An American think tank has named Botswana among the seven African countries with family political dynasties. The family in question ÔÇô that of the Khamas, has ruled the country for 43 percent of its post- independence history, with three more years to go. According to the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., seven countries on the continent have had both father and son (and one brother) lead the country. These countries are Botswana, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Togo, Mauritius, and Malawi.
“Three sons of a founding father (the first president or prime minister after independence) are currently in power in Botswana, Kenya, and MauritiusÔÇöPresident Ian Khama, President Uhuru Kenyatta, and Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam, respectively. In the case of all three, the succession took place over a decade after the father left office: In Botswana, Khama was elected 27 years after his father left office, while in Kenya, Kenyatta was elected 34 years after his father, and, in Mauritius, Ramgoolam was elected 13 years after his father,” Brookings says.
In as far as being elected to office is concerned, the think tank got its figures wrong with regard to Ian Khama. His father died in office in 1980 and he automatically succeeded Festus Mogae in 2008 and was elected the following year in a general election. That comes to 29 and not 27 years. Brookings’ calculation is that, as of this year, the Khamas have been in office for 20.85 years while “others” (Sir Ketumile Masire and Mogae) have between them, occupied presidential office for 27.7 years.
Generally, people frown upon family political dynasties because they are a manifestation of accident-of-birth privilege that make a mockery of meritocracy and electoral democracy. The Brookings study doesn’t delve into the merits and demerits of such dynasties but seeks to show that they are not peculiar to Africa.
“Political dynasties exist around the world. In the United States in 2001, George W. Bush became the first modern president whose father (President George H.W. Bush) had also been elected president. (The sixth president, John Quincy Adams, served from 1825-1829 and was the son of the second president, John Adams.) Bush also became the first U.S. president to hold the position for longer than his father.
In East and South Asia, there have been many daughters of heads of state who have been elected to the same position, such as South Korean President Pak Geun-hye, former Philippines President Corazon Aquino, and former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In Pakistan, in a rare occurrence, a husband took over from his wife, Benazir Bhutto. Clearly, we should be wary of characterising political dynasties as an African phenomenon,” the think tank says.