He brought growth and pros­per­ity to his coun­try

Found­ing fa­ther of BDP

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - ZIGGY MOGOPODI

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

PIC­TURE: ANTONY NJUGUNA / REUTERS

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.

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