Former Mmegi editor, Mesh Moeti gives the crown to Sir Ketumile Masire as the man who has served with aplomb during his term of office as Botswana’s second state president (1980-1998.)
“For me, without doubt, Sir Ketumile is Botswana’s greatest president,” declares Moeti in his response to Mmegi enquiries.
As Botswana’s first finance minister, Moeti is forthright that Masire has laid the foundation and built what would be known as Africa’s economic miracle.
“Under his presidency, Botswana rose from being one of the poorest countries in Africa to attain middle income status,” observes Moeti. He says Masire’s administration presided over an extended drive to provide universal access to education, with the building of secondary schools throughout the country.
Masire understood the role of the leader in deepening Botswana’s democracy, thereby upholding a culture of tolerance of divergent views. Moeti doesn’t recall anybody, even within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), ever being persecuted for holding certain views.
In his view a true democrat upholds the principle that all matters are subjected to debate, and that consensus be built around the most persuasive argument, while at the same time respecting the right of others to differ.
“This was one of the hallmarks of Sir Ketumile’s administration. People never feared to express their views. That extended to how he viewed the opposition. He remains the only president who periodically consulted with leaders of all opposition parties on issues of national interest.”
Moeti added: “If you take the view that nation building is always work in progress, it is very important for a leader to act in a manner that does not seem to suggest that those in opposition are less patriotic than those in the ruling party.”
Masire, Moeti says, “understood that Botswana belonged to us all, and did not use his position to enrich himself nor appoint his family and relatives to positions of influence and power. It could only be due to his disdain for corruption that his administration established institutions such as the DCEC, and Office of the Ombudsman.”
It was also under his administration that Botswana made important constitutional reforms that deepened our democratic credentials such as the introduction of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), and a limited term of presidential office.
On the international scene, he ensured that Botswana was a respected moral voice, especially with regard to the liberation struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He refused to be intimidated by the might of the apartheid regime, even after a series of car bombs, and even military raids into Gaborone.
“Where even the hero of leftwing radicals, Samora Machel, was coerced into a humiliating non-aggression pact with the apartheid regime, Sir Ketumile was resolute in refusing to enter into any deals with what the world had viewed as an illegitimate regime. That took strong moral courage if you consider that even at the time, Botswana was economically dependent on South Africa,” analyses Moeti.
Social and political commentator, Anthony Morima, had a torrid time singling out the best out of the four presidents as they served the country at distinct eras with different circumstances.
In his view, the founding President Sir Seretse Khama had a mammoth task of building the republic and thereby setting the institutions of government and making sure the laws are customised to our statutes.
Without giving him the crown, Morima says Seretse is without an equal to any of our presidents as his task was very unique in setting up the pillars of nationhood and the vanguard of state.
“His role cannot be deleted from the history books as he has brought into Botswana the principle of nationhood,” he says and added that the late Sir Seretse Khama is his role model.
He credits Masire for his hands on attitude of running the government and his sober way of running a government without chasing populism or sentimentalism.
To him, Masire is the architect of Vision 2016 and hailed him for his pragmatic way of running a government.
“A politician can be popular at freedom squares but what is important is how one runs the government.”
Masire was also instrumental in making the republic the people’s government from the era of bogosi of Khama.
Morima recognises Mogae’s role in applying his shrewdness as an economist in helping the economy stand firm even during trying times. To him, Mogae’s background as a technocrat especially as the Permanent Secretary to the President and Finance Minister gave him the requisite wherewithal to excel as the president, knowledgeable on matters of economy.
He was also impressed by Mogae’s strong fight against HIV/AIDS as he took a bold step to fight for his country which was hardest hit by the scourge. Mogae took Botswana’s case to the international community seeking help from the first world until the Americans came to the rescue.
He says it was during Mogae’s term that some watchdog institutions were set up to combat crime and injustices against the masses.
“Mogae played a significant role in catering for the needs of the youth and youth development generally through schemes such as Young Farmer’s Fund and Out-of-School Youth Grant.”
As for the incumbent Khama, Morima observes: “One thing noboby can take from him is that he brought the style of leadership believed to be closer to the ordinary people whom he apparently had borrowed from his father. “
Another notable for Khama is that although he was not completely successful, he has brought a sense of urgency in the civil service and delivery in a way.
“At least he had a dream of seeing Batswana succeeding but due to poor planning the projects failed.”
Morima hails Khama for bringing the plight of Batswana into the public domain adding that he incessantly shows that he cares about the lives of the citizens.