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Language politics excludes other


Botswana nationals who cannot speak neither Setswana nor English languages are excluded from important national surveys including democracy meters which are usually conducted by the Afrobarometer.


Professor Mogopodi Lekorwe in the department of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Botswana says the researchers are limited by the country’s policy which specifies two official languages of communication in the country. English and Setswana are the countries official languages.


Lekorwe admits that the language barrier is likely to keep out other tribes who speak different languages other than the two to participate in the surveys.


“Language is a political issue and there is no way we can go to the office of the President with a questionnaire translated into a language that has not been sanctioned by the authority,” Lekorwe explained.


He was actually responding to a question during a media briefing on the findings of round 5 of the Afrobarometer survey on Wednesday this week in Gaborone. Concerns were raised that the 1 200 individuals’ views could not possibly reflect that of the whole nation which has a population of just over two Million people.


However Lekorwe contended that although the number may appear to be small, the interviews were conducted in different parts of the country including the rural, semi-rural and urban area so as to get diverse views.


“A person who cannot speak either one of the official languages is eliminated from the interview,” Lekorwe further added.


He however explained that the survey would only include other indigenous languages if the government becomes liberal on what people can do with their language “as we go on, then we can include other languages in the interviews.”


The country’s constitution provides that no person shall be discriminated along tribal lines, but it does not talk about the language issue. In fact it is the same constitution that proclaims that the country’s official languages would be Setswana and English as the two languages are widely spoken around the country.


Lekorwe says if the interviews are to be made or translated into local languages, then it would have a direct implication on who to employ and that could violate the constitution that embraces the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. These fundamental rights are articulated as freedom of expression, assembly and association.


The Afrobarometer conducts face to face interviews in the language of the respondents’ choice, but limited to Setswana and English, with nationally representative samples of between 1 200 and 2 400 respondents. It does surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions and related issues across more than thirty countries in Africa.

Five rounds of surveys were conducted between 1999 and 2013 and round six is currently under way for 2014-2015. However none of the studies has so far included people who cannot speak the country’s official languages.


The language issue was raised at the media briefing, a few days after the former Speaker of Parliament; Margaret Nasha expressed concern at the continued reluctance by government to introduce indigenous language at primary schools so as to help young children grasp the education curriculum faster.


Nasha was speaking at a cultural night organised by Botswana Sector of Educators Union (BOSETU) in Gaborone recently.

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