My Externship Experience in Botswana

Gaborone, Botswana

Like my fellow bloggers on Legally Abroad, I came to my summer externship through the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights (UMI). UMI allows students to spend the summer working with human rights organizations, international judges, human rights attorneys, governmental agencies, or UN bodies through an externship. I have been spending my summer winter working with governmental agencies here in Botswana – mostly the Ministry of Basic Education (MoBE) and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), with one day sprinkled in where I went around with the office of the Attorney General. So here it is: my work as a summer extern during Botswana’s winter.

Ministry of Basic Education

20170601_124142The vision of the Ministry of Education is to “be a world-class provider of quality, accessible and equitable life-long education and training”, and it strives to provide “quality education and training that is accessible to learners of all age groups and to create opportunities for life-long learning to enable individuals to attain their full potential. . . .” The Ministry acknowledges that “efficient and effective management” is an essential attribute for them to fulfill to achieve this goal, and much of my work in the Ministry was to this effect.

I am not a practicing attorney, just a law student on a summer externship, and my work was limited to assisting my supervisor in researching and discussing a variety of legal matters facing the ministry. My supervisor, the Legal Advisor for the Ministry, asked that I help him research a variety of topics, most of which dealt with employer/employee relations and contract disputes. Generally, the governing law on these topics was found within the General Orders and Public Service Act (PSA). Once the law was found, I would search for applicable case law. There are a handful of websites that helped me find pertinent cases, the most useful of which are as follows: Botswana e-Laws, SAFLII, and CILSA. I was told that, when searching for precedent, one is to first search for a relevant case here in Botswana, and if none can be found then it is best to check other Southern African countries, with the most useful and more relied upon of which being South Africa. If still no legal precedent is found, lawyers in Botswana turn to the United Kingdom for case law. Through this research I learned a great deal about Botswana and its legal system.


Ministry of Education

I have also been afforded a variety of great opportunities through my work with the Ministry. There is now my blog-infamous experience at the Teacher’s Day Celebration (which I won’t go into here, but feel free to read just about every other post I’ve made to learn more). I also have been present for a variety of activities by which the Ministry was informing the public about some of their legislative initiatives. One such occasion was when I attended the filming of a segment of a talk show here in Botswana discussing a bill which would establish a profession status to teachers with their own independent council to regulate the profession. The program is taped exclusively in Setswana. Later that week the show was broadcast on national television. I was also brought along for our briefing of this very same bill (in addition to two smaller ones) to the Ntlo Ya Dikgosi (loosely translated to the “Council of Dikgosi”, previously called the House of Chiefs).


Some of my Coworkers from the Ministry after we had presented to the Ntlo Ya Dikgosi.

The Ntlo Ya Dikgosi was established in the Constitution of Botswana, and certain laws outlined in the constitution may not be passed or amended without first submitting the legislation for the Dikgosi’s input. (1). This government entity has no legislative power, but must be allowed to advise the government on certain legislative matters, and must also consider any bill referred to it by the National Assembly (the legislative branch) or a minister. (2). To be a member of the Ntlo ya Dikgosi, one must both be a citizen of Botswana and twenty-one years of age or older. (3). This was traditionally a position only held by men, but now is open to both men and women – and there are several women acting as a Kgosi. A few of the positions on the Dikgosi are purely hereditarily based, however, all the other posts are elected. [For more information on the traditional role of chiefs, seek out my posts on Pula and A Brief History of Botswana].


On the day we arrived to brief the Ntlo Ya Dikgosi, I sat next to my good friend and legal mentor, the Ministry’s Legal Adviser. I was actually introduced to everyone there, which I didn’t think would happen, otherwise I would have asked what was the proper protocol before we arrived. By the time I realized I would be introduced to them, it was too late for me to do anything but wing it. Everyone before me had done some sort of formal bow, and something incorporating “dumela” [which is hello] but extended and with extra words. I leaned over quickly to ask my supervisor how to do the greeting when my name was called – I stood up and mumbled out a “Dumellang” [plural greeting] and did an awkward bow that was half bow, half genuflect (the closest thing I’ve done to formal bowing, old habits, am I right?) and sat down. I probably should have stood longer, as my introduction awkwardly continued “intern. . . with the. . . legal adviser. . . . . . from the University of Cincinnati.” I just smiled until we finally moved on.


Meeting the current Chairperson of the Ntlo ya Dikgosi, Kgosi Puso Gaborone.


After the introductions, we  presented the bills and listened to the questions and comments provided to us. It was easy enough for me to follow along with the presentation with the slides, however, the questions and comments were difficult for me to follow as just about every word was in Setswana, but I did my best. Afterwards, I had the opportunity to talk with the some of the members of the Ntlo Ya Dikgosi, including the current Chairperson of the Ntlo ya Dikgosi, Kgosi Puso Gaborone. I was able to get a picture with Kgosi Puso Gaborone, although, an ill-timed joke on my part may have marred our photo.

I also went with the legal adviser to Kanye, where he presented to the school heads on a variety of topics that would help streamline some of the ministry’s legal matters.

I learned a lot of practical skills from my time at the MoBE, however, the greatest thing I’ll be taking away from my time there is the importance of discretion and empathy in


The Legal Adviser to the Ministry of Education and Myself

the law. The legal adviser really helped me reflect upon this, and I was startled at first at how little empathy I displayed. Professors warn you this can happen at the beginning of 1L year, they do their best to remind students that there is a person behind every case – and yet, somehow, that fact is still lost to many during their 1L year, myself included. I had various interactions when I first arrived with the legal adviser with a variety of individuals who sought his legal advice – and I initially was caught up in only analyzing the legal arguments at play. By my doing this, I was failing my job as an advocate. My time at MoBE held a mirror up for me to gaze within, and I came to find that I didn’t like everything that was reflected. I’ve taken notice of this, and plan to continue with my legal studies with this in mind.



Directorate of Public Prosecutions


My fellow intern and myself

I spent my time with a prosecutor at the DPP and another intern – this intern being a recent graduate from the University of Botswana. Again, I only helped the attorneys at DPP with research generally, and did not act as a practicing attorney. I only spent about two weeks at DPP, but my time there has been one of my highlights here in Botswana. Most of what I witnessed was procedural, something I have come to appreciate more and more as I worked with my counterpart.

I spent most of my time in the Magistrate Courts here in Botswana. There are various courts in Botswana, which are as follows: The Superior Courts, Court of Appeal [which hears appeals from lower courts], High Court [has “unlimited original jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil or criminal matter under any law” and supervises subordinate courts]; the Industrial Court [which is designed to handle trade disputes and is not a high court but rather “a court of law and equity]; the Magistrate courts [which has a limited criminal and civil jurisdiction; for example: murder trials start at the Magistrate courts but once they are ready to actually be tried they are sent to the Superior Courts]; and the Customary Courts [which deal with customary law and have a well-defined jurisdiction, only being allowed to overhear matters in which the defendant is “is ordinarily a resident. . . or the cause of action arose wholly within the jurisdiction of the court and the claim or value of the property in dispute does not exceed the maximum amount set out in the court’s warrant.” (4). Again, I spent most of my time with DPP at the Magistrate courts, specifically Broadhurst Magistrate Court. Botswana is building a new location for the courts, so the building we were operating out of is only temporary.

I was given a lot of excellent work experience at the DPP, and was also afforded a great deal of opportunities such as when I traveled with the prosecutor to meet with the defense attorney in accordance with Rule 68 of the Rules of the High Court to fulfill the Initial Case Management requirement.


Directorate of Public Prosecutions

I have a few comments on the criminal justice system here, the first being that there is no jury system, and that was something my supervisor enjoyed asking me about. Second, security seemed relatively laxed – yes, police with semi-automatic rifles sometimes arrive with the accused/guilty, but most days it’s just a few police officers who work as investigators. Defendant’s sit in a box on the side of the court room, and not with their attorney. They walk into the court room shackled if from prison, and the shackles are taken off once they are in the court room – a noisy process, but commonplace. Finally, I personally have some general concerns about the issue of translation in the legal system here – law is practiced in English in all the courts (with the exception of the Customary Courts), and this results in courtroom translators having to be present for almost all proceedings, as the Judge and Attorneys will only speak in English. I was told that this was done because Setswana can be interpreted differently and has different meanings from one part of the country to another, whereas English more or less has generally accepted definitions. My concern is that, despite almost everyone in the country learning English, not everyone is proficient at the language, and this could possibly result in a disconnect between the people and the legal process, and creates the possibility that an injustice occurs as statements are interpreted from Setswana to English and English to Setswana at various stages throughout the legal process. For example, statements are taken by police officers (who aren’t necessarily proficient in the language), and then read back to the person given the statement (almost always in English, so if that individual isn’t proficient in English they may not understand that their words have been misinterpreted). In the court room, all questions asked by the Judge or Attorneys to an individual speaking another language (typically Setswana) are asked initially in English and then translated to the individual by the court translator – who, I was told, are not necessarily certified to be a translators. Most have assured me that in all but a few cases, the color of the statements is preserved throughout the process, however, I still find this to be very concerning. It’s a topic I am more sensitive to, as I have a great professor and friend who has done professional translating for much of her career and the topic frequently finds its way into our conversations.


My Supervisor at DPP and I in a totally not staged photo.

With that being said, the prosecutors I met at DPP were all incredibly competent, and my experiences with them is certainly a highlight of my stay here in Botswana. The attorneys I had the pleasure of working with there I consider to be lifelong friends, and I hope our paths one day cross again.







Attorney General’s Office

My time here in Botswana ran short, and I unfortunately was only able to spend one day with the civil side of the Attorney General’s office. So it goes. Despite only spending a single day there, my time there was very insightful and rewarding, and deserves recognition in this post. I had the opportunity to join this young, promising attorney at her Court of Appeals hearing. Lawyers here, when engaging with a higher court, wear robes – and I, not having one, had to sit in the gallery. Afterword’s, I attended a negotiations for a settlement.


I’ve gained a lot from my experience here in Botswana, much of it invaluable hands on experience, but I’ve also gained a lot of friends and companions here in Botswana, both within and without the legal field. It’s something I greatly needed, and something I am thankful for.


  • OAGILE BETHUEL KEY DINGAKE, Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law in Botswana 184 (2011).
  • at 184-187
  • at 186
  • at 195-197

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