THE BOTSWANAN HOUSE OF CHIEFS
In July 2000, the Head of State created a commission -the Balopi commission, named after the former Minister for Domestic Affairs presiding it- which is particularly in charge of proposing a new designation system of members of the House of Chiefs and to make it more efficient.
The Balopi commission proposes to base the representation system of this institution on territorial and not ethnic or tribal criteria. Moreover, it recommends to enlarge its prerogatives, in particular the legislative initiative.
The Head of State should give a decision on these recommendations by the end of 2001.
I - COMPOSITION
The House of Chiefs is made up of 15 members :
- the hereditary chiefs of Botswana's eight traditional tribes as set out in the Constitution (Bakgatla, Bakwena, Bamalete, Bamangwato, Bangwaketse, Barolong, Batawana and Batakwa), members as of right ;
- seven elected members.
II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Four of the seven elected members come from the `sub-chiefs' of the four administrative divisions (Chobe, North East, Ghanzi and Kgalagadi); these are areas where other tribes are in a majority.
The other three members are elected by the twelve afore-mentioned members from among people who have not been actively engaged in politics for the last five years (article 79-2 of the Constitution)
The seven elected members may stand for re-election at every legislative election.
Members serve five-year terms.
III - ORGANISATION OF SESSIONS
A - ORDINARY SESSIONS
Three sessions per year, each lasting 1-3 weeks.
B - EXTRAORDINARY SESSIONS
The House of Chiefs may also meet in extraordinary session if such a step is deemed appropriate.
IV - RELATIONS WITH THE OTHER CHAMBERS
Consultative power (Articles 77-85, Section III of the Constitution).
A - POWERS
The House of Chiefs must be consulted when the Constitution is being reviewed, and when consideration is being given to the law on customs, family and personal law, the system of land ownership, and certain aspects of civil law. Members of the House of Chiefs may also address any other matter they believe to be relevant.
They have the power to summon members of the Government.
B - INSTITUTIONAL ROLE OF THE HOUSE OF CHIEFS
In practice, this consultative House exerts significant influence. Members are reluctant to be openly opposed to the traditional Chiefs (the `Kgnosi'), whose subjects they are anyway. The House of Chiefs has particular legitimacy insofar as each Chief regularly consults his tribe in the course of traditional assemblies (`Kgotla'). As the motto that dominates the House of Chiefs' debating chamber, says, `Kgosi Ke Kgosi Ka Bathe' (`The chief is chief by the people').
On the other hand, the Chiefs may not belong to a political party, and may not normally take part in the electoral process or in political debate. This rule, which is custom-based as far as the members as of right and the four representatives from the administrative divisions are concerned, but a constitutional duty for the three specially elected members, aims to avoid both conflicts of conscience among citizens, who remain generally loyal to their Chiefs, and political disputes between traditional leaders and the Government which has been elected by universal suffrage.
In many ways, the House of Chiefs is a unique institution that enables Botswana to undergo a managed transition into modernity:
- the House of Chiefs preserves traditional forms of solidarity and adherence, and simultaneously prevents the latter from fragmenting the country along tribal lines;
- it provides the Chiefs with a setting in which to express their views, and through which to channel their traditional authority
- it ensures that the interests of shepherds and farmers, which are often ignored to the advantage of those living in the towns and cities, are taken into account.
1 Since the Chieftainship Act of 1966, the President of the Republic has had the right to examine the designation of chiefs by their tribes, and to suspend them and remove them.