Botswana: The Corruption Exception

Once annually, Transparency International, a non-governmental organization that monitors corporate and political corruption in international development, releases a study referred to as the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). The CPI, which was first launched in 1995, ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. The information gathered to create the CPI is a composite of data sources that includes polls and surveys on corruption and governance from various reputable international institutions, risk analysts, and business communities. Transparency International releases a world map, as is shown below, that colors the degrees of perceived corruption from dark red (highly corrupt), to yellow (very clean).

The most recent CPI was released on December 4, 2014. It is unsurprising that this year countries like New Zealand and Denmark have fared well on the corruption index while war-torn Afghanistan and North Korea have ranked as some of the most corrupt countries. The Horn of Africa has not had a functioning government for more than two decades, a fact that has doubtlessly played a role in the regions repeatedly low ranking. However, a closer look at the continent of Africa shows one country that stands in bright yellow contrast to its red neighbors: Botswana.

Since 1995, Botswana, landlocked and tucked within the depths of Sub-Saharan Africa, has been ranked as the least corrupt country in Africa. Botswana’s low score this year (63) places it in the top 20% of the nations surveyed, as well as above almost two thirds of Europe, including Poland and Turkey. The case study of Botswana has received little media attention. In the wake of the release of the 2014 CPI Report, it is timely to examine the confluence of factors that have led Botswana to this privileged status.

For over a decade, the government of Botswana has publicly committed itself to a “zero tolerance” policy of corruption, warning that corrupt practices in both private and public sectors would not be tolerated. Behind this rhetoric is what can only be described as an ethical commitment to deter and punish corruption. At the grass roots level, the government has allocated resources towards anti-corruption curricula in schools and training institutions for youth. Students are taught through public education, poster campaigns and even cartoons, that Botswana’s social culture prohibits the offering, solicitation or payment of bribes.

But education is not enough to deter corruption. Botswana, like Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a country rich in diamonds. Unlike its neighbors, Botswana’s wealth has not led to violence and graft. The explanation for this, in part, can be attributed to Botswana’s small population size (2 million citizens) combined with its relative prosperity, well-paid civil service and low income taxes. When citizens feel that their wages adequately reflect the value of their work, they are less likely to request bribes for services rendered. Similarly, gainful employment combined with low taxes, decreases incentives for tax evasion amongst citizenry. While these factors taken together, do not guarantee a corruption-free country, they work to decrease the frequency of corrupt acts.

The government initiatives outlined above either intentionally or collaterally decrease corruption. Botswana has also purposefully implemented multiple law enforcement and oversight institutions, most notably the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) to investigate allegations of corruption. Since 2008, the DCEC has increased its capacity for casework, which includes the allocation of over 200 dedicated employees to the unit. It has decentralized its staff by creating anti-corruption units in ministries and local authorities, who have been charged with both education and law enforcement functions.  The DCEC also functions with institutional independence. Its director reports to the president of Botswana, while prosecutorial discretion lies with the attorney general – a position constitutionally independent from the government.

With the release of the 2014 CPI, Transparency International has provided a platform for anti-corruption academics and practitioners to access critical data on the endemic nature of corruption. The case study of Botswana runs complimentary to Transparency International’s work. Policy makers can now glean avenues of success in Botswana that can be emulated in other countries. Looking forward, a thorough analysis of the social and governance structures of a sample of countries on the 2014 CPI would provide an opportunity for progress in the fight against corruption.


The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not express the views of the World Bank, its Board of Executive Directors or the Governments they represent.


Michelle Ratpan, a Canadian national, works as a Litigation Specialist for the Integrity Vice Presidency of the World Bank. Michelle’s work includes investigations into fraud and corruption in several regions of the world including the Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia and South Asia Regions. Michelle has previously worked for the Department of Justice (Canada) as Counsel on behalf of the Attorney General of Canada. Michelle received her B.A. from McGill University, BCL/LLB from McGill's Faculty of Law and LLM in Global Health Law from Georgetown University Law School.

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