This evening we are gathered here to celebrate Sir Ketumile Masire in the form of an audio visual production of his life and career. Distinguished guests will recall with fond memories, a similar gathering in September 2006, at the Gaborone Sun hotel when we came to witness the launch of Very Brave; or Very Foolish; the Memoirs of an African Democrat, a book that chronicles the life of Sir Ketumile and his role and contribution to the making of modern Botswana. Subsequently the memoirs have become staple reading for researchers, scholars and ordinary people looking for answers to the question of why Botswana; with the odds so massively loaded against it managed to transform herself into a success story. The memoirs go some way in providing the answers as well as giving insight into the challenges that both the country and its leaders had to face, and surmount in order for us to be the country we are.
Sir Ketumile’s vivid recollections in Very Brave or Very Foolish are very comprehensive and can therefore be considered a safe and reliable authority on the formative years of the country. Against that background we are about to view a film documentary on this great statesman which adds to the growing body of works documenting his times and legacy. Of the many people who could have been asked to perform this duty, I feel most honoured that I came to the consideration of the organisers.
I came to know Quett, as we affectionately called him in the early 60”s, when as a schoolboy at Moeding College i used to hitch lifts to Lobatse to go and listen to him speaking at political rallies. I was most captivated by his use of Setswana. At the time during the formative years of the BDP he was the tireless Secretary General responsible for setting up organisational structures and actually teaching our population, which was predominantly rural, what a political party was. Quett was also editor of the party newsletter Therisanyo, to which I used to submit articles which the editor apparently never considered good enough for publication. In this age of modern telecommunications such as radio, newspapers and television we often take things for granted. But back then the most effective way to disseminate our message was through public meetings where Quett and other pioneeers had to craft the language and the idiom to make their message heard. This documentary will give us an idea of just how daunting it was a task, requiring much creativity to demonstrate to ordinary folk what a political party was. In his own words, Sir Ketumile will take us back in time and indeed make us appreciate what it took to establish a political institution such as the Botswana Democratic Party.
In the course of this evening, we will note that in addition to putting down the roots of a political party, Quett and his compatriot, Seretse Khama also shared a vision of Botswana as a Republican state which would not fall prey to the dangers and threats posed by tribalism and separatism. In the gradual move towards attainment of self rule, the disparate tribal communities which had always considered themselves autonomous entities had to be brought together to embrace a common identity as Batswana belonging to one country. In this regard I must venture that in spite of the faults, perceived or real, about this model of nation building, only the most cynical can say there could have been a better way given the circumstances and challenges of that time. Hence this documentary film will underline the life long vision of Sir Ketumile as a nationalist who believes in a Botswana where a common identity and sense of national unity precedes negative tribal affinity.
The documentary film will reveal that building a political party with a nationalist vision for a republican state could not be an end unto itself. Desperately poor and deprived, the independence government had to uplift the living standards of Batswana, with very modest resources at its disposal. In fact the title of Sir Ketumile’s memoirs , Very Brave or Very Foolish owes its coinage to this very quandary; why would such a poor territory opt for self rule; either the people were very brave or very foolish. Viewers will be shocked to learn hear how meagre were the resources available for national development back then, and how careful planning was required to channel them to priority areas to get the country going.
Through the testimonies of our long standing development partners, Sir Ketumile goes down memory lane in highly descriptive language to recall a Botswana so different from today’s.
It was a Botswana in which communities owned the resources on the land they inhabited and where it took much skilful negotiation for those communities to cede their rights to the state for the common welfare. Hence viewers will get an insight into the philosophy which informs our unique method of resource redistribution for the benefit of all Batswana.
Political economists and other commentators concur that we owe the admirable strides made in national development to the formula we adopted to exploit our mineral resources in partnership with international companies. Whenever debates ensue about the most equitable method of exploiting resources for the national good, the Botswana model is always mentioned as one of the most effective where the citizens can actually point out to tangible benefits they derive from their resources. As Vice President and also Minister for Finance and Development Planning at the time, the foundations of the Botswana economic miracle is often attributed to Sir Ketumile and the team of young technocrats in his office.
Following the death of Sir Seretse Khama in 1980, Quett ascended to the leadership of the country and the party; positions he occupied for 18 years in which he had to navigate some of the most trying times in the life of the nation. On the geo political scene the struggle for liberation and self determination was escalating in Southern Africa; and Botswana as a member of the Frontline States often had to suffer the consequences of her unapologetic stance against both the Rhodesian and South African minority regimes. Such was the diplomatic finesse needed to deal with the situation that the documentary will further reveal to us how the two antagonistic sides in the South African conflict came to view Sir Ketumile. Hence this documentary gives us an opportunity to hear from those who know Sir Ketumile as an international statesman of note.
History teaches us that founding statesmen define the character of the nations they lead; and through one of his daughters, we will learn why Sir Ketumile came to believe that democracy and meritocracy were the best values for any nation. The academic exposure at Tigerkloof College and his difficult relations with the royal authorities in his home village conspired to mould Sir Ketumile into a committed democrat, and in our interaction with him, he practised the principle that all matters were subject to debate, and the conclusion would be determined on the basis of the most persuasive argument; and even then the views of the minority retained value and had to be taken into consideration.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is difficult to imagine a life richer and more diverse than that of Sir Ketumile Masire. Before taking up full time politics, he was an educationist, having founded Seepapitso School in Kanye. He was also pioneering journalist editing the early, and only newssheet at the time, Naledi Ya Batswana. And as he often reminded us during his years in office his passion next to serving the nation was farming; hence his joke that he was a farmer on loan to politics.
As we all know when the Farmer on loan to Politics retired from national leadership in April 1998, others sought him out for his vast experience which he proceeded to commit to areas such as election monitoring and observation; as well as travelling the globe imparting knowledge on governance issues. To mention, but a few Sir Ketumile served as Chairman of Eminent Personalities of the OAU Investigating the Circumstances Surrounding the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. We recall how it was through his persistence and patience as Facilitator of the Inter Congolese National Dialogue that the warring parties came around the table; a process which culminated in a new political dispensation for the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the quest for peace and stability on the continent, Sir Ketumile has undertaken missions to Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland and led Election Observer Missions to Ethiophia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Nigeria. To those of us who had the privilege of working with Sir Ketumile over the years, we have never ceased to be baffled by his relentless drive and levels of energy which he carried over into his post retirement life. I sometimes wonder if this is due to a healthy, vegetarian lifestyle which in itself is something of an irony for a cattle owner in a beef producing country to shun meat. During his years in office Sir Ketumile kept up a punishing schedule of public meetings around the country. Over ten years after leaving public office, it would seem nothing much has changed, with invitations continuing to flood in, as we all show eagerness to continue tapping into his wisdom acquired over the years.
Ladies and Gentlemen, our attendance and viewing of the documentary film therefore represents another affirmation of our affection for Sir Ketumile. It is only through occasions of this nature that we get the opportunity to interact with him. After all, the people never let go of the bonds of affection for leaders who have distinguished themselves in serving their nations.
This evening, our hearts are full of happiness to be in the company, once more, of a statesman much revered and celebrated for his leadership qualities; as evidenced by the over 15 awards and honorary doctorates bestowed by various governments, institutions and organisations across the world. Through such awards they recognise Sir Ketumile’s fidelity to the values of democracy, good governance, national development, human rights and the rule of law.
Here I pause for reflection and as food for thought, invoke the words of Jesus Christ; how does it reflect on us as a nation that up to this day since his retirement we have not found it in ourselves to decorate and honour Sir Ketumile like others outside our borders have seen fit? Why is Sir Ketumile without honour in his own country? Is this not an indictment on how we treat our heroes and icons that a co-founder of this Republic, who has been so integral to its development does not have a single landmark or public building named in his honour? Many there are who consider Sir Ketumile the most important figure, still alive and with us, in the evolution of Botswana as a successful and modern democracy with an enviable track record of socio economic development. Efforts such as memoirs and documentaries keep on reminding us that, perhaps inadvertently we have made an omission of unforgivable proportions, which ought to be corrected by the powers that be.
Allow me to acknowledge the efforts of the man behind this documentary, our own local film-maker Billy Kokorwe who has shown a desire to preserving our heritage through the powerful medium of film and television. From the Story of Sir Seretse Khama to The African Democrat , Billy and his partner Dominic Savage have become chroniclers of the Botswana story.
Their productions have earned international repute so much so that they can get eminent personalities such as Kofi Annan, Thabo Mbeki, Tony Blair and FW De Klerk to become part of their works. As a nation we must all be proud. But we must complement this praise by actively supporting these efforts through government procuring the films not only viewing pleasure of the current generation, but very much for future generations as well.
Ladies and Gentlemen it is now my honour to present to you The African Democrat; a documentary film on a farmer; a family man, an educationist, a journalist, a nationalist; a democrat; a distinguished statesman and simply; a great man.
I wish all a good evening.
*DK Kwelagobe, the Chairman of Botswana Democratic Party and MP- Molepolole South was speaking at the premiere of the documentary film ‘ The African Democrat”.