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President Masisi 5 years of visionary leadership

31 Mar 2023

 “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” a verse from the Biblical book of Proverbs, reputedly written by the wise King Solomon, underscores the significance of visionary leadership.

First taking oath of office on a rain soaked Resurrection Sunday, April 1, 2018, Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi noted that “Like the great men who have come before me, I shall be ever mindful that visionary leadership cannot exist in isolation. 

It must rather emanate from, be embraced by and realised through the people.”

The fifth President of the Republic this Saturday, April 1, 2023 marks five years in political office.  Were he to be re-elected in the 2024 polls, students of history would in future look back at this moment as the midway point of a ten year, two term tenure.

Such a milestone period would cause for reflection on the leader’s legacy and place in history.

In his maiden speech to the National Assembly after being first sworn in, President Masisi outlined the vision of building “a Botswana in which sustained development is underpinned by economic diversification.” Of eradicating poverty and social exclusion in order to build a society that provides opportunity and dignity to all.

This was buttressed months later, in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of November 2018, as the President announced a National Transformation Strategy “to unlock the potential of our human and financial resources, and broaden the participation of citizens in all sectors of the economy.”

Having led the governing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to triumph in the October 2019 general election, President Masisi accentuated digitisation and a move into the fourth industrial revolution as part to the National Transformation Agenda.

But then the Coronavirus Disease of 2019 set in soon after.

In Botswana, approximately 330 000 confirmed cases and 2 795 deaths were recorded from early 2020 to March 2023, as the COVID-19 pandemic affected all facets of life in the country and the globe, with preventative health measures also grinding economic activity to a halt.

In response, President Dr Masisi enacted through Parliament an unprecedented 18 month State of Public Emergency, between April 2020 and September 2021 that introduced legal means to temporarily curtail civil liberty in order to deal with the health crisis.

Lockdowns, curfews, travel restrictions, ban on alcohol commodity sale, social distancing, wearing of masks and other measures came into effect, while food parcel assistance, wage subsidies, and other means to cushion citizens were also introduced.

A successful vaccination programme meant the country could open up its economy gradually, and an Economic Transformation and Recovery Plan (ETRP) was enacted along with the midterm review of the eleventh National Development Plan (NDP) 11.

The President then officially announced the Reset Agenda, with five priorities for government; to save Botswana’s population from COVID-19; align Botswana’s government machinery to the presidential agenda; digitalisation; value chain development and mindset change.

A major cabinet reshuffle was announced in April 2022, with a Ministry of Entrepreneurship introduced and some other ministries being renamed as government machinery was restructured.

As NDP 11 (2017-2023) concluded, a Transitional National Development Plan (TNDP) was then announced for the period 2023-25, to ensure that the national plan is realigned with electoral cycles.

The twelfth plan, NDP 12 is due to start in 2025  with the first financial year after the 2024 polls, which takes the country back to five year plans that commenced in the year after the general election.

A National Planning Commission (NPC) was enacted to coordinate development planning, as the Ministry of Finance was rationalised to focus on overseeing budgeting and funding, the planning function now at the NPC under the auspices of the Ministry of State President.

President Masisi became passionate about increasing the country’s livestock and small stock herd as well as finding an international market for Botswana meat products.  A ban on horticultural products imports underscored a move towards being self-sufficient in domestic food output.

The provision of water also became emphasised, with the North South Water Carrier, Masama-Mmamashia and Gamononyane-Molepolole transmission pipelines as well as the Lobatse Water Masterplan among key projects prioritised.

On the international front, President Masisi traversed the world, “Ke a le tsamaela,” (I am travelling on your behalf) being a catchphrase associated with his global travels.  As the country’s chief diplomat, Dr Masisi saw to it that Botswana’s international standing was raised.

Botswana got to preside over the Economic and Social Council, one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, and through campaigns spearheaded by President Masisi, Botswana was nominated to host the secretariat of the Kimberley Process, which unites governments, industry and civil society groupings in promoting fair diamond trade and curbing the flow of the illicit diamond trade.

Also, Botswana was positioned as a host of international gatherings such as the Forbes 30 under 30 to be held in the country for two successive years from 2022, and the 2023 United States (US) Africa Business Summit to be hosted in Gaborone in July.  A state visit by Alain Berset, the President of the Swiss Confederation in February 2023, underlined Botswana’s continued recognition in the globe.

A constitutional review exercise took place, the first since the 1960s when the constitution was first debated by the Legislative Council at Lobatse before the Malborough House talks of February 1966 in London concluded the country’s national blueprint. This time, Batswana discussed the constitution in kgotla meetings, perhaps accentuating the consultative nature of leadership President Masisi had promised from the onset.

As is the case with any democracy, the Masisi presidency has had its critics.  Opponents have lamented the frequency of external trips, the transparency of state procurement processes, the extent of independence of parliament and the judiciary, and the pace with which unemployment and underdevelopment is being addressed.

In his maiden SONA speech of November 2018, Dr Masisi had candidly told the public that differences had emerged with predecessor, Lt. Gen Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama.

It would also come into the public discourse how mediation efforts by some elders had not borne fruit, and Dr Masisi would endure his first five years as President with his predecessor as one of his biggest critics. 

It will be up to students of history to gauge Dr Masisi’s tenure and his place in history.

Effort to save Batswana from a pandemic, for citizens to have a mindset change, to be more efficient, more enterprising, to have an efficient government and a private sector engaged in the value chain addition of natural resources within a digitised world, could underline those first five years in office. ENDS

Source : BOPA

Author : Pako Lebanna

Location : Gaborone

Event : Interview

Date : 31 Mar 2023