Homosexuality, both gay and lesbian, is illegal in Botswana. Article 164 of Botswana's Penal Code prescribes a maximum seven-year prison term for 'carnal knowledge…against the order of nature'. While arrests are rare, Botswana's High Court ruled on a case involving two gay men in July 2003. The court found that ‘the time has not yet arrived to decriminalise homosexual practices even between consenting adult males in private’.

Intolerance has increased in the region over the last few years due to the homophobic statements of leaders in neighbouring Namibia and Zimbabwe. When asked in 2011 about a plan to distribute condoms to prisoners engaged in same-sex sexual activity, the deputy speaker of the Botswana National Assembly, Pono Moatlhodi, suggested that were he to have the power, he would have homosexuals killed.

And yet the situation is more nuanced than it may first appear. Botswana's employment laws forbid workplace discrimination or dismissal on the basis of a person's sexual orientation, while Botswana's former president, Festus Mogae, told the BBC in 2011 that prejudice against gays and lesbians was harming the country's fight against HIV/AIDS. He also said that he had, while in office, directed police to neither harass nor arrest gays and lesbians. Gay and lesbian people with whom we spoke in Botswana suggested that the situation, at least in Gaborone, is relatively relaxed and that they were able live quite openly as gays and lesbians.

Even so, given the sensitivity of the subject and the strongly held views of many Batswana, it is advisable to refrain from any overt displays of affection in public.

Organisations

In 1998 a group of lesbians, gays and bisexuals established the advocacy and support group LeGaBiBo. The first thing it did was to publish a human-rights charter under the auspices of Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, and it has since run safe-sex workshops to highlight the risks of HIV/AIDS. Ditshwanelo continues to advocate and lobby for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

The government registrar twice refused to register LeGaBiBo, on the grounds that the group was engaged in illegal activities and posed a threat to order in Botswana society. The decision mattered because without such registration, it would be extremely difficult for LeGaBiBo to raise money. In 2013 members of LeGaBiBo sued the Botswana government and, a year later, won the case before the High Court, which ruled that LeGaBiBo must be registered. The government appealed and in 2016 the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of LeGaBiBo on the basis that any refusal to register the group was unconstitutional.

Useful Resources

  • Afriboyz (www.afriboyz.com/Homosexuality-in-Africa.html) Links to gay topics in an African context.
  • African Horizons (www.africanhorizons.com) Gay-friendly tour operator that offers trips to Southern Africa, including Botswana.
  • David Tours (www.davidtravel.com) Can arrange seven- and 12-day trips to northern Botswana, all with a gay focus.
  • Global Gayz (www.globalgayz.com/africa/botswana) Links to gay issues in Botswana and other African countries.
  • Via Origins A LGBT-friendly safari operator who is also a good one-stop shop for information on Maun and wider Botswana activities.