Botswana’s first learned society has dedicated the 50th issue of its annual publication (“which is the country’s longest surviving indigenous journal”) to honour Botswana’s second president.
A Special Issue on Botswana Notes and Records’ Golden Jubilee Volume in Honour of Sir Ketumile Masire came out last week and in the introduction, states that the volume both celebrates the journal’s golden jubilee and honours Masire, who was closely associated with the Society until his death. At least six editorial items are dedicated to the former president who ruled from 1980 to 1998 and died last year. Masire was the last surviving participant of the Independence Conference and in one piece, Society Chairperson, Bojosi Otlhogile, examines the role he played in the drafting of the constitution of Botswana locally and at Marlborough House in London.
Another, titled “In an Hour, I Could be Shot Over Angola’: The Geopolitical Dynamics and Experience of the 1988 Shooting of President Masire’s Jet”, recounts the tragic events of 1988. Its introduction reads: “Just before travelling to the Angolan capital, Luanda, to attend a summit of the Front Line States, President Quett Ketumile Joni Masire, predicted in a joke that ‘In an hour, I could be shot over Angola’. Indeed, Masire’s presidential jet was shot by the Angolan government forces about one hour after he had left Gaborone on 7 August 1988. This was not necessarily an amazingly accurate prediction or prophecy from out of the blue, but a notion informed by the Angolan civil war and Cold War geopolitical milieu on the ground.” All aboard the jet survived and the article, which is written Christian Makgala, Gaeimelwe Goitsemang and David Norris, raises questions around the “Cold War geopolitical milieu” of the time. Makgala and Norris are both at the University of Botswana while Goitsemang is the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation.
Former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, also contributed a piece in the form of a speech that he gave at the establishment of the Sir Ketumile Masire Foundation. As a humourous aside in recalling his interaction with Masire during the liberation struggle years, Mbeki says that “I always looked forward to the Summit Meetings of the Frontline States because President Masire would regularly bring me my favourite pipe tobacco, which I could not get in Lusaka!” Another one of contributors, Barry Morton, who collaborated with Jeff Ramsay on the publication of The Making of a President about Masire’s early years, is said to be working on Masire’s biography.
The larger part of the volume is general and a week after former president Ian Khama pronounced himself a great democrat, what Robert Molebatsi, Nelson Sello of the UB say about his rule will give him pause. In “Parallel Policy Structures in Botswana: From Devolution to Centralisation Under Ian Khama’s Administration, 2008-2018”, the pair describes the Eurocentric Khama as just another African “big man” who brought institutions to “near paralysis.” Departing from the norm, Khama cultivated an image that “had to be fed through populist pet projects which seemed to exploit some needy situations.”
The Botswana Society does good and important work and for deep readers, this volume will be a treasure trove. Those positive attributes notwithstanding, the Society (and its publications) face all the challenges that any learned society would in a country where a former president’s public boast about not being a reader reflected the general attitude of the majority towards deep reading.