Scholars agree that Botswana’s exceptionalism is not a result of the country producing the best gem diamonds in the world but of having had the best-performing presidency on the continent. The argument that dispels the diamonds aspect holds that if minerals had to do anything to do with a country’s fortunes, the Democratic Republic of Congo would be the most successful on the continent.
Fittingly for a year in which the country celebrates its golden jubilee, a workshop that will be graced by former president, Sir Ketumile Masire, will reflect on how presidential meritocracy transformed Botswana from one of the poorest countries in the world to enjoying Africa’s longest and one of the world’s longest booms for much of the 1980s and 1990s. This golden age happened under Masire who, supposing the current constitution is observed to the letter, will go down in history as the nation’s longest-serving president. With the assistance of the United Kingdom, Masire fatefully tightened the public finance system to make it extremely difficult to steal money from it. Of course thieves will always find ways to circumvent the official process but the system (one of the best in Africa) would have been a lot more porous without reforms that were introduced under Masire.
With its tribal diversity, Botswana should have descended into militaristic conflict akin to that of other African countries with similar circumstances, especially Rwanda. How Seretse Khama and his successors were able to hold the country together still baffles scholars and is one of the reasons that one western scholar has suggested that Botswana’s model of leadership should be studied for purposes of replicating in the rest of the Third World.
The workshop, which will be held on June 22 at the Gaborone International Convention Centre, is being organised by a Gaborone-based consultancy called Big Leaf. The company’s Managing Director, Brink Ramoleele, says that the workshop will feature speakers who observed Botswana’s presidential meritocracy at very close quarters. Another set of speakers will be that of academics who will render an intellectual analysis of what lessons can be learned from such exceptional leadership. With precise regard to the latter, Ramoleele says that at the end of the workshop, participants should be able to recognise the critical role that Botswana’s presidency played in the transformation of the country and find ways to mainstream such meritocracy within their own organisations.
“When you think of it, we really don’t have to import any brilliant ideas on governance from abroad partly because, as you know, such ideas come at quite considerable cost. We have merely to emulate what our presidents did to make Botswana an exceptional country and not even have to pay a single thebe for adopting such home-grown best practices,” he adds.
One speaker will be Dr. Gaositwe Chiepe who served as cabinet minister under Sir Seretse Khama, Masire and Festus Mogae. A trailblazer in her own right, Chiepe’s first cabinet post was as Minister of Trade and Industry under Seretse Khama. She served for a longer period of time under Masire and when Festus Mogae took over in 1998, she served for just one year before retiring in 1999. Another speaker will be a man whom Seretse Khama appointed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs ÔÇô Gobe Matenge, whose civil service career started in the Bechuanaland Protectorate. Matenge would come to supervise – and accommodated in his house, future cabinet minister, David Magang, who would hold various ministerial posts in an independent Botswana. Matenge’s own star continued to shine bright as he earned promotion after promotion until Khama made him PS. There is one more item in his CV that should be very relevant for a year in which Botswana celebrates its golden jubilee. A year before this promotion, Khama asked Matenge – through Permanent Secretary to the President, Phillip Steenkamp – to organise the Tenth Anniversary of Botswana’s Independence celebrations. He did a terrific job, carrying out the task diligently, to budget and Khama’s satisfaction. For this feat, the president awarded Matenge the Presidential Order of Meritorious Service.
The programme also features Professor Zibani Maundeni, a public intellectual who teaches political science at the University of Botswana. Maundeni, who was the Coordinator of the Democracy Research Project from 2000 to 2007, has authored three books and co-authored two with UB colleagues and has also contributed chapters to 16 books. According to Ramoleele, the speakers’ roster is not yet complete.