He brought growth and prosperity to his country
Founding father of BDP
FORMER President of Botswana, Sir Quett Ketumile Joni Masire, was buried yesterday in his home village of Kanye. He was born on July 23, 1925 in Kanye and died last week at the age of 92. Masire succeeded founding President Sir Seretse Khama after the latter’s death in 1980. They both founded the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in 1961.
Masire was the country’s minister of finance and development planning from 1966 to 1980, a job that gave him an idea on what the country needed in terms of road infrastructure, education and health among others. At the time of independence, Botswana had only 10km of tarred road and he focused on building roads to ensure easy movement of goods to other parts of the country.
At the time of independence, poverty levels were extreme in the country and the only source of income was the export of cheap labour to South African mines. Sir Ketumile Masire is credited for setting up several high schools, among them the Seepapitso High School in Kanye village, just 80km west of Gaborone.
Masire also served as the first secretary-general of the BDP from its formation and at the forefront of ensuring that Botswana got her independence in 1966.
When diamonds were discovered in Jwaneng in 1977, the country was radically transformed as health facilities, schools, roads and other infrastructure mushroomed. Masire helped in shaping the country’s policy formulation by coming up with national development plans, and became the head of the National Treasury as vice-president.
Masire succeed Khama in 1980 and led the BDP to victory in 1984, 1989, and in the 1994 general elections.
Masire got a taste of trouble in 1994 after the death of a teenager in Mochudi, just 50km north of the capital Gaborone. Students went on a rampage after reports indicated that the teenager had been killed for ritual purposes and the culprits were prominent members of society with high political connections.
University of Botswana students invaded the National Assembly, demanding that Masire provide answers after one of the rioting students was killed by police. This prompted Masire to order the police to use force to disperse the protesters.
Scotland Yard was brought on board to investigate the matter, but their report was never made public.
In 1996 Masire initiated an idea that led to the amendment of the country’s constitution to prescribe two terms for presidents or a maximum of 10 years in office. In April 1998, Masire stepped down, giving way to Dr Festus Mogae, who would take the country to the next general elections in 1999. An economist, Mogae had served in the country’s senior positions and was minister of finance and development planning when he succeeded Masire.
Masire is also credited with promoting democracy and freedom of speech as he established a forum for all parties to engage, called All Party Caucus. This was a platform where political parties engaged one another outside parliament and exchanged ideas. Although at the time the opposition was weak, they never agreed with the government on anything and some of them even boycotted meetings of the forum that were held twice a year.
Under the leadership of Masire, the country enjoyed rapid economic growth, because of good management of resources, such as diamonds, that contributed more than 50% of the country’s gross domestic product.
As time went on, Masire’s government came up with a proposal for a 50/50 shareholding in De Beers who were enjoying the monopoly of mining and selling Botswana diamonds. A company called Debswana was born and it is a joint venture between De Beers and the Botswana government and is one of the country’s biggest employers.
Masire was known for his skills in easing tensions that usually characterise political decisions, as he interacted with ordinary Batswana at official and social gatherings. At kgotla meetings that he addressed in villages and rural areas, he would not hesitate to tell his audience that he also spent a night on an empty stomach, yet, when residents were complaining that they were living in poverty.
In one memorable incident, he told a kgotla meeting in Gaborone’s slum – Old Naledi – that he could not comprehend their complaints of poverty, yet he drove across “human manure” before reaching the meeting venue.
He would also not hesitate to tell a hostile contributor at a kgotla meeting that he also grew up in the bush and was ready to get into a fist-fight if that was the wish of the contributor.
During his time, Masire engaged the press and hosted unofficial interactions at the State House (official residence) where the host and the guests would joke about each other’s profession.
He easily handled the press, because he had a short stint as a newspaper reporter before joining politics.
Just a year before departing office, Masire came up with the country’s first vision, known as Vision 2016, which was a tool to guide national policy making and individuals around ideals on what they wanted the country to be in 2016. Among the ideals was to be: a prosperous nation; a compassionate nation; a tolerant nation; and an educated nation.
He also came up with programmes to economically empower small micro enterprises, subsistence farmers and other small businesses.
Masire was also the longest serving chairperson of SADC, and at one time a vice chairperson of the Organisation of African Unity. He also mediated in conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Lesotho. He received an Honorary Knighthood of the Grand Cross of Saint Michael and Saint George from the United Kingdom in 1991.
Masire was a cattle farmer and also reared ostriches. He was a staunch member of the BDP and spoke openly against current President Ian Khama’s policies, particularly the latter’s lack of consultation, seeming tolerance of corruption and his hatred for the private press. He also condemned Khama’s poor leadership in the ruling party, something that led to the party’s split in 2010.
...he was ready to get into a fist-fight
A TRUE LEADER: Sir Ketumile Masire speaks to the media at a press conference in Nairobi in this file photo. The former president of Botswana died after an operation on June 22.