Botswana’s for­mer model leader Masire dies at 91

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

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

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

For­mer pres­i­dent of Botswana, Ke­tu­mile Masire, speaks at a press con­fer­ence in May 2000.

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