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A nation builder par excellence

29 Jun 2023

Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe once wrote ‘one of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised’.

“This is when you stand for what is right, not compromising your standards even when everyone around you has fallen prey to the demands of the wrong side,” he wrote.

In the aftermath of the wave of African independence in the 1960s, as the continent’s founding leaders pursued one-party state politics and rigid command economics, Botswana’s first President, Sir Seretse Khama stood firm in implementing multi-party democracy and an open economy.

“He did extremely well,” Professor Part Themba Mgadla, University of Botswana historian, says of Sir Seretse in an interview with BOPA.

“He laid down a fundamental foundation for democracy and economic development choosing a path that was not popular among peers on the African continent, but with hindsight proved right.”

Professor Mgadla recalls one of the country’s early election years when some within the governing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) suggested that Sir Seretse follow the trend on the continent to ban opposition parties.

“When some within his party made the proposal that Botswana should become a one-party state, Sir Seretse refused and was clear that the country would pursue a pluralistic multiparty democratic system, where the universal franchise was extended to all adult citizens to elect the government of their choice, with the freedom to associate with any political movement,” Prof. Mgadla relates.

This helped to foster a tradition where Botswana remains Africa’s oldest continuous multiparty democracy, with general elections held peacefully since independence in the mid-1960s, Botswana’s Parliament always having had a political opposition, and the country not having a history of political prisoners or violent polls.

The peace dividend allowed the country to focus on national development. At independence, Botswana was one of the world’s poorest, least developed states. As related by the founding Vice President and second President of the Republic, Sir Ketumile Masire in his autobiography Very Brave or Very Foolish: Memoirs of An African Democrat.

Prof. Mgadla says Botswana was not considered a viable state by outsiders, including colonial Britain that handed over at independence. But, Sir Seretse and his government managed to navigate the path from being a state heavily reliant on grants in aid from the British and other development partners, to eventually being a country reliant on its own resources.

“First there was a very wise use of aid funds; it was directed at its intended purpose, which was not always the case elsewhere in the developing world. Then with the discovery of diamonds and other mineral resources such as copper and nickel, proper national development planning ensured the country was able to gain control of its economic base steadily,” Prof. Mgadla relates.

He says the country invested in development and Sir Seretse lead in making crucial decisions that helped Botswana avoid the ‘resource curse’ that plagued many well-resourced mineral rich developing countries which were plunged into corruption, mismanagement or civil conflict.

Prof. Mgadla says for Sir Seretse, nation-building also meant uniting the various tribes that make up modern Botswana.

“While some would in hindsight decry the lack of promotion of non-Tswana languages in the immediate aftermath of independence, Sir Seretse was more seized with having a common national identity,” he states.

He says this was a period when African states were trying to consolidate themselves after independence, founding Zambian President Dr Kenneth Kaunda had this ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ slogan.

 “After independence, the country first had to educate its people, and through education had to increase the skills available to the workforce. Sir Seretse decided first to have a united common identity,” he says.

Sir Seretse Khama Day will be commemorated tommorrow, under the theme: Remembering Sir Seretse Khama: The Framing of Democracy, Peace and Good Governance as Attributes of Development and Nation Building. The official event, to be held at the National Assembly grounds will be graced by the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, Vice President Mr Slumber Tsogwane, cabinet ministers among other dignitaries ENDS 

Source : BOPA

Author : Pako Lebanna

Location : GABORONE

Event : Remembering Sir Seretse Khama

Date : 29 Jun 2023