By Prince Kurupati
On the 1st of April 2008, Ian Khama rose to assume the reigns of the most powerful office in Botswana. While giving his inauguration speech, Ian Khama stated that he never had the desire to become a President nor to assume a political office but was persuaded. He, however, acknowledged the task at hand, maintaining Africa’s best model of democracy and helping to improve the plight of the rural poor as had been done by his predecessor in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Ian Khama’s time in office was going to be a tough one and he knew it. In order to effectively address all of the areas that needed his attention, Ian Khama on his inauguration outlined the 5Ds i.e. Democracy, Discipline, Development, Dignity, and Delivery.
Assuming office, Ian Khama already had critics. Khama’s critics increased during the time when he was the country’s Vice President and the Minister for Presidential Affairs. During that time, he was termed an authoritarian who didn’t take kindly to opposition. In supporting their claims, critics cited the way he clamped down on ‘Dikgang tsa palamente.’ The programme aired the comments of MPs and encouraged debate among the populace. Khama also faced criticism in that he ordered without permission to be flown around the country by BDF choppers in violation of the BDF Act.
Despite his shortcomings during his time as the Vice President, Khama was determined to become a success during his time as President and this is how he leaves the country.
On the political front, Khama strayed away from the status quo. Rather than leading in the way his predecessors had done in the past, Khama was more of an executive president who liked the executive ‘part’ of his job. Not clamping down on human rights or violating Botswana’s democracy, he ruled the country with a firm hand something Botswana citizens had not experienced before. Khama was media shy at least when it came to debates and other like events, during the times he would be covered by the media, often times he was visiting the rural poor playing to traditional songs and pampering them with goodies. While Botswana nationals had not been used to the firm hand Khama ruled with, he still managed to preserve the country’s democracy. Khama’s past as the commander of the BDF can be used in his defence for his firmness.
Economically, Ian Khama inherited an economy that was one of the biggest in Africa. Credit to him, he not only managed to maintain the strong economy but further developed it. Leaving Botswana on a far stronger standing, the country’s economy is expected to grow by 5.3 percent this year from last year’s 4.7 percent. The country’s economy has largely been aided by the recovery in the global economy in relation to mining.
On other fronts, Khama managed to do his bit in helping to stop the spread of rural poverty. Botswana’s disparity between the rich/middle class and the rural poor had been increasing for a decade or so before Khama’ tenure. Though he failed to eliminate rural poverty, the foundations he put in place will be a good start for his successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi. Khama also worked hard to electrify parts of rural Botswana which still relied on primitive energy such as firewood.
While Khama’s firmness in Botswana may have resulted in him getting more enemies, the exact opposite did happen in the international sphere as his firmness made him more friends especially on the African continent. Khama was not shy to tell neighbouring Zimbabwe’s the then leader, Robert Mugabe that his time was up at a time when all other African presidents could not utter a word but instead showered the authoritarian leader with praises for his outspokenness.
Khama was not fazed by personality or the strength of a nation, while Zimbabwe’s new leader said his response to the US president, Donald Trump comments on Africa as a shithole continent was in solidarity with the African Union (AU)’s response and could not give his own (something also said by many other African countries), Khama took it upon himself to issue a strongly worded response to the US President.
In all, Ian Khama brought a new leadership style to Botswana politically, and even though some of the country’s citizens may not have liked it, all he did was for their good and benefit.