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IAN KHAMA – Botswana’s ex-President and Unconventional African Leader

Between the man on the street hoping to get a lifeline and the professional in the office working to meet a deadline, politics is often a unifying topical issue where leadership is on continuous assessment and evaluation.

In a continent of strongmen and weak institutions, the last few decades have seen the advent of ‘made-in-Africa’ politics, where the bulk of the problem with development falls on the leadership.

Is it the case of the proverbial cat with nine lives, married to four wives whose reign as South Africa’s president unceremoniously came to an end earlier this year? Or an existing collection of doctorate sit-tight rulers in Africa aiming at reaching that legendary status of President-Emeritus?

Well, in trying to reflect on the essence of governance and the dividend of democracy across a few shinning lights abound, and in this case, one name readily comes to mind: He is Ian Khama of Botswana.

Ian Khama is the son of a king, a trained pilot, a bachelor and an unorthodox African president while in power. He also stands out mostly for his final act as President of Botswana: Stepping down.

Ultimately, Ian Khama bowed out as a charismatic President for an exemplary nation.

His exit preserves the legacy of his father, Seretse Khama, who struggled for his country’s independence from Britain and became the first president in 1966.

BOTSWANA: From one Khama to another
Geopolitically and economically, Botswana was one of the weakest countries to ever gain freedom from colonial rule. Landlocked, It is bordered by white minority regimes in South Africa, South-West Africa (Namibia) and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). South Africa, occupying the main trading route could readily intimidate Botswana with crippling sanctions and violent incursions.

Diplomacy was difficult. Relations with the apartheid regime in South Africa required a tightrope walk between economic cooperation and political distance. Botswana’s post-colonial leadership was slow to build wider credibility within the then Organization of African Unity (OAU). Overly reliant on British aid, the country was in desperate need of economic partners and diplomatic connections from abroad.

External onlookers doubted Botswana’s viability and its capacity to resist South African pressure. In defiance, Seretse upheld a vision of security and prosperity in a non-racial democracy. He insisted all individuals were entitled to political freedoms and individual protections, without racial discrimination. These values appeared ambitious to uphold in a young developing state but they soon proved to be a vital asset.

September 2018 will make it 52 years since Botswana attained independence from British rule. Over the decades, the small landlocked country has been regarded as a role model for success in Africa. It has achieved political stability, democratic government, and remarkable economic growth.

Botswana’s history began about 25 years before independence when the territory was known as the Bechuanaland Protectorate when Seretse Khama, a royal African prince, got married to Ruth Williams, a white British woman.

The apartheid regime was outraged and exerted political pressure on the British, who held important mining interests in South Africa. To ease tensions, the British forced Seretse into exile in England from 1950 to 1956. He was only allowed to return to Botswana after abdicating his claim to the chiefdom.

Seretse would later enter party politics in the early 196os, leading the then Bechuanaland Democratic Party to victory in 1965 and independence the following year.

Under Seretse, the more aid Botswana received, the more of a success it became. And the more it was seen as a success, the more it undermined the ideology of apartheid. At a time, Botswana was one of the world’s poorest countries, but its economy boomed after the discovery of diamonds in 1967.

The nation’s first President , who died in 1980, ultimately proved that multi-racialism was possible in the region.
White settlement in Botswana, consisting of some Afrikaners and fewer English settled in border farms, totaled fewer than 3,000 people in the colonial period. The number of whites in Botswana, while showing some increase since independence, still accounts for only a very small portion of the total population. Botswana is also home to a small population of Asian or mixed ancestry.

Effective leadership and policymaking were also crucial. This was best demonstrated in Botswana’s effective management of a rich mining boom in diamonds.

It was only a matter of time before the world began to realize that the nation would outlive the neighboring powers that once posed a threat to its existence.

IAN KHAMA: The true son of his father
Former President, Lieutenant General Ian Khama, is the first son of his father, who was king of the Bamangwato people. Seretse Khama married an English office clerk and wartime ambulance driver named Ruth Williams in 1948

He was born on the 27th of February 1953 in Surrey, England as the second of four siblings, with an elder sister Jacqueline, and two younger twin brothers, Tshekedi and Anthony.

Ian’s place birth was due to the fact that his parents had been forced into political exile, being barred by the then colonial Government from residing in Botswana.

The triumphant return of his parents from exile in 1956 allowed Ian Khama to begin primary school among his own people in Serowe in 1960.

He later acquired secondary education at White Stone school in Bulawayo, in what is now Zimbabwe, and Waterford School Swaziland, then further studied in Switzerland and England.

Thereafter, Khama embarked on what would become a military career. For his tertiary education he attended the prestigious Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England. After graduating he enrolled for further training at the Nigerian Police Academy at Ikeja. He also underwent flight training, in Gaborone and then Antwerp, Belgium, in 1974 and has since maintained his status a qualified pilot.

In 1973 Khama joined the paramilitary Police Mobile Unit, which was the forerunner of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF). With the formation of the latter, in April 1977, Khama assumed the responsibility of Deputy Commander.

Formed in the face of rising regional tensions, which were then being driven by the racist regimes of Apartheid South Africa and rebel Rhodesia (liberated as Zimbabwe), who then encircled Botswana, at its formation the new army consisted of a mere 132 Police Mobile Unit veterans. This small force was immediately confronted with the task of countering stepped up cross border aggression by the then Rhodesian Security Forces.

As both its Deputy Commander and Commander, from 1989 and 1998, Khama went on to play a central role in forging the BDF into a modern professional fighting force, which has won widespread respect for its record in such areas as international peacekeeping, disaster relief and anti-poaching activities, as well as defensive capabilities.

In April 1998 Lieutenant General Khama retired from the Botswana Defence Force and joined politics. As a member of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, he was appointed Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration.

In July that year, he won the Serowe North Constituency by-election and became its Member of Parliament. He was thereafter nominated for Vice President by President Festus Mogae; his nomination being subsequently endorsed by Parliament.

In the October 1999 general election, Khama again contested the Serowe North Constituency and won; he was again nominated and endorsed by Parliament as Vice President.

In October 2004, he contested the General Elections in the Serowe North-West Constituency and was the only parliamentary candidate unopposed. He was also once more endorsed as Vice President.

Earlier, in July 2003 Khama was elected Chairman of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.

IAN KHAMA: The Legacy
In April 2018, Khama stepped down, handing power to Vice-President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who will become the country’s fifth president since independence.

Thanks to a quirk of Botswanan politics, presidential terms have become disconnected from electoral cycles, meaning that Khama’s term limit — a maximum of so years in office —expires more than a year before the next election, which is scheduled for 2019.

On his farewell tour, Khama received three cars worth more than $300 000, a bicycle worth $6 000, more than 1000 cattle, Soo-plus chickens and zoo or so sheep. His Cabinet gave him a pistol, a ranch, a tractor and cash, and some especially generous members of the opposition handed him shares in Botswana’s main telecoms company.

Opposition figures were also lavish in their praise, with some saying Khama had helped the nation to aim higher. But the praise singing doesn’t tell the whole story. Khama, the son of Botswana’s founding father Sir Seretse Khama, leaves a mixed legacy. He was an unorthodox leader. He would play pool in townships and serve soup and bread to village elders, and would regularly drop in unannounced at hospitals or bars.

Khama was less popular internationally, especially with African leaders, although this is probably to his credit.

Under his direction, Botswana took strong stands in favour of the International Criminal Court, and he was unstinting in his criticism of his authoritarian neighbour, nonagenarian Robert Mugabe, at a time when his continental peers remained silent.

But some reports also claim Khama had his own authoritarian streak, and worked hard to expand the powers of the presidency, making state media, state security agencies and the anti-corruption authorities report directly to him and towards the end of his tenure in office, the ruling party had to rebel against the prospect of his brother Tshekedi Khama, becoming his automatic successor.

Some opposition figures complained that the ruling party resorted to violence and intimidation, and human rights activists have alleged that extrajudicial killings by state security agencies increased under his leadership.

In the last months of his presidency, Khama was dragged into a corruption scandal. In a court case linked to the alleged looting of the National Petroleum Fund, defence lawyers said Khama turned a blind eye to corrupt transactions and may even have benefited personally.

The U.S. State Department’s human rights report on Botswana last year criticized the country for violence, particularly sexual violence against women and children; discrimination against the Basarwa people; and Adel lahnr mainly/ in anrinultiurp anrIhprrlinn

But the report was equally notable for areas where it found nothing to criticize: Prison and detention met international standards; there were no reports of unlawful killings by security forces; the armed forces were under government control; elections were free and fair; and officials who committed offenses were prosecuted.

Botswana’s judiciary and media are independent, but detractors accuse Khama of intolerance of criticism and say his government harasses journalists. Khama accuses the media of publishing lies.

Prior to entering politics, in 1998, Botswana’s President, the fourth since independence, had already established a reputation as a leader and passionate conservationist. His life has been one of accomplishment in extraordinary circumstances.

Lt. Gen. Khama has a wide range of interests and is patron of various organizations, including Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Serowe Museum, Chobe WildlifeTrust, Mokolodi Wildlife Foundation, the Kalahari Flying Club, Botswana Volleyball Federation, Botswana Football Association and Botswana Softball Association, Botswana Cricket Association, Bana ba Metsi School and the Serowe North Development Trust. He is also the founding Chairman of the Sponsor a Child Trust whose main objectives are to assist disadvantaged children particularly destitute, disabled and orphaned children. He is also Chairman of the Lady Khama Charitable Trust, which he pioneered in memory of his late Mother. The Trust assists other specialised Charitable Organisations with financial and material resources to realise their own objectives.

An avid football lover, Khama is also president of Mogoditshane Fighters, Miscellaneous Football Club and Okavango Football Club.

He is Vice Chairman of the Kalahari Conservation Society; Honorary Member of the Game Rangers Association of Southern Africa, and Board Member of the USA based Conservation International. Khama has received a number of honours and awards including the Presidential Order of Honour, Founder Officer Medal, Duty Code Order and the Distinguished Service Medal.

He was awarded the Conservation Award by the African Safari Club of Washington USA in aggi and the Hotel and Tourism Industry Award in 1996, the Paul Harris Fellow and the Endangered Wildlife Trust Statesman Award in 2003.

As president, Ian Khama piloted the state helicopter when making domestic visits and sometimes gave children airplane joyrides. In 2006, as vice president, he took over the controls of an air force plane when it developed problems and crash-landed it in Francistown (a staff member told Botswana media at the time).

An outdoors enthusiast, Khama likes riding ATVs and power-chuting, which involves a parachute and a three-wheeled go-cart. He often volunteered as a server in soup kitchens and dropped by hospitals to visit the sick. Under Khama, the government made strides in reducing poverty and providing low income housing.

As a bachelor, Khama is unusual in Africa where traditional values often hold sway. Often questioned about his single status, he claimed to be too busy to find a wife and worried about not having control over his happiness in marriage, though he once said he is looking for a tall, slim beauty to marry.

Ian Khama left behind a Botswana where Homosexuality is illegal ethnic discrimination is a concern where a fifth of the country’s two million people live on less than $2 a day, and the ranks of the young and embittered are swelling.

Growth is slowing in an economy that has failed to diversify away from diamonds. More worrying, Botswana’s supply is expected to run out within the next two decades.

Good enough, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, set up by the Sudanese British billionaire to measure and reward good governance in Africa, ranks Botswana the third most democratic country in Africa, behind Mauritius and the Seychelles.

Botswana, a nation of 2.2 million people, is the longest-running multi-party democracy on a continent whose leaders often cling to power into their 8os or 9os and rarely go without a fight.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni has been in office since 1986. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda recently won a third term, after the two-term limit was ditched. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe hung on for nearly four decades until last year when the military forced him out. All of them claimed their citizens would not let them leave office.

On April 1st, 2018, Ian Khama stepped down for his deputy Mokgweetsi Masisi, signaling the end of another era.

Earnest, highly educated, elitist and remote, President Mokgweetsi Masisi is said to lack the charisma of Botswana’s former president. Unless the country’s fragmented opposition launches a spirited campaign, he could well increase the ruling party — Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) vote in next year’s general elections.

In the meantime, effective leadership and good governance would need to match developmental ambitions so that the hope of a better nation can begin to find expression in present continuous tense.