Khama and the making of a sovereign nation (Part 2)

Seretse Khama
Seretse Khama

On the afternoon of November 11, 1970, in Uppsala, Sweden, the late founding president SIR SERETSE KHAMA delivered a moving address on the Republic’s fight for sovereignty, the process of nation building and his vision for the future. Here below, Khama speaks in his own words

I mention these Setswana expressions to demonstrate that these principles are not mere imported slogans but are rooted in our social and political culture and lend themselves to vivid illustration and to interpretation quite sophisticated enough to accommodate the changes taking place in our society. They also serve to underline a considerable degree of political continuity despite these changes and institutional changes which have accompanied them.

I want to emphasise the importance of these Setswana idioms and concepts for another reason. It is too often stated that democracy has no place in Africa. Democracy is also stated to be incompatible development, and the jettisoning of democratic institutions is justified by the demands of development. I do not share that view, for reasons which I hope will become clear as I illustrate the application of these principles.

Colonial rule is the best preparation for democracy, and this is particularly true of Botswana where the benign supervision of the Colonial Office replaced that of the Commonwealth Relations Office only in the early sixties. Before then Botswana was governed by the classic system of indirect rule, which effectively removed any natural checks and balances on chiefly authority and entrenched the traditional ruler as a virtual autocrat. This situation was made worse by the deference paid by the Commonwealth Relations Office which was also responsible for British relations with South Africa to the racial prejudices of our neighbours…a fact to which I can personally testify. Nevertheless, the tradition of discussion and debate in kgotla (the tribal or village assembly) survived and is a source of strength today.


Modern democracy in Botswana does not rest on the formal institutions of representative democracy alone. Parliament and the District Councils are vitally augmented by the institutions of participatory democracy, notably village development committees, cooperatives and a wide range of voluntary organisations, including women’s organisations and parent-teacher associations, through which our people can exert direct influence on decisions concerning the quality of their lives. Explaining this to our people, I use the Botswana expression “kgosi ke kgosi ka batho” which means a chief is only a chief through the people, to illustrate the complementary role of institutions of representative and participatory democracy. The President and Parliament can govern effectively only with the consent and active participation of the people. The institutional framework has changed, but the fundamental that decisions which affect the lives of the people must have the consent o the people, has not been modified. Indeed it has been strengthened, since these modern institutions are more flexible, and also of course better suited to the increasing complexities of development and economic growth.

That is not to say that democracy in Botswana as elsewhere in the world does not face problems. Botswana is a multi-party state, though the ruling Botswana Democratic Party does dominate the political scene. Because of this, and because we believe that party divisions must not deflect our essential unity of purpose, institutions like village development committees are open to all who wish to take their part in developing their communities, irrespective of party affiliation. Thus, quite apart from being represented in Parliament and in District Councils, members of opposition parties can, if they so choose, play their part in grass-roots development. But there will always be a temptations for opposition politicians to take advantage of some of the more negative legacies of the past, such as tribal feeling, or to appeal to fears and prejudices which hinder development.

Thus opposition politicians of the Botswana National Front have in one area attempted to sabotage our efforts to improve rural health standards by telling mothers that measles inoculations are intended to prevent their bearing children and that famine-relief food, which is distributed to those engaged in self-help projects, has similar properties. Again, there is a danger that opposition politicians in the face of a predominant ruling party will resort to more directly anti-democratic methods. But we feel that such attempts to undermine democratic progress are best countered by education and a search fo consensus rather than by repression. I mention these problems only because I do not wish to be accused of painting too rosy a picture of our political development. We are far from perfection, but we feel that we have embarked on the right road.

It will be obvious from what I have said so far that we regard democracy as a condition of development. A brief explanation of our development strategy will serve to clarify this further. Our prospects have been transformed by the realisation of our dreams that we should one day identify exploitable mineral deposits and develop them in the interests of the nation a whole. At the same time we are well aware of the danger of developing in Botswana a classic extractive economy, the more so because harsh climatic conditions often make agriculture a daunting and uncertain field of economic activity. For it is in the rural sector that the majority of our people must find productive employment.

We are only too aware that mining and related activity, although it generates revenue for government, which can be re-invested elsewhere, is capital-intensive rather than labour-intensive. The two major mines currently envisaged will give rise to a total projected direct employment of only about 3,000 by 1975. Each job created will represent an investment of more than Kr 311,000. Over the next five years, we anticipate that we can create about 10,000 new jobs in the modern sector. In this same period our labour force will increase by 50,000. That we must attach the highest possible priority to rural development is therefore obvious.

But to make a reality of our commitment to rural development, we must generate our own revenue to take the place of funds at present contributed by foreign donors. Britain, as I have said, contributes generously to our recurrent as well as our development budget, although we hope to free of the need to accept direct budgetary subsidies by the financial year 1972-1973. Of course, we hope we shall continue to receive development aid from Britain, and indeed from Sweden, the United States, Denmark, Canada and other donors.

We are currently too dependent on a single country for our development assistance. We should rely too heavily on the goodwill of a single donor. We are therefore making a major effort to diversity our sources of external aid, and more importantly to replace aid with our revenue surpluses. At the moment we are not wholly free to our own development priorities. We can only initiate those projects for which we can find external finance. This places particular constraints on what is conventionally regarded as “non-productive” development like rural medical facilities, or on agricultural projects which may benefit a large number of people but are slow to generate immediate returns. Once mining revenue is available to finance these projects, we shall be able to implement our own rural development strategy. Of course the first call on mining revenues will be to replace British budgetary subsidies, but thereafter our freedom of action will be greater. Meanwhile, we must prepare the ground with care. Vast sums of money do not necessarily achieve development. There are many examples of developing countries which have poured vast sums into rural development with very little to show for it. Although our efforts are at present limited by lack of money, I am quite clear that money alone does not achieve rural development.

 The attitudes of the people are more important than money hence our concern with democracy and institutions which permit consultation and consent. Furthermore, without careful research into physical conditions and social patterns, money can be wasted.

Editor's Comment
Escalating fuel prices cause panic

Nowadays it is not uncommon to purchase an item for a certain commodity and return to the shops in a week, to find the same item has gone up by a significant amount of money.Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA) last week announced yet another fuel price increase, which follows yet another increase that came into effect on March 29. Hardly two months later on May 12 boom, BERA announced yet another increase, which came into effect at a...

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