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Recognition of former presidents: the case of Sir Ketumile Masire

Publishing Date : 12 January, 2016

Ndulamo Anthony Morima
EAGLE WATCH

Ordinarily, a former president is celebrated by his or her country, especially if he or she led the nation exceptionally well. Such recognition and celebration should not await the person’s death, but should be done during the person’s lifetime so that he or she truly experiences and relishes it.

Not only that. Such recognition and celebration is good for democracy because it serves as an incentive for serving presidents to govern well in order to reach the same heights that their predecessors reached or to even surpass them. In this article we consider whether or not we, as a people, accord our former presidents the recognition they deserve. We use the case of Sir Ketumile Masire.

But, who is Sir Ketumile Masire? To answer this question we steal, with limited adaptation, from his biographical information published in the Global Leadership Forum (GLF) website. Born on 23rd July 1925 in Kanye, Masire, a son of a minor headman, grew up in a community where male commoners, such as him, were expected to end up as low-paid migrant labourers in the South African mines.

​Between 1949 and 1950 Masire was trained as a teacher at Tiger Kloof, in the former British Bechuanaland Protectorate and in 1950, after graduating from Tiger Kloof, he helped found the Seepapitso II Secondary School, the first institution of higher learning in the BaNgwaketse Reserve.

Masire served as the school's headmaster for about six years. During this period he clashed with Kgosi Bathoen II of BaNgwaketse. Resenting Bathoen II's many petty interferences in school affairs, Masire, working through the revived Bechuanaland African Teachers Association, became an advocate for the autonomy of protectorate schools from chiefly authority.​

In 1956 Masire took up farming, and earned a Master Farmers Certificate and established himself as one of the territory's leading agriculturalists in 1957. His success led to renewed conflict with Kgosi Bathoen II, who seized Masire’s farms as punishment for alleged infraction of fencing communal land.

In 1958 Masire was appointed as the protectorate reporter for the African Echo/Naledi ya Botswana newspaper. He was also elected to the newly reformed BaNgwaketse Tribal Council and, after 1960, the protectorate-wide African and Legislative Councils.

Although Masire attended the first Kanye meeting of the Botswana People's Party (BPP), the earliest nationalist grouping to enjoy a mass following in the territory, he declined to join the party. Instead, in 1961 Masire, together with such stalwarts as Sir Seretse Khama, Moutlakgola Nwako, Goareng Mosinyi, Gaefalale Sebeso, Archeus Tsoebebe, Tsheko Tsheko, Englishman Kgabo, Ben Stienberg and Amos Dambe helped found the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). Masire served as the BDP’s first Secretary General.

It is apposite that before we consider whether or not Masire is getting the recognition he deserves we should have a cursory discussion of the achievements and failures of his presidency. I say cursory because the achievements and failures of a person of Masire’s stature cannot be adequately discussed in an article of this sort. It requires a book.

In discussing Masire’s achievements and failures we consider his performance in the area of politics within the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP); his performance as Vice President and President; his performance in the international community; his general social life and his conduct after he retired as president.

First, his performance as a politician. Having been able to rise from the rank and file of the party until he became Secretary General, a position he held for many years, is a remarkable political achievement, especially considering that he was a commoner under the shadow of a powerful chief cum politician, the late Sir Seretse Khama.
The aforegoing notwithstanding, his political detractors blame him for a leadership style of favoritism and purging which led to the development of factionalism within the party. It is during his leadership, they contend, that factionalism was at its peak with the Kedikilwe/Kwelagobe and Nkate/Merafhe factions rising to the level of cults.

Secondly, his performance as Vice President and President. A commoner, teacher, journalist and newspaper editor, Masire, affectionately called Rra Gaone, rose through the ranks of his party, the BDP, until he became state president in 1980 following the death of our founding father, Sir Seretse Khama. He served as president until 1998 when he retired.

At a strategic and visionary level, Sir Ketumile Masire contributed to the development of our country’s founding pillars among them the endorsement of the national anthem composed by Kgalemang Tumediso Motsete; the endorsement of the national flag and the development of the four national principles being Democracy, Development, Unity and Self Reliance.

Still at a strategic level, Masire played a pivotal role in the determination of our motto “Pula” and the national symbol that entails the zebra, shield, water, the cow head, sorghum and the elephant task, symbols which indicate our reliance on wildlife, agriculture, water and our people’s will to defend themselves.

At an operational level, Rra Gaone contributed to the establishment of Botswana as a nation state by initiating legislation for enactment by Parliament; playing a leading role in the establishment of such institutions of state as Parliament, government ministries, the courts and such parastatal entities as the University of Botswana(UB) and Botswana Meat Commission (BMC). He also contributed to the discussion and decision on the establishment of our currency, the Pula and Thebe.

During his tenure as Vice President and Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Masire exercised prudence in fiscal and monetary policy, ensuring discipline in government expenditure. He was at the centre of Botswana’s decision to invest in foreign reserves and the establishment of the Pula Fund. Sticking to prudent economic fundamentals gave Botswana an economic head start, especially in a region tainted by financial imprudence.

Masire was at the centre of the development of programmes which saved Batswana from peril, especially during the years of drought. Some of the programmes he developed are the Accelerated Rainfed Arable Programme (ARAP), Arable Lands Development Programme (ALDEP), Services to Livestock Owners in Communal Areas (SLOCA) and the Financial Assistance Programme (FAP).

Considering that at its nascent stage Botswana had limited material and human resources Masire and his generation of leaders did not just stick to policy formulation as the Presidency and cabinet should, but descended to implementation because we had a limited and relatively unqualified and inexperienced civil service.

Some of the milestones that Masire will be remembered for are the establishment of such institutions supporting our democracy as the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC); the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and the Ombudsman. Masire will also be remembered for bringing such electoral reforms as reducing the voting age from twenty one years to eighteen; introduction of the two-term presidential term limit and external balloting.

But, perhaps more poignantly, Masire will be remembered for pioneering the development of the nation’s long term vision, Vision 2016. This demonstrated that indeed Masire is a visionary who, despite the existence of National Development Plans (NDPs), recognized the need to rally the nation around one common set of aspirations for the future.   

Thirdly, his performance in the international community. Together with such leaders as Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Masire was at the centre of the formation of such regional organizations as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). During his tenure of office he was Chairman of SADC and Co-Chairperson of the Global Coalition for Africa. He also became the first Vice-Chairman of the OAU in 1991.

It is this belief in the strength of the community of nations that gained Masire international respect and recognition. Consequently, he played a mediatory role in Lesotho and Zaire when these countries were at the verge of collapse due to conflict and civil strife. His admirable mediatory role in Zaire earned him the nick name ‘MaZaire’.

Only people of honor and integrity can be entrusted with the duty to save an entire nation from collapse through mediation, especially during a time of armed conflict and civil war. Only a few like former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Anan, former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, and our very own ‘MaZaire’ can earn such trust.   

Fourthly, his general social life. Many a times, leaders, perhaps corrupted by power, live a life tainted by such vices as corruption and maladministration, alcohol abuse, adultery, self- exaltation and opulence. Such of Masire’s peers as Mabutho Se Seseko of Zaire and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe threw away the good work they did in their countries’ liberation because of greed and corruption.

Besides the unproven allegations that Masire’s decision for government to write-off the agricultural loans obtained by farmers from the National Development Bank (NDB) under the FAP programme was motivated by his interests in farming and that he has amassed too much farming land, Masire’s record in as far as corruption and maladministration are concerned is almost blemishless. This is indeed commendable for someone who served as state president for eighteen years.

Even at a personal level, Masire has never been accused of such vices as adultery, alcohol abuse, pride and self-exaltation. He remained married to his wife, Mma Gaone, until death did them part. They raised their children well and one of them, MmaSekgoa, made us proud by representing us in the Common Wealth of Nations as Deputy Secretary General. Unfortunately, she recently lost the elections for the Secretary Generalship by two votes, but she ran a good campaign.

Masire is known as a morally upright men who has remained down to earth despite his position. When in Kanye, his home village, he behaves like an ordinary tribesmen who shops in traditional stalls, called mabentlele in Setswana. The only ‘negative’ label he has earned in Kanye is that he is stingy, perhaps because instead of buying expensive things he buys cheap things from mabentlele.

Masire’s down to earth status is evidenced by the jokes he used to make while addressing kgotla meetings. One of the most popular is where it is said someone, in trying to demonstrate that the tarred road passing through his village is too narrow, said a person can jump across the road with little effort. In reply, Masire is reported to have said instead of wasting such talent the person should rather use his talent in long jump competitions and represent Botswana at the Olympics.      

Fifthly, his conduct after retirement. Masire has remained a statesman by giving guidance and commenting on national issues. For example, the media has reported that he is deeply pained by the way president Khama and the BDP literally pushed the late Gomolemo Motswaledi out of the BDP; the way government handled the 2011 public sector strike and the abuse of the presidential automatic succession provision in the Constitution.

It is also reported that Masire is saddened by the development path Botswana is taking where government embarks on such unsustainable projects as Ipelegeng and the new Tirelo Sechaba programme which has abandoned the principles of the original Tirelo Sechaba which was indeed national service because it inculcated among the youth the spirit of nationhood while preparing them for the world of tertiary education and work.

Unfortunately, it is this continued statesmanship which has earned Masire the wrath of his own party. Masire is accused of breaking the convention in terms of which a former head of state should not meddle with government business. Reportedly, the BDP treats Masire like a stranger to the extent that it has labeled him as pro-Opposition and as one of the people who contributed to the spilt within the BDP which led to the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) in 2010.

Consequently, it is reported, the BDP and president Khama do not listen to Masire’s advice since they regard him as an enemy. Reportedly, despite trying to advise president Khama on such issues as the Gomolemo Motswaledi suspension and the handling of the 2011 public sector strike such advice was shunned and he is accused of trying to rule from the grave.

In 2007, Masire set up the Sir Ketumile Masire Foundation to promote the social and economic well-being of the society of Botswana. The Foundation strives to facilitate and drive efforts to promote peace, good governance and political stability internationally; assist children with disabilities from birth; and promote innovation and alternatives in agriculture.

Masire has remained relevant internationally. He has been involved in numerous diplomatic missions in several African countries, including Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana and Swaziland. Between 1998 and 2000 he served as Chairman of the International Panel of Eminent Personalities Investigating the Circumstances Surrounding the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.
From 2000 to 2003 he was the facilitator for the Inter-Congolese National Dialogue, which had the objective of bringing about a new political dispensation for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in terms of the Lusaka Ceasefire Accord.

In May 2010 Masire led an African Union Election Observer Mission to the May 2010 Ethiopia Legislative Elections, and in October 2010 he co-led (with fellow GLF Member Joe Clark) a National Democratic Institute pre-election assessment mission in Nigeria, which identified a number of hurdles that could undermine a successful process surrounding the 2011 state and national elections.

Masire’s contributions have been mainly recognized by the international community. He has received Honorary Doctorates from University of Botswana, St John University, De Paul University, Williams College, Sussex University, University of Port Elizabeth, Ohio University, and Carlton College.

In 1989 Masire was awarded the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger, the Grand Counsellor of the Royal Order of Sobhuza II (Swaziland), Honorary Knighthood of the Grand Cross of Saint Michael and Saint George (UK), and the Order of the Welwitschia (Namibia). 

In terms of memberships and associations Masire is the founder of the Sir Ketumile Masire Foundation, Co-Chairperson of the Global Coalition for Africa, Board Member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Member of Club de Madrid and Member of the Africa Forum.

In view of Masire’s outstanding achievements as shown above, I was surprised when I recently realized that there is nothing Botswana has named in his honor. Not even when he celebrated his 90th birthday on 23rd July 2015. I say honor and not remembrance because I believe that our heroes and heroines should be celebrated during their lifetime and not only remembered when they are dead. A life not celebrated in life is a life killed.
 
Is it not an embarrassment that there is no single road, street, stadium, school, clinic or hospital named after Masire? Would we rather call our streets by such weird and divisive names as Ditimamolelo and Marapoathutwa than ‘Sir Ketumile Masire’? Would we rather name our streets and roads after foreign former presidents than our own former presidents?

Rra Gaone deserves to have something named after him during his lifetime and not when he has departed this world. So does former president Festus Gontebanye Mogae. And so does president Khama. Queen Elizabeth II did not wait for Sir Ketumile Masire to die before recognizing him. She knighted him in 1991, seven years before his retirement.

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