Gaborone (Botswana)
#OurDemocracyLocal Kaelo Molefhe

The power of Kgotla.

Kaelo Molefhe is an advisor on governance to His Excellency Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, the fifth president of Botswana. He is also a political scientist.

What is your best story of local democracy?

It’s called Kgotla.

It’s the traditional meeting place. It’s a unique structure and system for people, where community comes together, deliberate on issues, and collectively makes a decision. 

You have the chief, and his advisors presiding over the process. Everybody has an opportunity to speak—whoever wants to speak. You are not restricted in how you say it, but there’s a minimal expectation of respect. Historically women were excluded. But everybody is allowed, more or less, now.

We have somehow managed to infuse it in modern governance. If government wants to get views from community, this is where ministers will go and meet with the community

For instance, when we were doing a comprehensive review of our constitution, we spent a year traversing the whole country, visiting kgotlas’ and getting their views on how they wanted to change the constitution.

Traditionally it was used to resolve conflicts within the community. To initiate ideas and new projects. Now we have digitalized the kgotla, so those who are not physically present can still participate. In that way, even youth are able to participate.

All of us come from villages. Growing up in the village, you get to see the elders, mostly elders sitting at a kgotla. And there would be a notification that the kgotla would gather at a particular date—and they would be told what would be discussed, so it gave them an opportunity to seek ideas.

At the center of the kgotla, you’ll see a saying in our own language, Mafoko a kgotla a mantle otlhe. That’s loosely translated as “all worlds spoken at Kgotla are beautiful” or “Everybody’s opinion is important.”

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