Defending negative freedoms: Liberalism as a response to the rising authoritarianism of the Botswana Democratic Party
Year: 2019 Working paper number: 439 Author: Courtney Hallink Unit: CSSR
Botswana has received a great deal of scholarly attention for its rapid economic growth and seemingly impressive democratic performance after independence. This paper examines how self-identified liberal politicians in the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and Alliance for Progressives (AP) adapt liberalism to Botswana’s ideological, political and socio-economic context in order to tackle the challenges of poverty and unemployment through social welfare policy. It relies on semi-structured interviews with Members of Parliament (MPs) and party officials in both the BMD and AP, as well as content analysis of official party documents. It demonstrates that liberalism to the BMD and AP is largely shaped by a ‘negative’ understanding of liberty. When the individuals in the BMD and AP defected from the governing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), they were motivated by the importance of upholding constitutional democracy, not articulating a new welfare vision or expanding positive freedoms. While individuals in the BMD and AP recognise the required role of the state in promoting positive freedom through the provision of social welfare, this view does not appear to be the result of a deliberate espousal of positive freedom. Rather, it appears to be resultant of an innate embrace of, or complacency with, the existing social welfare system and the accompanying norms about the state’s role in protecting the poor, as seen in the political elite, civil society and the public in Botswana.