inequalities insinuated by the current constitution. The current constitution was influenced by the colonial government, such influence which today is one of the contributing factors to the tribal tensions in the country.


The Botswana constitution recognises only eight Tswana speaking tribes, who are commonly referred to as ‘principal merafhe’ while the rest of the tribes are not recognised by the constitution.  Adoption of such arrangement in the constitution have had negative implications and it has caused tension that exist between citizens today.


The basis for recognising only eight Tswana speaking tribes is the legacy of territories drawn up by colonial government in 1885 and thereafter. It is for this reasons that each territory had only one chief from the tribe which would have been dominate back then. Smaller tribes have been ignored since then. There have been debates on the relevance of Bogosi in today’s society, but the general conclusion that Bogosi is still a widely respected institution in Botswana, and such reverence looks to last for decades to come.


With such special attachment to the Bogosi institution, it is now understandable why tension exists between tribes today especially those who share territories. The have been two recent clashes which have been embarrassing to us as a nation in recent years. While the constitution grants every Motswana a right to settle or won land anywhere in Botswana, tribal limitations suggest otherwise.


In 2017, the  Bangwaketse and Bahurutshe clashed over installation of the latter’s chief, mainly because according to the constitution and historic practices, Bahurutse are under the authority of Bangwaketse and cannot have their chief draped with a leopard skin, as only one chief in the teretory can enjoy such privilege. The clash between the two tribes came into play when Bahurutshe wanted to drap their chief, Kgosi Kebinatshwene Mosielele with a leopard skin.


Mosielele was officially installed as a Kgosi in 2010 taking over from his father, Mareko Mark Mosielele who became unwell and passed on in 2015. Indications suggested that only the coronations of paramount chiefs are associated with a leopard skin or a lion (like the Bangwato) which symbolises “dominance” in terms of the geographical location. Manyana village falls under Ga-Ngwaketse territory and Kgosi Malope Gaseitsiwe II has the authority and power to address a kgotla gathering at the village.  Do we still need this archaic arrangement which grants colonisation of one morafe by another?


This development is not only peculiar to Bangwaketse and Bahurutse, it has happened in other territories in Botswana including in Central region where Bangwato rules and in Maun where Batawana and BaYeYi clashed on several occasions. In Gammangwato, also Central District, the Bangwato chieftainship have control over appointments of chiefs in several areas including chiefs of other tribes such as Babirwa, BaTswapong and other tribes which are considered minor.


There are many Non-Tswana speaking tribes with strong populations and documented chieftainship such as BaKalanga, BaYeyi and Baherero to mention but a few, who are not recognised by the constitution. As previously mentioned, this is a problem that has been created that the constitution which wanted to base governance on tribal lines rather accepting than over time, diversity and unity importance preceded what could have obtained in the past.


There is nothing that we will lose as nation if we were to recognise other tribes. All tribes should be recognised and no tribe should exercise colonisation of one another. As one the founding father of the United States once observed, liberty cannot be limited without being lost. If we are going to grant people rights to stay everywhere in Botswana, but limit them on what type of self-determination to have with regard to their chieftainship, then we are doing injustice to vast majority of citizens.


It is however worth noting that unlike in other countries, the perceived oppression of one tribe by another has not been used as a wedge that divides the nation. All citizens enjoys all rights and privileges and no one has denied a job on tribal lines or anything to that effect. If it has happened, it would be an isolated incident. As we go for constitutional review, we should be looking at promoting diversity and unity in our bid to build a happy and united country, where all citizens have a sense of belonging.

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