Botswana’s former model leader Masire dies at 91
KETUMILE Masire, a cattle herder turned statesman who, as president of Botswana from 1980 to 1998, helped solidify his country’s standing as one of the most richly thriving nations in Africa, died on Thursday at a hospital in the capital city of Gaborone. He was 91.
The cause of his death, announced in a statement by his family, was not disclosed.
Masire was widely heralded as a model leader in a model nation on a continent where poverty and conflict have often impeded the prospects for stability and prosperity.
In 1966 when Botswana – then known as Bechuanaland – obtained independence from Britain, it had two miles of paved roads and a single public high school. Its chief export was beef.
The discovery of diamond reserves transformed the country’s prospects, and under Masire and his predecessor, Seretse Khama, the nation used its revenue to build roads and schools, to improve health care and expand access to clean water, to advance farming techniques and to extend life spans.
Masire – a self-described “farmer who has been drawn into politics” – was credited with leading his landlocked nation through a drought that dragged on for much of the 1980s. In 1989, he shared the Africa Prize for Leadership, valued at $100000, from the charitable organisation the Hunger Project in recognition of the food distribution efforts that helped the country avoid starvation during the crisis.
He navigated a delicate relationship with the country’s southern neighbour, South Africa.
While South Africa was Botswana’s major economic partner, Botswana opposed the apartheid system of racial segregation in place before the introduction of democracy in 1994.
While many other African nations suffered under dictatorship, Botswana featured a robust democracy with little if any noticeable corruption. Masire fostered political inclusivity.
The stability of Botswana allowed its tourism industry to flourish in times of economic prosperity, with many visitors coming to witness its wildlife.
Masire – often known as Quett – was born in Kanye, in southern Botswana near the South African border, on July 23, 1925. In his youth, he was a herder before enrolling in a primary school at 13, according to a statement from Botswana’s government announcing his death.
He worked the land in a country that may go years without rain and learned a profound sense of self-reliance. He received a scholarship to attend the University of Fort Hare in South Africa which trained many leaders of the first government of independent Botswana.
After both his parents died when he was in his early 20s, he suspended his education to become a teacher to support his siblings. He was a headmaster before saving enough money to purchase a tractor and pursue farming, distinguishing himself with modern agricultural techniques.
He also worked as a newspaper journalist, an activity that along with his community involvement helped draw him into politics. He served on tribal and regional councils and was a founder and secretary-general of the Botswana Democratic Party, now the country’s dominant political party. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, he once traversed 3 000 miles of the Kalahari desert to attend two dozen meetings over two weeks.
Before becoming president, Masire had served in roles including minister of finance and development planning, and vice-president.
After leaving office, he advised other African leaders and chaired an international panel that probed the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Washington Post
Former president of Botswana, Ketumile Masire, speaks at a press conference in May 2000.