• Indigenous peoples in Botswana

    Indigenous peoples in Botswana

    The San, the Balala, the Nama, and their sub-groups are the indigenous peoples of Botswana. Although Botswana has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country's indigenous peoples are not recognised by the government. The indigenous peoples are among the most underprivileged in Botswana.
  • Peoples

    3.3 per cent of the population identifies as belonging to indigenous groups, but are not recognised 64,000 belong to the San peoples, while 1,750 belong to the Balala peoples, and 2,200 to the Nama peoples
  • Rights

    2007: Botswana adopts the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Current state

    Although Botswana has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country's indigenous peoples are not recognised by the government. Also, they are among the most underprivileged peoples in Botswana.


The San, the Balala, the Nama and their subgroups are the indigenous peoples of Botswana. Although Botswana voted in favor and adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the indigenous peoples of the country are not recognized by the government and are among the most disadvantaged people of Botswana, with a high percentage of life by below the poverty line.

Botswana is a signatory to the Conventions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), on the rights of the child (CRC) and on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (CERD).

However, Botswana has not signed ILO 169, the international legal instrument that specifically addresses the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. In addition, there are no specific laws on the rights of indigenous peoples in the country nor is the concept of indigenous peoples included in the constitution of Botswana.

Although the Government of Botswana does not recognize any specific ethnic group as indigenous to the country, 2.9% of the population is identified as belonging to indigenous groups. Mainly they reside in the region of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and include the San (also known as the Basarwa), which number about 64,000, the Balala, around 1,750, and the Nama, who number about 2,200.

While the Nama is a Khoekhoe-speaking people, the San belong to a large number of subgroups, most of which have their own language. They include the Ju / 'hoansi, Bugakhwe, Khwe-ǁAni, Ts'ixa, ǂX'ao-ǁ'aen,! Xóõ, ǂHoan, ‡ Khomani, Naro, G / ui, G // ana, Tsasi, Deti, Shua, Tshwa, Danisi and / Xaise.

Main challenges for the San, Balala and Nama

It remains a struggle for indigenous peoples in Botswana to remain on their lands. People living in protected areas are under constant threat of being relocated by central government or district councils.

Another struggle of the indigenous peoples of Botswana is the drought. Although President Khama has declared a national drought emergency authorizing food deliveries and cash-for-work programs in many parts of the country, there have been no food deliveries or pensions to the villages in the Central Kalahari Game or in the village of Ranyane. .

The fracking is being carried out by oil and mining companies in what is known as the Nama Basin in the Kgalagadi District. Residents of the communities of San and Bakgalagadi have complained that fracking results in a drop in the water table, less access to water from the well in the village and high levels of toxic chemicals and salts in the water, which makes it Virtually not drinkable.
Discussions about non-hunting and anti-poaching policies in Botswana continue to intensify, while the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism defends the political controversy to address threats to Botswana's wildlife base. The people of San have been pressing the government for a greater explanation of their wildlife policies and the search for compensation for crops, livestock and the loss of human lives to wild animals.

Advances in cultural and political participation

In August 2016, a Nama cultural festival was held in the Kgalagadi district and a Kuru dance festival in Dqae Qare. The Kuru Dance Festival brought together the San, Bakgalagadi, Mbukushu, Herero, Tswana and many other peoples from around the world. the country, and it was an expression of cultural pride on the part of the groups.

Some San also participated in the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the independence of Botswana held in Gaborone in September 2016.
San organizations and other NGOs in Botswana had problems in part due to lack of funds in 2016. San Youth Network (SYNet) continued to publish on their websites written by young people about women's rights, children's rights and the climate change.


Botswana is a country of 2,250,000 inhabitants which celebrated its 50th year of independence in 2016. Its government does not recognise any specific ethnic groups as indigenous, maintaining instead that all citizens of the country are indigenous. However, 2.9% of the population identifies as belonging to indigenous groups. These include the San (known in Botswana as the Basarwa) who number about 65,000; the Balala (1,950); and the Nama (2,400), a Khoekhoe-speaking people.1

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For some Bushmen, a Homeland Worth the Fight

The Bushmen of Botswana’s central Kalahari are well known to the world, the subject of books, films and anthropological studies. They are frequently portrayed — or, as many say, romanticized — as classic hunter-gatherers, a living link to humankind’s collective beginnings. But for decades, they have been entrenched in a tug of war over their fate that has often gone unnoticed, a saga now replete with edicts and court cases, with alcohol abuse and sundered families, with an aboriginal people despairing about the uncertainty of their future.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

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