Former Botswana leader Sir Ketumile Masire new African President-in-Residence
By David J. Craig
Botswana has polished itself into a shining exemplar of democracy and prosperity since gaining independence from Britain nearly four decades ago. In contrast to some of its neighbors in southern Africa’s diamond belt, which have been beset by civil war or plagued with corruption, the country has been led since its independence by liberal presidents chosen in free and open elections. And during that period, the country has evolved from one of the world’s most desperately poor nations into a relatively modern egalitarian state.
A key steward of Botswana’s makeover, Sir Ketumile Masire, who led the country from 1980 to 1998, will be working and studying in the United States until November as BU’s new Balfour African President-in-Residence. Masire will share with scholars, policy makers, and students in Boston his experiences solidifying Botswana’s sovereignty, helping create its open, multiparty government, and guiding its dramatic socioeconomic development. Masire, who has been active in conflict resolution efforts across Africa, also will discuss his role in the Organization of African Unity (OAU) investigation of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and his experience as the principal mediator in the 2001 and 2002 peace talks to end the civil war in Congo, as well as the importance of promoting sustainable development in Africa.
“Sir Ketumile Masire is the personification of good governance,” says Rev. Charles Stith, former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania and director of BU’s African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC), which coordinates the residency program. “Because of his exemplary record as president and his experience in regional conflict resolution, Masire is one of the most respected leaders on the continent of Africa.”
Born in 1925 in Kanye, in the southern district of what was then the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Masire worked as a teacher, a farmer, and a journalist before entering politics in 1966, the year Botswana won independence. He served first as a member of parliament, then as minister of finance and development planning and vice president, and in 1980 succeeded as president Seretse Khama, who was Botswana’s first leader. Over the next 18 years, Masire steered the country with the world’s fastest growing economy, which expanded, on average, 7 percent a year between 1966 and 2000.
Botswana in 1966 had no electricity, telephone, or sewage systems, almost no paved roads, and a poor agrarian economy; today it has modern infrastructure, a per capita income of about $8,800, based on a 2003 estimate, a literacy rate of almost 80 percent, and a good health-care system. The country’s success is based largely on the sound management of its diamond mining industry — it is the world’s largest diamond producer — but its economy is increasingly dynamic, with burgeoning telecommunications and financial sectors and a healthy stock market. Its Achilles heel is a nearly 38 percent HIV infection rate among adults, the world’s highest, although the nation’s antiretroviral drug treatment and AIDS prevention programs are among the most proactive worldwide.
In addition to overseeing Botswana’s remarkable economic growth for almost two decades, Masire, who retired from public office in 1998, also is respected for enacting progressive social policies and for establishing among his countrymen the expectation for honest, tolerant, and visionary leadership. Current Botswana President Festus Mogae, who widely is regarded as a responsible and benevolent leader, is a member of the Botswana Democratic Party, which Masire cofounded.
During his BU residency, Masire will participate in roundtable discussions with several other former African heads of state in Johannesburg, South Africa, on April 8 and 9, and at BU from April 11 to 13. Talks will focus on encouraging foreign investment in Africa and how the mass media portray the continent. Masire also will visit APARC partner institutions Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina and Morehouse College in Atlanta.
He says he looks forward to “engaging in a dialogue in order to promote relations between Americans and Africans” during his residency and to learning about America’s multiethnic heritage. “The United States has a diversity of cultures out of which evolved a people full of self-determination,” he says. “I hope to have the opportunity to explore this phenomenon in relation to our own concept of self-reliance in Botswana.”
The Balfour African President-in-Residence Program was created in 2002 by APARC to promote intercontinental dialogue and to demonstrate to current African leaders the contributions they can make as statesmen after leaving office peacefully. Previous African Presidents-in-Residence are Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Ruth Sando Perry of Liberia, and Karl Auguste Offman of Mauritius. The program is funded by a grant from the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, which is administered by trustee Fleet National Bank, a Bank of America Company. For more information on APARC, see http://www.bu.edu/aparc.