Document Type

Migration Policy Series

Publication Date



Balsillie School of International Affairs


The Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) is committed to supporting basic research on the dimensions, causes and consequences of cross-border and internal migration within the SADC region and to making the results accessible to a range of partners. We believe that a well-informed policy-maker or official is more likely to appreciate the workability of policy choices in the area of migration and immigration management. Policies based on poor or misleading information will not only fail but could have negative unintended consequences. From a human rights perspective, we are concerned that without accurate information about migration, decisions may be made which will violate constitutional guarantees and arouse public hostility towards non-citizens.

SAMP is also committed to conducting policy research at a regional scale. Research in one country, such as Botswana, can be systematically compared with the results from other SADC countries to highlight similarities and differences, and to ascertain the degree to which governments face similar challenges of migrant management and treatment. The information can also be useful to civil society and NGO’s as they attempt to deal with the challenges of migrant integration and xenophobia. Economic data on migration impacts can be invaluable to a wide range of actors, including government and the private sector.

Ultimately, the successful management of migration in Southern Africa depends on inter-governmental cooperation in data collection and policy harmonization. This is a long-term goal which has been temporarily stalled by the legitimate opposition of governments to moving too far, too fast. The SADC Draft Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons and its more restrictive successor, the SADC Draft Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement, have both floundered and there is little immediate likelihood of a Protocol that it equally acceptable to all SADC states. SAMP believes that the next step, before such a debate is re-initiated, is to gather reliable and accurate data on the volumes, trends, causes, impacts and remedies of migration at a regional scale. Only then can there be informed debate and forward movement on regional harmonization.

Botswana is a country with an unusually rich migration history. Batswana men and women have been migrating across colonial and international borders for decades for a multiplicity of reasons. Within the country, post-independence economic development and growth has been accompanied by rapid urbanization. Botswana’s current levels of urbanization make it one of the most urbanized countries within the SADC. As in many countries of the region, the monitoring of these processes through the ongoing collection of migration and immigration statistics is a challenging task. Botswana’s last census was in 1991 and there have been significant changes in migration movements and trends since that time. In this respect, the research community can play a vital role in supplementing official and census data collection with sound and representative inter-censual surveys of citizens and non-citizens, migrants and non-migrants.

Botswana has a long and vigorous tradition of migration research. This began with the work of the noted anthropologist Isaac Schapera in the 1930s and 1940s, work that is still consulted by researchers today. Botswana’s pre-colonial and colonial history of internal and cross-border migration has now been well-documented. In the post-independence period, there have been regular contributions to understanding contemporary patterns and dynamics of internal and cross-border migration. The most notable enterprise was the Botswana National Migration Survey in 1979. This project provided an exhaustive analysis of migration within and from Botswana in the late 1970s. Since that time, most researchers have relied on data from the 1981 and 1991 censuses, supplemented by local area and sample surveys. Twenty years have passed since the NMS was conducted. The census data shows that the changes since that time have been dramatic. Much less in known about the changes since 1991.

In an effort to provide the government and people of Botswana with basic, up-to-date information on migration trends, volumes, impacts, and attitudes, in 1997 SAMP entered into a research partnership with the International Training Programme in Population and Sustainable Development at the University of Botswana. This publication represents the first phase of this ongoing collaboration. It brings together the research findings from three national surveys of migration attitudes and behaviours undertaken in Botswana in 1997 and 1998. These were: (a) a national random sample survey of Batswana resident in Botswana at the time of the survey; (b) a sample survey of potential skilled Batswana migrants and emigrants; and (c) a survey of skilled and professional foreign citizens currently resident in Botswana.

This first chapter in this publication, by Professor John Oucho, provides an invaluable background overview of domestic and migration trends in Botswana from 1981 to the present. He stresses the importance of accurate classification and definition of what he calls inward and outward migration. These distinctions are vital since different forms of migration are motivated by different dynamics and require a differentiated policy response. Professor Oucho demonstrates that Botswana’s recent migration history has been profoundly shaped by its vibrant economy and political system. Botswana sends out proportionately fewer migrants for work outside the country than other SADC states and is also a major recipient of legal skilled and professional migrants (and increasing numbers of undocumented migrants).

As a migrant “sending and receiving” country, Botswana faces particular dilemmas and challenges. Botswana’s strategic recruiting and utilization of foreign skills is a forward-looking model for other countries in the region. There is always a danger, however, that unauthorized migrants will become the scapegoat for social problems (as has happened in South Africa) and that they will be treated with growing intolerance. This can only be countered if there is accurate information on the nature and impact of undocumented migration. What must also be a concern is the way in which South Africa treats Batswana citizens. Professor Oucho shows that the volume of cross-border traffic between Botswana and South Africa has now increased to over two million crossings a year. Significant numbers of Batswana are overstaying their permits in South Africa. So far, the South African government has not responded as harshly to unauthorized Batswana as it has to Mozambicans and Zimbabweans. But that could quickly change. It is in Botswana’s interests that migrants do not fall foul of South African immigration regulations.

The paper by Professor Oucho is based primarily on official statistics and census data. This also helps us to appreciate that there are significant gaps in official data collection and knowledge on migration and immigration, particularly for the 1990s. After the next census we will be in a good position to assess the changes of this inter-censual period. However, the three SAMP/University of Botswana surveys undertaken in Botswana to date provide a new and vital national picture of the migration situation at the end of the 1990s. These surveys are in the tradition of the earlier NMS and are the first round of what we anticipate will be an ongoing migration research enterprise in Botswana.

The second chapter by Elizabeth Mukamaambo presents the results of the first survey. This survey instrument – SAMP’s Five Nations Public Opinion Survey – has previously been administered in Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The results of these surveys can be consulted elsewhere. Her chapter draws on this massive migration data base to contrast the Botswana experience with that of other SADC countries.

In general the findings about Batswana migration behaviour and attitudes are similar to those of other SADC countries, with minor variations. For example, more than 40% of Batswana have been to South Africa at some point (comparable to Namibians but less than Mozambicans and Basotho). Many go often and for short visits of less than a month. Like migrants from other countries, they go for a variety of reasons but mainly shopping and visiting. However, relatively few Batswana (10%) went to work or to look for work on their last visit to South Africa. This is the lowest figure amongst the five countries surveyed. Also of interest is the evidence of considerable cross-border traffic between Botswana and its eastern neighbour, Zimbabwe.

Batswana migrants are extremely law-abiding and respectful of international ports of entry. The vast majority enter South Africa legally and with proper papers. They show little interest in permanent residence or South African citizenship. In fact, Botswana is seen to be a much better place to live across a range of indicators. The chapter concludes by recommending that policy-makers in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe take these results seriously and devise systems of management that do not obstruct such legal and economically constructive movements of people.

The third chapter by Dr Eugene Campbell focuses on a sub-set of Batswana – the skilled and professional class. Using a mail-out survey of a representative sample of skilled Batswana from the private and public sectors, Dr Campbell assesses their satisfaction with conditions in Botswana and the likelihood of their leaving temporarily or emigrating permanently. The basic question is whether Botswana is experiencing or is likely to experience a “brain drain” in the near future.

The survey showed that skilled Batswana have a significant “emigration potential.” Over 40% have given some or a great deal of thought to moving to another country. Nearly 60% expressed a desire to leave the country for up to two years; and 30% said it was likely that they would leave for more than two years. When asked about the time frame, however, only 3% said it was likely or very likely they would leave in the next five years. The preferred destination is the United States (27%) followed by South Africa (21%).

The desire to move has little to do with alienation or dissatisfaction with Botswana. Most are intensely patriotic, trustful of the national government and committed to the development of their country. Only a handful would ever contemplate giving up Botswana citizenship. What skilled Batswana are interested in is not permanent emigration. But they are interested in leaving for further study, to better their qualifications or for personal economic advantage, such as lower taxation or higher wages. Domestic unemployment hardly emerged as a “push factor”, underscoring the high levels of job assurance for skilled nationals in Botswana. This could, of course, change rapidly if Botswana went through tougher economic times. As Dr Campbell concludes, “skilled migration is only going to grow and the government of Botswana would be well advised to address these issues in a proactive, rather than reactive, manner.”

The final chapter by John Oucho visits the question of skilled expatriates in Botswana. This is the first survey of its kind in Botswana. In many countries, this is a very delicate political issue. Although there was some understandable wariness on the part of respondents, the participation rate was sufficient to allow some general conclusions to be made. The expatriates occupy a range of posts in both the private and public sector, come from an array of (primarily African) countries, and are significant earners by local standards. The overwhelming majority say that Botswana offers a better quality of life than in their own country. What is striking about Botswana (compared say with South Africa where skilled foreign Africans complain bitterly about their treatment by ordinary South Africans) is the lack of conflict and antagonism with locals. The vast majority of expatriates feel they are accepted and valued and report good relations with Batswana.

Although the vast majority of expatriates are classified and treated as temporary residents, many desire a more permanent commitment. As many as half are interested in becoming permanent residents of Botswana and a third are even interested in renouncing their citizenship and becoming citizens of Botswana. These are noteworthy findings and demonstrate the commitment of many “expatriates” to what they increasingly see as their “adopted country.” Few countries within SADC promote permanent immigration and few have expatriates willing to put down roots. In Botswana, there is clearly a case for examining whether there would be advantages to securing the permanent commitment of this group of highly skilled people.

In general, SAMP and its partners trust that the results of the surveys reported here will help government and civil society in Botswana to construct the knowledge base about migration that is urgently needed. These findings clearly reveal the distinctiveness of the Botswana experience with in and out migration. However, Botswana also shares many policy concerns and dilemmas about migration with its neighbour states. International experience shows that effective migration management is not something that a state can unilaterally implement. A renewed cooperative, regional, and harmonized approach (based on sound and reliable migration data and analysis) within SADC is therefore essential. This publication is designed to provide the people and government of Botswana with the information to advance confidently towards that goal.