After 10 years in office, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, the President of Botswana will today handover power to his Vice President, former school teacher and ruling party loyalist – Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi. But what will change in a country that has known only one ruling party for over 50 years? reGina Jane Jere reports
Not much can be tapped from diamond-rich Botswana in terms of its political evolution. The country has been ruled by one party – the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) since independence in 1966. It has held 11 general elections since then all of which the BDP has won, with all the 4 presidents so far – including Khama (and his father – the founding President Sir Seretse Khama) being from the long-ruling party.
Khama, will today (31st March) step down as his mandated second term comes to an end, handing over a country that has for decades been hailed as an example of sound and progressive economic management and development. And despite having been ruled by a single party for over 50 years, Botswana is praised as a yardstick for Africa’s political democracy and cohesion, although the country’s fledgling opposition will beg to differ.
When he took over from the Mo Ibrahim Leadership Prize winner, Festus Mogae in 2008, Khama rode on a highly propounded mantra he called the four “Ds” – Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline.
In the last election (2014) the new Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), a three-party opposition coalition did not do badly notching more seats in parliament than the opposition had ever done before.
The wins gave the opposition more confidence and zeal; amid growing malaise against the 52-year BDP rule among voters more so the youth and those in urban areas although BDP enjoys popular support in rural areas.
And as such, as Khama hands over to Masisi (who at 55 is only 3 years older than his party and being inaugurated tomorrow 1st April), there is some growing optimism that he could face a tougher challenge when he leads the party into the general election in 18 month’s time – which however, the BDP is excepted to still win.
But with some critics labelling him a political novice, with a lot to learn and do, in if he is to maintain the BDP’s dominance, Masisi’s initial grip can be viewed as weak. His ascendance to the vice presidency in 2014, was not without controversy either, with some local press reports even suggesting that Masisi himself was taken by surprise at his VP appointment.
He had only joined politics from serving in UNICEF in 2003, and only won his first parliamentary seat in 2009. His first ministerial position was Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public administration in 2011. In 2014 he became both Vice President and Minister of Minister of Education and Skills Development, concurrently. Last year, Chancellor of the University of Botswana was added to Masisi’s positions, following the death of former President Quett Masire, who was the Chancellor.
And in Botswana politics, his rise to such a high positions as a newbie, more so as Vice President so soon, set political tongues wagging. What more now that he is President.
“Masisi was new in the party and there were people before him in terms of their seniority. What was obvious to everyone was not followed as Khama chose to appoint Masisi as a big surprise,” wrote the local Mmegi newspaper.
But Masisi does have weighty political blood running in his veins. He is the son of Edison Setlhomo Masisi– one of Botswana’s post-independence stalwarts’ who served as a Member of Parliament in the BDP from 1966 to 1999, as well as several diplomatic and ministerial positions, including as Foreign Affairs between 1966-1969. Masisi senior also had a very close relationship with Ian Khama’s father – Sir Seretse the founding president.
It could be said hence, that Khama is handing over to someone he knows well. At one point in Masisi’s nascent political career, Ian Khama even mandated him (when he was a newly appointed Minister for Presidential Affairs) to run – what Mmegi called Khama’s “pet projects” the Poverty Eradication and the Presidential Housing Appeal.
But as Masisi takes over the presidency for the next 18 months – and more likely beyond, he inherits arguably, a stable country both economically and politically.
Despite recent knocks to its economy and a rise in unemployment attributed to dwindling diamond reserves and prices – heightening calls for economic diversification – Botswana still remains one of Africa’s fastest growing economies which has recorded an average 5% per annum economic growth rate continuously in the past 10 years.
Gains are expected for the medium-term, with a real GDP growth of up to 4.8 percent by 2019 and poverty is projected to decline by 0.7 percentage point to reach 10.6 percent of the population by 2019.
But, according to a recent World Bank report, Botswana’s dependency on commodities renders the country vulnerable to international market fluctuations. The prolonged uncertainty of global markets and slow pace of economic recovery in advanced countries both continue to act as a drag on Botswana’s economic outlook, explains the report which also decried that despite Botswana’s economic growth, the country faces high levels of poverty and inequality, especially in rural areas and in the southern part of the country
However, gains are expected for the medium-term, with a real GDP growth of up to 4.8 percent by 2019 and poverty is projected to decline by 0.7 percentage point to reach 10.6 percent of the population by 2019.
When he took over from the Mo Ibrahim Leadership Prize winner, Festus Mogae in 2008, Khama rode on a highly propounded mantra he called the four “Ds” – Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline. To some, more so to the outside world, Khama delivered and Botswana remains an example of stability Africa should pick a leaf or three from.
As to what he will do next? It is early days. Khama, whose secretive personal lifestyle was fodder for gossip, is however an avid conservationist, a trained pilot and most of all a Paramount chief of the influential Bangwato tribe. His future options are therefore broad, not forgetting his outspokenness against overstaying African leaders and bad leadership could be a civic journey he could wish to follow up on as a civilian.
Khama is on record stating : “We cannot bask in past glory forever as has been the tendency. We need to think of the coming decades and about the prosperity and welfare of future generations.” Will Masisi heed these words from his predecessor?